Blue and Gold Illustrated

January 2023

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

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32 JANUARY 2023 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED GAME PREVIEW: SOUTH CAROLINA BY TODD D. BURLAGE SOUTH CAROLINA RUNNING GAME VS. NOTRE DAME RUN DEFENSE This category remained an area of concern for South Carolina throughout the regular season, and one that lingers into the Gator Bowl. The Gamecocks' 123.3 yards per game ranks 12th in the 14-team SEC and tied for 100th nation- ally. In six games this season, South Carolina failed to reach 100 yards rushing, and in four of those it didn't even reach 60 yards. Redshirt sophomore tailback MarShawn Lloyd led the team with 573 yards rushing and 9 touch- downs in nine games, but he decided to enter the transfer portal Dec. 12 and won't play in the game. Junior tight end Jaheim Bell — who entered the transfer portal Dec. 5 — filled in when injuries hit the backfield and ranked second on the team with 73 rushing attempts for 261 yards and 3 touchdowns. With their top two rushers gone, the Gamecocks will rely on sophomore Juju McDowell (56 attempts for 191 yards and 2 touchdowns) and senior Christian Beal-Smith (36 carries for 148 yards and 5 scores). For Notre Dame, this has been an up-and-down category. The Irish rush defense held two ranked opponents — Syracuse (61 yards) and Clemson (90 yards) — to their season lows in yards rushing. Then, it allowed 255 yards rushing to Navy and 204 to USC in two of its last three games. The senior linebacker trio of JD Bertrand (74), Jack Kiser (52) and Marist Liufau (49) — all of whom are expected to play in the bowl game — are the top three tacklers on the team. Advantage: Notre Dame SOUTH CAROLINA PASSING GAME VS. NOTRE DAME PASS DEFENSE The emergence of redshirt junior quarterback Spencer Rattler in the Gamecocks' back-to-back wins over No. 5 Tennessee (63-38) and No. 7 Clem- son (31-30) to finish the regular season is worri- some for the Irish defense. The Oklahoma transfer threw for 8 touchdowns with just 2 interceptions in those consecutive upsets. In the first 10 games of the season, the former-five star recruit had only 8 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. But in a classic case of "what have you done for me lately," Rattler's confident play and game-winning efforts to finish this regular season need to be noted. For the season, Rattler completed 66.6 percent of his passes and averaged 231.5 yards per game with 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions for a quarter- back rating of 141.45 that ranks 50th in the country. The Gamecocks feature a deep and talented group of pass catchers. Led by junior wide receiver Antwane Wells Jr. (63 receptions for 898 yards and 6 touchdowns), South Carolina showcases five re- ceivers with at least 20 receptions and 11 different targets with at least 1 touchdown catch. Senior wide receiver Jalen Brooks has added 504 receiving yards with 1 touchdown. After they recorded only 1 interception through seven games, the Irish tallied 8 in their final five out- ings — two of which were returned for touchdowns. With senior defensive end Isaiah Foskey (a team- high 11 sacks) opting out of the bowl game as a projected early round 2023 NFL Draft pick, Notre Dame will have a pass-rushing void to fill. With that said, eight other Irish players beyond Foskey have at least 2 sacks this season for a unit that ranks 18th nationally in team sacks with 2.92 per game. Jason and Justin Ademilola have 3 sacks apiece. Advantage: South Carolina NOTRE DAME RUNNING GAME VS. SOUTH CAROLINA RUN DEFENSE This is the matchup that Notre Dame is expected to hold a sizable advantage in and needs to win. The Gamecocks have surrendered 192.4 yards rushing per game, situating it second to last in the SEC and 113th nationally. South Carolina opponents averaged at least 5.0 yards per carry in the final six games to finish the regular season, and three of those teams averaged more than 6.0 yards per attempt. That's good news for the Fighting Irish, whose rushing game ranks No. 42 nationally at 182.8 yards per game. Freshman defensive back Nick Emmanwori leads South Carolina with 78 tackles, while sixth-year linebacker Sherrod Greene is second on the team with 65 stops. Redshirt sophomore edge player Gilber Edmond has 39 tackles and leads the team with 9 tackles for loss. Notre Dame rushed for at least 150 yards seven times in its last nine regular-season games, and in six of those outing they amassed at least 220 yards. However, the Irish ground-game stalled late this season with only 66 yards against Navy Nov. 12 and 90 yards against USC Nov. 26 — two of their three worst rushing performances this season. Notre Dame settled early on the sophomore tailback tandem of Audric Estime and Logan Diggs to carry the rushing load. Estime leads the Irish with 825 yards and 11 touchdowns, while Diggs has contributed 732 yards and 3 scores. If junior Irish tailback Chris Tyree gets 5 carries against South Carolina, 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). Advantage: Notre Dame On PaPer Junior wide receiver Antwane Wells Jr., a transfer from James Madison, earned first-team All-SEC honors after hauling in 63 receptions for 898 yards and 6 scores. PHOTO COURTESY SOUTH CAROLINA

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