USC (5-6) vs. No. 3 Notre Dame (11-0)
Saturday, 5 p.m., Coliseum. TV: Channel 7. Radio: 710.
USC offensive line vs. Notre Dame defensive front. It has become a tired refrain each week, but it will hold true once again Saturday: If USC wants to have a chance at victory, its offensive line must compete at a high level. The problem is, 11 games in, it still hasn’t happened. Notre Dame’s defensive line will be the best unit that USC has faced this season. If there is any opening, it is in the run game, where the Fighting Irish are just 39th nationally, giving up 137 yards a game. USC must approach that number with running backs Aca’Cedric Ware and Vavae Malepeai to give JT Daniels a chance to pass the ball in manageable down-and-distance situations, and that will all come down to the USC offensive line. The line would do itself a favor by creating a push in the run game and avoiding third-and-long scenarios. That is where the group has been consistently unable to protect Daniels, forcing the young quarterback to take a sack or force a downfield throw that might not be there. Expect Notre Dame to stack the box and challenge USC to ask Daniels to win the game. It’s a formula that has worked out well for the Trojans’ last two opponents, California and UCLA.
USC (377.1 ypg/26.9 ppg): The Trojans have gotten off to good starts in the first half but struggled in the second half of late, being shut out by Cal and scoring just a field goal against the Bruins. USC can’t afford to take even a quarter off against Notre Dame.
Notre Dame (454.5 ypg/34.6 ppg): The Fighting Irish switched quarterbacks from Brandon Wimbush to Ian Book, which gave their offense a boost in productivity and efficiency. The return of running back Dexter Williams from suspension was the next step in Notre Dame becoming an explosive unit.
USC (379.9 ypg/27.3 ppg): This veteran group was supposed to lead the Trojans as they worked through offensive issues with a freshman quarterback. They have not done their part. The latest disappointment came at UCLA, where Joshua Kelley rushed for 289 yards. USC will need the best effort from seniors Cameron Smith, Marvell Tell III and Iman Marshall in their final game at the Coliseum.
Notre Dame (321.4 ypg/17.3 ppg): The best unit on the field is Notre Dame’s defense, which started its season by holding Michigan’s offense to one touchdown in South Bend and never let up. The Fighting Irish will aim to overpower USC up front with only four pass rushers.
Last week, USC blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown and converted a fake punt for a first down. The Trojans will need more big plays on special teams to pull the upset.
The Trojans have won 11 of the last 16 meetings with the Irish (including the past two in the Coliseum), but all five of those losses have been since 2010.
USC’s biggest question is whether middle linebacker John Houston (hamstring) can play Saturday. If he doesn’t go, he will be replaced by freshman Palaie Gaoteote IV.