How USC and Notre Dame match up in one of the Trojans’ biggest games of the season

Notre Dame's Josh Adams breaks away from Boston College's Will Harris (8) during a Sept. 16 game.
(Michael Dwyer / Associated Press)

No. 11 USC (6-1, 4-1 in the Pac-12) vs. No. 13 Notre Dame (5-1)

Saturday, 4:30 p.m., Notre Dame Stadium. TV: NBC. Radio: 710

Marquee matchup

Running back Josh Adams vs. defensive tackle Brandon Pili: Adams ran for 180 yards in 17 carries against USC last season. “You just don’t bring the guy down with an arm tackle,” USC coach Clay Helton said. “He just runs right through it. We saw it first-hand last year. He probably did the best job against us the entire year as far as running the football.” Adams ranks 10th nationally with 776 rushing yards. Pili, a freshman from Alaska, “is a 340-pound dancing polar bear,” Helton has said. Pili has promise but was due to redshirt until injuries to Marlon Tuipulotu and Josh Fatu pressed him into the starting role against Notre Dame’s strong rushing attack.

Getting offensive

USC (477.0 ypg/34.4 ppg): Turnovers once again almost doomed USC against Utah. This time it wasn’t interceptions but three first-half fumbles by quarterback Sam Darnold. USC now has 16 turnovers this season. Only three teams in the nation have more. But USC dominated the second half last week. Darnold threw for 358 yards and three touchdowns and Ronald Jones II rushed for 111 yards.

Notre Dame (471.2 ypg/40.0 ppg): A season after a pass-heavy approach failed his offense, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly switched philosophies. Notre Dame now runs on 61% of plays. Quarterback Brandon Wimbush has as many rushing attempts (68, for 402 yards) as completions. He can still air it out to Equanimeous St. Brown, who has 15 catches for 211 yards. The left side of Notre Dame’s line, guard Quenton Nelson and tackle Mike McGlinchey, is as good as anyone’s.

Getting defensive

USC (385.4 ypg/23.7 ppg): Utah punished USC for 132 rushing yards in the first half. Outside linebacker Christian Rector blamed missed assignments and bad gap coverage. USC fixed its errors to allow just 37 more rushing yards in the second half.


Notre Dame (365.7 ypg/16.8 ppg): Notre Dame hasn’t allowed a score on an opening drive all season. The Fighting Irish’s strong front seven has been disruptive, starting with nose guard Jerry Tillery, who has three sacks. Tillery was reprimanded by Kelly after two incidents after the whistle against USC last season. Notre Dame’s secondary has been middling. It ranks 77th nationally with 231.2 pass yards allowed. It also has been mostly untested this season.

Something special

Notre Dame kicker Justin Yoon has a career long of 52 yards. Tyler Newsome ranks 11th in punting average with 45.7 yards.

USC punt returner Ajene Harris has returned just six punts this season.

Of note

Both teams start a player named Cameron Smith — for Notre Dame he’s a receiver and for USC he’s a starting linebacker and captain. … Notre Dame has won its last four games by 20 points or more.

Local ties

Eleven Notre Dame players are from California, including St. Brown (Anaheim) and kick returner C.J. Sanders (Granada Hills).

Follow Zach Helfand on Twitter @zhelfand