Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 26, 2018

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 32 of 55 NOV. 26, 2018 33 ranked No. 8 in the College Football Playoff rankings heading into the third weekend of November — to push their record back to 4-2 with a chance to finish strong. The opposite occurred, though, with USC losing three of its next four games. And the lone win in that stretch came against a 2-8 Oregon State team. "This season is a surprise to many, but not to all," publisher Ryan Young said. "Many fans saw cracks in the foundation the last two years, masked by Sam Darnold. "Clay Helton's approval rating has hit an all-time low and many are clamoring for change and a new di- rection, but he sounds resolute that he's returning. It's a tough time for Trojans fans." Despite the struggles, a change at the top is no sure thing. "Athletics director Lynn Swann has been very vocal in his support of Clay Helton, preaching patience and his confidence in what Helton showed the last two seasons," Young explained. "And Helton has been resolute that he's returning next season regardless. "All arrows seem to be pointing in that direction, even if the fan base isn't enthralled by running this back another year." Offensively, not much has worked for the Trojans. Through 11 weeks, USC ranked 83rd in scoring offense (26.9 points per game), 95th in total offense (369.9 yards per game) and 100th in rushing offense (139.6). "The only thing that's truly worked for the USC offense this season has been the downfield passing game," Young stated. "[Junior] wide receiver Michael Pittman has been a breakout star when healthy. "The running game, led by senior Aca'Cedric Ware, has just started to come on, but that's been far from consistent." Like many freshmen, Daniels has been up and down in year one, throwing for 1,975 yards and 11 touchdowns with eight interceptions in nine games. "The fans are down on Daniels," Young noted. "Aside from lead- ing the win over Washington State, which is USC's only true highlight this fall, Daniels has been an incon- sistent freshman. "The coaching staff — and I agree — still believes he has significant upside, but he would gain more be- lievers if it showed for a full four quarters." Ware has been a bright spot for the Trojans this season, rushing for 730 yards and six touchdowns on 106 carries (6.9 yards per attempt). "Ware is a man of opportunity," Young said. "He waited until his fi- nal season to truly get an opportu- nity in the backfield, and he's had to be patient still. There have been games where USC's offensive line simply gave him no chance. "When he's had holes, he's ex- ploited them. With [sophomore] Ste- phen Carr likely out for the season with a high-ankle sprain, Ware and [redshirt sophomore] Vavae Male- peai will anchor the backfield the rest of the way." At wide receiver, USC has been a three-man wrecking crew with redshirt sophomore Tyler Vaughns (46 catches for 535 yards and five touchdowns); freshman Amon- Ra St. Brown (44 catches for 558 yards and two scores), the younger brother of former Irish wideout Equanimeous St. Brown; and Pit- tman (26 receptions for 550 yards and six touchdowns). "Pittman has really had a breakout season," Young said. "Before miss- ing most of the last two games with injury, he was on an absolute tear, catching everything in sight and threatening to change games on any given series. "St. Brown has been Daniels' fa- vorite target when the going gets tough. Unfortunately, his reliance on St. Brown on third downs is no se- cret to anyone anymore. Vaughns has mostly had a very nice season, but his drop of a long touchdown against Arizona State swung that game." The struggles of the offense could be due in part to an up-and-down season for the line. "The offensive line has been the tone-setter for USC — and not al- ways in a positive way," Young said. "When it has struggled, be it in run blocking or in pass protection, the offense has cratered. Against lesser defenses, it's risen to the occasion and led to breakout rushing attacks. "But lacking consistency, it's been a major source of frustration and target of ire for fans." Defensively, USC was a bit more solid through its first 10 games, rank- ing 48th in total defense (370.0 yards allowed per game), 52nd in pass de- fense (216.1), 57th stopping the run (153.9) and 67th in scoring defense (26.6 points allowed per game). But an ankle injury to outside line- backer Porter Gustin (7.5 sacks) in USC's 3-4 scheme was a hit to the team's defense overall and up front. "[Redshirt junior] Christian Rector [who has 4.5 sacks] has elevated his play [without Gustin], and is USC's best hope for making plays in the GAME PREVIEW: USC Facts & Figures NOTRE DAME AT USC Game Info Date: Nov. 24, 2018. Site: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (78,467). Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET. Television: ABC. Radio: This broadcast can be heard live on SIRIUS Satellite Radio (channel 129) and on Notre Dame's IMG affiliates. Series Facts: The Irish lead the series 47-37-5 after claiming five of the last eight games between the two programs. This will be the 90th all-time meeting between the two programs. Head Coaches: USC — Clay Helton (32-16, 3rd season); Notre Dame — Brian Kelly (80-34, ninth season). Noting USC: The Trojans are looking for their third straight win against Notre Dame in Los Angeles, with the previous two coming by an average of 26.5 points … The last time USC didn't finish the regular season above .500 was a 6-6 mark in 2001 … Over the past five seasons, including 2018, USC is 5-7 against Power Five non-conference opponents … This season is the first since 2008 that the Trojans had to replace their statistical leading passer, rusher and receiver from the previous season … USC had to find replacements for its first-ever 4,000-yard passer in a season, a back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher, and a pair of wide receivers who combined for 127 receptions, 1,758 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns in 2017.

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