USC Sports

USC vs. Notre Dame: How the Trojans and Fighting Irish match up for Saturday’s game

DeShone Kizer
Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer looks to pass against Virginia Tech during a game on Nov. 19.
(Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press)

No. 12 USC (8-3) vs. Notre Dame (4-7), at the Coliseum. TV: ABC, 12:30 p.m.

Most intriguing story line: Notre Dame has endured a miserable season, but its record is a little misleading. Six of seven losses have been by seven points or fewer. (The seventh loss was by eight points.) “You come away feeling their record does not match the personnel that’s on the field right now,” USC Coach Clay Helton said. A win would mark the 20th time USC has swept Notre Dame and UCLA. The two rivals’ struggles this season have already produced four “perfect days” for USC fans — when USC wins and UCLA and Notre Dame lose during the same week. That is the most in USC’s history.

USC pass offense vs. Notre Dame pass defense: Sam Darnold had two passes intercepted in each of the last two games, a small sign of trouble in an otherwise pristine freshman season. Still, Darnold hasn’t had a game as the starter with more interceptions than touchdowns. His top target, JuJu Smith-Schuster, has been hampered by various injuries. He has now gone four consecutive games without reaching 100 yards receiving. Darnold made up for it last week by completing passes to 11 USC players. The strength of Notre Dame’s team is its passing defense, which ranks 28th nationally  by giving up only 195.6 yards a game. But the Trojans have faced stiffer challenges.  EDGE: USC

USC run offense vs. Notre Dame run defense: Justin Davis, the starting running back at the season’s start, is nearing full strength after returning from an ankle injury, but Ronald Jones II has kept his grip on the starting role. Against UCLA, Jones rushed for 121 yards and two touchdowns in 18 carries. He has averaged 152 yards in the last four contests. Notre Dame’s rushing defense  gives up 180.2 yards per game, 75th in the nation, though Helton has been impressed by defensive tackle Jarron Jones (8.5 tackles for loss) and defensive end Isaac Rochell (seven tackles for loss).  EDGE: USC


Notre Dame pass offense vs. USC pass defense: Some NFL draft projections list DeShone Kizer as the best passer available if he chooses to leave as a redshirt sophomore. Kizer has thrown for 2,705 yards this season. His 24 touchdown passes with eight interceptions are the same totals as Darnold, though Darnold has done it in fewer games. Equanimeous St. Brown of Anaheim Servite High has been the Irish’s most consistent receiver, totaling three to six receptions in each game. He only has two 100-yard games, but he needed just four receptions to rack up 182 yards and two touchdowns against Syracuse. Pass defense has been a minor blemish recently for USC. The Trojans have given up three touchdowns in the last two games. Oddly enough, cornerback Adoree’ Jackson, a finalist for the Thorpe Award, given to the nation’s best defensive back, has  allowed all three.  EDGE: Notre Dame

Notre Dame run offense vs. USC run defense: UCLA delivered a shock to the Trojans by rushing for 47 yards in the first quarter last week. Then USC gave up a total of eight yards rushing the rest of the game. The Trojans haven’t given up more than 85 yards rushing in a game in almost a month. Notre Dame is 78th nationally in rushing offense,  averaging 164.2 yards per game. Josh Adams is a powerful back who has rushed for 753 yards (5.3 yards per carry) and five touchdowns. But Kizer may be more dangerous. Notre Dame has called several designed quarterback runs each game for Kizer, who averages 44 yards in 10 carries, including sacks, and leads the team with seven touchdowns rushing. EDGE: USC

Special teams: USC has blocked a field-goal attempt in each of the last two games, another evolution in one of the nation’s best special teams units. For Notre Dame, C.J. Sanders is 23rd nationally in kickoff return average and has two touchdowns this season. That’s  one more than Jackson, who also has a punt-return touchdown. EDGE: USC

Zach Helfand’s pick: USC has displayed maturity during its seven-game winning streak, avoiding letdowns before and after a win over Washington. Don’t expect there to be one against a rival at home, where the Trojans have been dominant. USC is good enough in all three facets of the game to hand Notre Dame its first double-digit loss  this season.  


USC 38, Notre Dame 24.

Follow Zach Helfand on Twitter @zhelfand

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