Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 26, 2022*

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

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Page 34 of 55 NOV. 26, 2022 35 GAME PREVIEW: SOUTHERN CAL one to talk to and get through what was going on." Wylie's philosophy is getting to know someone well enough to push that per- son to his limits. Sound familiar? Notre Dame has a guy like that in its own strength coach, Matt Balis, who those inside the Irish program give a lot of credit to for turning a 4-8 Irish team in 2016 into a 10-3 team in 2017. The same sort of culture transformation is occur- ring right now in Los Angeles. Notre Dame has a chance to expose it a bit. The knock on the highly ranked Trojans is that they are not yet a physi- cally imposing foe. They ranked No. 88 in total defense through Week 11. But they're still not the same ol' lowly Trojans who lost four games in a row to the Irish from 2017-21. This matchup has some juice again. It's bound to get blood boiling from coast to coast. And that's what it's all about. "The emotions of this game and over- all intensity will be a bit different like they are in good rivalry games," Riley said. "So it should be a lot of fun." ✦ 1. Caleb Williams, Dynamic Dual-Threat Quarterback Caleb Williams became an overnight star as a freshman after he stepped in as Oklahoma's starter midway through last season. His ascent has continued at Southern Cal, where he followed former Sooners head coach Lincoln Riley this offseason. Williams entered play Nov. 19 as the only FBS quarterback with at least 30 touchdown passes and 2 or fewer interceptions. He is tied for third nationally in touchdown passes with 31 and has tossed just 2 picks. The only qualified Power Five starter with 1 or 0 interceptions is Kansas State's Adrian Martinez. Williams also ranked 10th nationally in passing yards (3,010), 16th in yards per attempt (8.8) and eighth in pass efficiency (166.41). He led an offense that was fourth in yards per play (7.2). Williams' rushing numbers are down from a season ago, though it's worth noting he has lost 146 yards on 18 sacks this year, bringing his yards per carry average down to 3.5 from 5.5 in 2021. He still has 6 rushing touchdowns and a long run of 55 yards, though. Southern Cal acquired the reigning Biletnikoff Award winner to be Williams' go-to target. Former Pitt wide receiver Jordan Addison, who had 1,593 yards and 17 touchdowns last season and transferred to Southern Cal in the spring. He had 587 yards and 7 touchdowns entering play Nov. 19. He has missed two games and was limited in a third due to injury. 2. Run Game Takes A Hit One of Southern Cal's other significant transfer portal pulls this offseason was former Oregon running back Travis Dye, who rushed for 3,111 yards in four seasons with the Ducks. Dye had 858 rushing yards and 9 touchdowns in Southern Cal's first nine games but suffered a season-ending leg injury in a win over Colorado Nov. 11. Dye's absence strips Southern Cal of its most talented rusher and leaves former Stanford running back Austin Jones as the lead back. Jones will run behind an offensive line that has been a pleasant surprise for Southern Cal this year after it was a weakness a year ago. The Trojans rank sixth in tackles for loss per game (3.7), fourth in stuff rate (10.8 percent) and second in power success rate (92.6 percent). In pass protection, Pro Football Focus has charged the five primary starters with just 2 sacks allowed. (Note: Power success rate measures the percentage of third- or fourth-and-short runs converted for first downs). 3. Slow Build on Defense The additions of Williams, Dye, Addison and others made a jump from a shaky offense to an elite one feasible in one year. The Trojans' portal ef- forts, though, did not yield the same volume of impact players to help with overhauling a defense that allowed a program-worst 31.8 points per game in 2021. Southern Cal's defense was poorly coached and lacking talent last season, making it one of the worst Power Five units in the country. The arrival of co- ordinator Alex Grinch from Oklahoma has given the Trojans a coaching boost, but his buildup felt like a multi-year process from the moment it started. Southern Cal has improved in Grinch's first year, but only from disastrous to below average. The Trojans' defense is No. 102 nationally in yards allowed per play (5.96), 97th in yards allowed per carry (4.46), 98th in completion percentage (63.1) and 92nd in plays of at least 30 yards (22). One area of growth has been increased havoc play production. Southern Cal has 15 interceptions (tied for fourth) and is averaging 3.2 sacks per game (tied for ninth). Its plus-17 turnover margin leads the country. There have been a couple individual bright spots, too. Junior defensive line- man Tuli Tuipulotu leads the country with 11.5 sacks and is third with 17.5 tackles for loss. Redshirt senior cornerback Mekhi Blackmon, a transfer from Colorado, has 9 passes broken up and has allowed catches on just 46 percent of the passes thrown at him. All told, this defense has made bad offenses look good. Southern Cal al- lowed 35 points to Cal Nov. 5, a team that has one conference win and fired its offensive coordinator one week later. They allowed 28 points to Stanford, which also has just one Pac-12 win. Neither team ranks higher than 96th in scoring or 88th in yards per play. — Patrick Engel Junior defensive lineman Tuli Tuipulotu led the country with 11.5 sacks and was third with 17.5 tackles for loss through Week 11. PHOTO COURTESY SOUTHERN CAL Three Things To Know About Southern Cal

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