Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 26, 2022*

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

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38 NOV. 26, 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED GAME PREVIEW: SOUTHERN CAL yards with 4 touchdowns and no interceptions — before going only 3-of-5 passing for 35 yards with 1 interception and 5 sacks in the second half. As the Irish wide receivers slowly find their way, tight end Michael Mayer continues to be Pyne's fa- vorite target. The junior All-American easily led the Irish in receptions (54), receiving yards (647) and touchdown catches (7) through Week 11. Mayer was tied for first in TD catches and second in recep- tions among all tight ends in the country through games of Nov. 12. The underperformance of its wide receivers has dragged down Notre Dame into a tie for 109th na- tionally in passing offense (192.5 yards per game) through 10 contests. Sophomore Lorenzo Styles — 26 receptions 306 yards 1 touchdowns — remains the most productive Irish wideout. Heading into the Boston College game, no other Notre Dame wide receiver even had 20 catches or 200 yards. The USC defense has created havoc for opposing passing games this season. Led by sophomore defen- sive back Calen Bullock with 4 interceptions through Week 11 — the second most in the Pac-12 and tied for 10th nationally — USC topped the league and was tied for fourth in the country with 15 interceptions. Redshirt junior defensive back Max Williams and redshirt senior Mekhi Blackmon each had 2 interceptions, on a pass defense unit that featured a remarkable 10 different players with pickoffs through 10 games. Blackmon also led the Trojans with 9 passes broken up. Up front, 6-foot-4, 290-pound junior defensive lineman Tuli Tuipulotu — a first-team All-Pac-12 preseason selection — has been a menace for USC. He led the nation with 11.5 sacks through 10 games and also ranked fourth in the country with 17.5 total tackles for loss. Redshirt senior defensive lineman Nick Figueroa nicely complements Tuipulotu with 4.5 sacks. Advantage: USC SPECIAL TEAMS Seven blocked punts for Notre Dame this season — which the Irish have parlayed into 31 points — led the nation through games as of Nov. 12. Wanting to join the Notre Dame block party, senior line- backer Jack Kiser blocked a Navy punt that set up a touchdown on Notre Dame's ensuing offensive play. USC has performed below average on its cover- age and return teams. It ranked 112th in punt re- turn defense (11.43 yards), No. 106 in punt returns (5.00), No. 87 in kickoff return defense (21.09), and No. 55 in kickoff returns (20.48). Beyond the blocked punts, Notre Dame has done little of note on its return and coverage units. Graduate student kicker Blake Grupe missed a 45-yard field goal against Navy and had missed 3 of his previous 5 attempts heading into the BC game, dropping him to 10 of 15 for the season. Advantage: Notre Dame COACHING Just about the time his public opinion had re- turned to preseason levels with consecutive wins over then-No. 16 Syracuse and then-No. 4 Clemson, first-year Irish head coach Marcus Freeman came under fire again after a narrow 35-32 win over Navy. The three-point victory was Notre Dame's fourth straight. However, Freeman's team gained only 12 total offensive yards and was outscored 19-0 by the Midshipmen in the second half. As a silver lining, Notre Dame never trailed in its consecutive wins over UNLV, Syracuse, Clemson and Navy. In fact, it hadn't trailed in a game since the 16-14 the loss to Stanford Oct. 15. In the same way that former Irish head coach Brian Kelly did at Notre Dame last December, USC head coach Lincoln Riley sent shockwaves around the college football world in February when he left his successful program at Oklahoma for a strug- gling one in Los Angeles. The improvement he brought to USC was immediate and impressive. After leading Oklahoma to three College Football Playoff appearances during his five seasons in Nor- man (2017-21), Riley took over a 4-8 Trojan program when Clay Helton was fired. Through solid recruit- ing, a pied-piper effect on some of Oklahoma's top players, and a heavy reliance on the transfer portal, Riley orchestrated a quick turnaround at USC, put- ting the team in the top 10 and keeping it in College Football Playoff consideration well into November. Advantage: USC INTANGIBLES USC is 6-0 at home this season and has won those games by an average of 26.2 points per contest. Offensively through 10 games, the Trojans ranked third in the country in scoring with 42.4 points a game and seventh in total offense at 499.4 yards per game. Defensively, USC leads the nation in turnover margin at plus-1.70. It was also first in the country with only 3 turnovers lost and 14th in the country in turnovers gained with 20. Notre Dame has won four straight in this series but has lost two out of three at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Strangely, this is expected to be only the second time that these two proud programs are both ranked for this matchup since 2006. The Irish entered its game against Boston Col- lege winners of 18 straight November games, the longest such streak in the country. Advantage: USC Through Week 11, sophomore safety Calen Bullock's 4 interceptions were the second most in the Pac‑12 and tied for 10th nationally. PHOTO COURTESY SOUTHERN CAL ATHLETICS

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