Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 12, 2019

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

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Page 34 of 55 OCT. 12, 2019 35 BY TODD D. BURLAGE USC RUNNING GAME VS. NOTRE DAME RUN DEFENSE With only 137.2 rushing yards per game for a No. 90 national ranking heading into October, the USC ground game performed well below expecta- tions through its first five contests. Junior running back Vavae Malepeai leads a trio of rotational running backs with 72.0 yards per game and four touchdowns, while junior Stephen Carr and freshman Markese Stepp combine for another 77.6 rushing yards per game with an im- pressive average of 6.2 yards per carry. In an odd turn of events, USC averaged 191.5 rushing yards per contest in its two losses to BYU and Washington, but only 101.0 yards in its three wins over Fresno State, Stanford and Utah. The Irish run defense took a big jump statistically after holding Virginia to just four rushing yards on 29 attempts in their 35-20 win Sept. 28, based mainly on the negative-29 yards from Cavaliers quarterback Bryce Perkins from eight Notre Dame sacks. In their first two games, the Irish were gashed for 461 combined rushing yards by Louisville and New Mexico. But after solid efforts against ranked oppo- nents Georgia and Virginia, they were allowing an av- erage of 154.3 yards per contest (71st in the nation). Advantage: Notre Dame USC PASSING GAME VS. NOTRE DAME PASS DEFENSE With a pedestrian running game, there's no sur- prise that USC planned to do most of its damage through the air. But with sophomore quarterback JT Daniels, a preseason Heisman hopeful, lost for the year with a knee injury in game one, this expected strength for the Trojans has become a question mark. Freshman Kedon Slovis and junior Matt Fink have had their moments while filling the quarterback void left by Daniels. But with nine touchdowns and eight interceptions between them, this position re- mains unsettled. Fink threw for 163 yards and one touchdown in USC's last game, but his three inter- ceptions contributed to a 28-14 loss to the Huskies. Through five weeks, senior Michael Pittman Jr. ranked 10th in the country in receptions per game (7.0), 14th in receiving yards per contest (100.2) and 24th in touchdown catches (four). PHOTO BY JOHN MCGILLEN/COURTESY USC GAME PREVIEW: USC On PaPer

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