Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 26, 2022*

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

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Page 36 of 55 NOV. 26, 2022 37 GAME PREVIEW: SOUTHERN CAL of those picks were returned for touchdowns by Irish defenders. The Irish also continue to shine in team sacks. Notre Dame entered the Boston College game ranked 18th nationally with 2.9 sacks a game. Advantage: USC NOTRE DAME RUNNING GAME VS. USC RUN DEFENSE Like Notre Dame's rushing defense, its rushing offense also suffered a significant setback against Navy after showing sustained and steady improve- ment in this area. Shockingly, the Irish managed only 66 yards rush- ing against the Midshipmen, a season low, and only 1.9 yards per carry. Until the Navy stumble, Notre Dame had rushed for at least 220 yards in three straight games and in five of six to climb to No. 28 nationally in rushing offense. The Irish rushing attack dropped to No. 43 (182.2 yards per game) after their Week 11 stumble. Notre Dame continues to get the bulk of its work on the ground from its sophomore tailback tandem of Audric Estime and Logan Diggs. Through 10 games, Estime led the Irish with 711 yards rushing and 9 touchdowns on 125 carries. Diggs was sec- ond on the team with 576 yards on 125 carries and has scored 1 touchdown on the ground. Junior tailback Chris Tyree needs to be recognized as well. He had 349 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns on 87 carries through Week 11. If Tyree can reach 100 carries in 2022, it would mark the first time since 1995 that three Irish running backs recorded 100 carries in the same season — Randy Kinder (143), Marc Edwards (140) and Autry Denson (137). For USC, it ranked 8th in the Pac-12 and 58th nationally in rushing defense through Week 11, allowing 141.5 yards per game. A balanced group of tacklers, three Trojans had more than 50 stops through 10 games. Senior linebacker Shane Lee led the team with 56 tackles, including 5.5 for loss, through 10 contests. Redshirt junior safety Max Williams added 55 tackles and sophomore linebacker Eric Gentry had 52 stops. USC's 6.4 tackles for loss ranked second in the Pac-12 and 38th nationally heading into its UCLA game Nov. 19. Advantage: Notre Dame NOTRE DAME PASSING GAME VS. USC PASS DEFENSE During Notre Dame's three-game winning streak against UNLV, Syracuse and Clemson, junior quar- terback Drew Pyne completed only 32 of 64 passes (50.0 percent) for 406 yards with 4 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Pyne's three-game stats looked like single-game numbers for a quarterback such as USC's Williams. But with a dominating Irish running game, no hero- ics or gaudy stats were needed. Then, in one of the strangest performances by a college quarterback this season, Pyne played the best football of his career in the first half against Navy — connecting on 14 of 16 throws for 234 Senior linebacker Shane Lee led Southern Cal with 56 tackles, including 5.5 for loss, through 10 contests. PHOTO COURTESY SOUTHERN CAL ATHLETICS Staff Predictions Todd D. Burlage: USC 31, Notre Dame 30 The USC passing game led by sophomore quarterback Caleb Williams and a deep stable of terrific wide receivers is where this team shines most. Williams entered his game against UCLA Nov. 19 av- eraging 301.0 passing yards a game with 31 touchdowns passes — tied for the third-best mark in the country — along with only 2 interceptions. Defensively, USC led the nation through Nov. 12, in turnover margin at plus-1.70. It was also first in the country in turnovers lost with only 3, and 14th in the country in turnovers gained with 20. Notre Dame has won four straight in this series. USC is 6-0 at home this season, and has won those games by an average of 26.2 points per contest. Steve Downey: USC 34, Notre Dame 24 The 2022 season has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride for the Fighting Irish, who have played both up and down to their competition this season. With a 9-1 record and No. 7 ranking, the Trojans are off to their best start through 10 games since 2008. The path to victory for the Irish is simple: they must run the ball effectively and keep the Trojans' explosive offense (42.4 points and 499.4 yards per game) off the field. The Irish had eclipsed 200 yards rushing five times and were 6-0 when winning the time of possession heading into their Week 12 matchup with Boston College. Nothing would surprise me here, but due to Notre Dame's inconsistent offensive execution, I find myself leaning toward Southern Cal in this one. Patrick Engel: Notre Dame 41, USC 38 Notre Dame played keep-away and ran the ball against Ohio State's high-end passing offense because it had to, even though it wasn't good enough to do it at the time. The Irish will likely go that route against a similarly potent USC passing offense, but this time because they want to. The ground game is their strength. And this USC defense is a below-average unit, especially against the run. The season ends by executing the blueprint they couldn't at the start of it. Tyler Horka: Notre Dame 33, USC 31 This is a tough matchup for the Fighting Irish, but head coach Marcus Freeman's team has gotten up for those all year. Notre Dame does enough offensively to run over USC's weak defensive unit. The Irish go as sophomores running backs Audric Estime and Logan Diggs go. Junior quarterback Drew Pyne makes a few timely throws and takes care of the football. As well as USC QB Caleb Williams has played this year, there have been times when this Trojans offense just looks a bit off. Thirty-one points is a lot, but it won't be enough to take care of the Irish. Williams and the Trojans will stall one too many times, and Freeman and company cap a roller coaster of a season with their hands in the air. Mike Singer: Notre Dame 28, USC 27 Notre Dame's 2022 season hasn't made a whole lot of sense. They've won games they were supposed to lose and vice versa. I'll take the Irish to pull off an upset in Los Angeles.

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