Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 12, 2019

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

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34 OCT. 12, 2019 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED game. Junior running back Stephen Carr is averaging 6.1 yards per carry, but given his injury history, he is far from an every-down back. The team's leading rusher is junior running back Vavae Malepeai, who compiled 79 attempts for 360 yards (4.6 yards per carry) and four touchdowns the first five weeks. Young said fans would prefer that redshirt freshman Markese Stepp play more often. In five games, he has carried the ball just 25 times, but he's aver- aging 6.4 yards per attempt. Supposedly, he struggles in pass protection, which is vital within the Air Raid offense. A primary question mark heading into this season was the offensive line, which was one of the team's major weak- nesses last year. Thus far, Young noted the line has exceeded ex- pectations in pass protection. Of course, it's easier to block pass rushers when, by design, the ball gets out to receivers quickly. The line is led by ju- nior left tackle Austin Jackson, who some recruiting services had ranked as a five-star prospect. DEFENSE The strength of this USC team is its defensive line. The team leader in sacks is actually true freshman Drake Jackson with three among his five tackles for loss. Rivals rated Jackson as the No. 5 overall strongside defen- sive end in the class of 2019. "He played every snap [at Wash- ington] for the first time after seeing his role grow and grow each week," Young said. "He was a starter at the beginning of the season, but he was rotating out, and now he's doesn't come off the field." Christian Rector is another impact player along the Trojan line. The 6-4, 270-pound fifth-year senior has one sack on the year and two tackles for a loss. The back end of the defense was supposed to be one of USC's weak- nesses coming into the season, but is another position group that has exceeded expectations. The starting corners are redshirt freshman Olaijah Griffin and true freshman Chris Steele. Griffin leads the team in pass deflections with six. Steele was actually an early enrollee this past spring at Florida, briefly transferred to Oregon over the summer and then wound up at USC and was cleared to play. Young said the team's best defensive player is sopho- more safety Talanoa Hufanga, but it's uncertain if he will be able to play against the Irish because of a concussion that caused him to miss USC's game against Washington. Defensively, this team's big- gest weakness is its linebacker corps. According to Pro Foot- ball Focus, the Trojans had 58 missed tackles during their 3-2 start. Palaie Gaoteote, a former five-star outside linebacker, has the most with 11 missed tackles on the season, but the entire team has had issues, even in victories. Against Utah alone, USC missed a season- high 20 tackles. MATCHUP WITH THE IRISH Assuming Slovis is the USC starter, Young expects this to be a competitive game. The Trojans' quick passing at- tack should somewhat neutralize the Irish's vaunted defensive ends. Like last year, expect USC receivers to be put in positions to make big plays. But ultimately, Notre Dame's pass defense should have the advantage here. Offensively, Notre Dame should be able to run the ball and have an opportunity for big plays on USC's missed tackles. They do need to be wary of the pass rush and the tal- ented but inexperienced secondary. It is worth noting that the Trojans enjoy and respect Helton, and will be fighting hard for him when they visit South Bend. The Irish must be up for this game. "This USC team is talented enough to be competitive in every game," Young said. "I would certainly ex- pect Notre Dame to have the edge and prevail, but I don't think that anything was going to come easy against USC. I think they're going to compete." ✦ GAME PREVIEW: USC Former five-star recruit and current junior left tackle Austin Jackson leads the way for an offensive line that has allowed only six sacks through five games. However, the Trojans have struggled to run the ball consistently and ranked 90th in the nation with an average of 137.2 rushing yards per game through five weeks. PHOTO BY JOHN MCGILLEN/COURTESY USC 2019 USC SCHEDULE Date Opponent (TV) Result/Time (ET) Aug. 31 Fresno State W, 31-23 Sept. 7 Stanford W, 45-20 Sept. 14 at BYU L, 30-27 (OT) Sept. 20 Utah W, 30-23 Sept. 28 at Washington L, 28-14 Oct. 12 at Notre Dame (NBC) 7:30 p.m. Oct. 19 Arizona TBA Oct. 25 at Colorado (ESPN2) 9 p.m. Nov. 2 Oregon TBA Nov. 9 at Arizona State TBA Nov. 16 at California TBA Nov. 23 UCLA TBA 2019 NOTRE DAME SCHEDULE Date Opponent (TV) Result/Time (ET) Sept. 2 at Louisville W, 35-17 Sept. 14 New Mexico W, 66-14 Sept. 21 at Georgia L, 23-17 Sept. 28 Virginia W, 35-20 Oct. 5 Bowling Green W, 52-0 Oct. 12 USC* (NBC) 7:30 p.m. Oct. 26 at Michigan (ABC/ESPN) TBA Nov. 2 Virginia Tech (NBC) 2:30 p.m. Nov. 9 at Duke (ACCN) TBA Nov. 16 Navy (NBC) 2:30 p.m. Nov. 23 Boston College (NBC) 2:30 p.m. Nov. 30 at Stanford TBA * This will be the Irish Wear Green contest, with fans encouraged to dress in green ACCN — ACC Network

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