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  • Confident Trojans Await Struggling Irish

    by John Vannie

    Notre Dame will reach the end of what has become a most dismal football season when the Fighting Irish travel to Los Angeles to take on archrival USC on Saturday. The game represents a final opportunity for the 4-7 Fighting Irish to salvage a semblance of pride from this campaign after a series of disappointing losses and off the field embarrassments. Meanwhile, the heavily favored Trojans have won seven consecutive games. The team has jelled under Coach Clay Helton and quarterback Sam Darnold after a rocky 1-3 start, and hopes to land a berth in the PAC-12 championship game as well as the Rose Bowl. National television coverage is being provided by ABC starting at 3:30 Eastern time.

    Both squads opened the season in the State of Texas with disappointing results. Notre Dame lost in overtime to the Longhorns, whom they had beaten by 38-3 one year earlier. USC played a neutral site game against Alabama, and the Trojans looked dazed and confused in a blowout loss. Helton immediately came under fire, but his steady leadership along with the emergence of Darnold in place of opening day starter Max Browne have righted the ship. Brian Kelly has yet to suffer any consequences for his failure to get the Irish to play to the level of their talent, but that could change in the wake of NCAA penalties that were handed down this week arising from an academic scandal and what may be a resounding defeat to end this season at 4-8.

    The Irish remain without the services of wide receiver Torii Hunter, Jr., who suffered a knee injury against Navy. Defensive tackle Daniel Cage is also questionable for this week’s game. The Trojans are mostly healthy now that defensive linemen Josh Fatu and Stevie Tu’ikolovatu, a graduate transfer from Utah, have recovered from mid-season ailments. Star receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster is also close to 100% after a month-long battle with back spasms.


    USC Offense USC’s 3-4 defense has been playing very well of late, both in terms of stopping the run and applying pressure on the passer. The Trojans held previously undefeated Washington and its high octane offense to 17 yards rushing in an impressive victory, and last week limited UCLA to just 55 yards on the ground. Nose guard Tu’ikolovatu leads a disruptive defensive line that also features sophomore tackle Rasheem Green and several other underclassmen in the rotation.

    There is plenty of speed and athleticism at linebacker, where senior Michael Hutchings is surrounded by sophomores Cameron Smith, the team’s leading tackler, and Porter Gustin, whose specialty is making plays behind the line of scrimmage. Rounding out the group is Uchenna Nwosu, a speedy outside backer who is an adept pass rusher. USC has been successful of late because its down linemen have dominated opposing offensive lines and allowed its linebackers to either shut down the run or find clear lanes to pressure the passer.

    Once again, Notre Dame will rely on quarterback DeShone Kizer to carry much of the offensive load. Helton is very much aware of Kizer’s talent and his potential to engineer an upset. “Elite arm, but has the ability to create in the run game,” Helton said. “You’re talking about a quarterback that already has over 500 yards rushing and then you see him spread the ball around to several different receivers. He’s a very talented kid; a kid that will end up playing on Sundays.”

    Kizer’s receivers will be defended by a secondary that boasts only one senior, safety Leon McQuay III. The best player in the group is cornerback Adoree Jackson, who was repeatedly torched last year in South Bend by Will Fuller. Sophomores Iman Marshall and Marvell Tell III round out this very fast but sometimes vulnerable group. Based on the matchups and Kelly’s history of abandoning the running game early when it doesn’t produce immediate results, it’s almost certain that Kizer will throw between 40-50 passes in this contest.


    Trojan Defense A strong offensive line has enabled Helton’s attack to be balanced and allowed Darnold to develop into a solid performer. Bookend senior tackles Zach Banner and Chad Wheeler line up with an interior group that makes up for inexperience with size and enthusiasm. Sophomore Ronald Jones II is the primary running back, although the Trojans will rotate in multiple players including Justin Davis and Aca’Cedric Ware. The group has averaged over 200 yards per game and an impressive 5.3 yards per carry. They will also run a power formation with fullback Reuben Peters in lieu of an extra wide receiver.

    Darnold is a 68% passer and has multiple targets at his disposal. Smith-Schuster is the most explosive with eight touchdowns, while steady Darreus Rogers is the lone senior. Deontay Burnett and Steven Mitchell are also in the mix, and freshman tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe is emerging as a present and future star. The Irish will have to find a way through the Trojan forward wall to pressure Darnold, who has been susceptible to forced throws resulting in interceptions. If he has time to throw and the running game is rolling, it will be a long afternoon for the visitors.

    During this two month winning streak, USC has reached 500 yards of offense six times in seven tries. The defense has contributed by winning on third down and turning the ball back to Darnold, and this formula resulted in a whopping 44-16 minute time of possession advantage last week at UCLA. When the Trojan attack is stopped, it is often due to their penchant for committing penalties or turnovers at inopportune moments.


    USC Jackson is a dangerous weapon as both the punt and kickoff return man for USC. He has scored touchdowns in each role, as has Notre Dame’s C.J. Sanders. The Trojans take pride in their special teams and have dominated opponents in each statistical category. Kicker Matt Boermeester is accurate on attempts under 50 yards, while Australian native Chris Tilbey’s punts are relatively short but well-placed.

    Notre Dame has enjoyed a few excellent returns from Sanders this season, but he has been the lone bright spot in this phase of the game. The recent, catastrophic failures of the Irish special teams have been well-documented, but USC is well positioned to make them pay for any miscues. On the positive side, kicker Justin Yoon and punter Tyler Newsome have steadily improved all year and are plus performers for Notre Dame.


    USC is a very young team, but somehow Helton has managed to build them into a formidable force despite early growing pains and a new quarterback. The elephant in the room for Notre Dame is how motivated the coaches and players have been to prepare for this matchup, especially given this week’s distractions. More importantly, it may not only be the football season that will end on Saturday, but also a regime change may be on the horizon.

    Conversely, the dynamic for the Trojans is quite the opposite. Their dominance of the Huskies in Seattle solidified them as a legitimate power that would cause a few sleepless nights for anyone other than Alabama. Their strength is in the trenches, and the emergence of Darnold has allowed the offense to reach its full potential.

    Here are a few questions that will have a bearing on the outcome:

    Will the Irish be able to generate an effective running game?

    Which special teams will make plays that alter field position?

    Can Notre Dame pressure Darnold into poor decisions?

    Which team will win the battle in the trenches?

    Can Kizer convert enough third downs to keep the game close?

    Will the Irish sustain a strong level of effort for 6o minutes?

    In which quarter will Kelly start screaming at his players?


    USC All signs point to a Trojan victory, although the game should not deteriorate into an absolute shellacking like USC put on the Irish the last time they visited the Coliseum. As long as Notre Dame can maintain a credible running threat, Kizer could exploit the Trojan secondary and put points on the board. Over the course of four quarters, however, the hosts will wear down the Irish and the matter will be decided well before the final whistle. On this last weekend of the season, the larger question is not about which team will win, but rather what future awaits Brian Kelly and his staff in the aftermath.

    USC 38 NOTRE DAME 20

    48 Responses to “Confident Trojans Await Struggling Irish”

    1. Vannie,

      SC will want to impress the Playoff Committee.. They will score at will against a terrible
      ND secondary that got lit up last week by VT..

      Too much speed on the outside and too much speed on defense.

      A tired and unmotivated Irish team will get blown off the field.. I’ve predicted almost
      every game “right on” this year.

      Awful game prep by BK once again..

      USC 49
      ND 13

    2. I think this game might be real ugly for the Irish. 45-20 SC in a romp. A miserable ending loss to a debacle of a season.

    3. ND Dad 2010-2014 says:

      I commend your efforts to rationalize the IRISH could maintain an effort to put up a battle with a respectable effort in the run game that sets up Kizer and his skills to open the passing attack against the Trojans. As a devout ND fan I would love to see this play out and hope for the unexpected, but I can’t see it happening given the track record of this program under BK. I have bashed the Kelly regime for a very long time but I feel at this point in the season I must say no one man stands alone in the judgement of how bad this program has become. Seven years of a football program that has produced some highs and terrible lows with a head coach and staff now battling for win records without asterisks is not where we envisioned IRISH football in 2016. NCAA appeals and how we are going to fight as the Irish to say unfair for right or wrong is so far from where we should be at this point. BK is at ground central but as a loyal and passionate Notre Dame family we cannot deny that an administration an AD and an Athletic Department should rightfully share full accountancy and blame for such the state we find ourselves now.
      To quote you …
      “USC is a very young team, but somehow Helton has managed to build them into a formidable force despite early growing pains”…
      With the right decisions and direction we should be saying that very same thing in year seven after attrition and a few trips to the NC under our belts. Sadly that’s not the case.

      • John Vannie says:

        Thanks, Dad. Of course I wrote that in response to the ND Spin Machine assertion that the Irish are a young team. That excuse really doesn’t fly when you consider that USC is very young, Navy had 17 new starters this season and Alabama is the youngest team in the SEC. It concerns me that the Administration will go to such great lengths to rationalize the poor performance of a coach that obviously needs to go.

    4. Purduegary says:

      The picture above ,Kelly yelling at a player , sums up his 7 years of no relationships with the team. Where is PJ Fleck

    5. Glenn Hane says:

      38-24 USC… Get this year over and start to prepare for 2017… I love my Irish and we will be back!!!

      • The poInt is, why do we ever have to suffer through crap debacle seasons

        tOSU just gets NCAA Sanctioned and reloads with urban and rattles off national championship, 55and 6 record

        Sleepy campus, apathetic leaders custodied with the football program

    6. Bad coaching, bad preparation, bad result.
      USC 48 ND 21.
      Please let our suffering end.

    7. Carlos Bauza says:

      ND Football is beyond the talents of Brian Kelly.

    8. The Irish need a miracle to beat USC – will have to score TD’s everytime they have the ball and USC will have to turn it over in red zone. Speed/size of USC receivers vs. ND secondary will be a mismatch and ND special teams will have to be at their best. It is a early start time and hope the team comes ready to play or it will get out of hand quickly.Have to avoid the nonsense of unforced errors that have been a nightmare this season :false starts,offside,too many men on field,use of timeouts because of confusion in huddle. Notre Dame will have to play their best game of the season to have a chance.Like many staunch followers of the Irish let’s hope the team plays with pride. Been a tough season to say the least.

    9. John’s articles before the games are the best reads from any source. Thank you John for another year of really great work!

      ND has a heart problem. They are talented but underdeveloped and just not tough football players. $C will be looking to curb-stomp us, and we will be ready to sway to fight songs after the game.

      $C- 51 ND 16 in a thorough embarrassment. To top it off, not-ready-for-big-time Kelly stays. Wish it will be different in both score and with Kelly.

      • Uncle Ralph the Old Rattlesnake says:

        AGREED–it’s peerless sportswriting, worthy of Notre Dame. Now if it only could be applied to a big win, like tomorrow.
        DISAGREE–the players probably are tough enough, but they seem to be undermined by too much scheme, too much system. How about when the ball is in the air letting them go for it instead of worrying that their coach will fire on them for being “out of position”?
        I predict an upset. Any final score will do. The players will throw off the shackles and be themselves for a change. Talented, and yes, tough.

    10. I hope “you can’t spell SUCK without USC” hangs 70 on us. Then maybe the administration will by some miracle make a HC change. I’d like to see a play to lure Chris Petersen away from UW.

    11. Swarbrick has a mess to clean up. Time for alums and big donors to let the powers that be know enough of this garbage.

    12. I’ve been a fan for 67 years.They have gotten to the point where I can’t watch them play or anyone else in college football. The administration has finally done it,destroyed the program.I call it the graveyard of coaches.Only a fool will think he can do better than Kelly.May you Rest In Peace, Notre Dame Football.

    13. The only think more disappointing then this season and the pending defeat to USC is that ND will not fire Kelly.

    14. Carlos Bauza says:

      USC 56 ND 3
      This will mark the paradigm shift of ND Football. Get used to it from now on. The watered-down ivy type games.

    15. TimmyIrish says:

      What an awful season…the history of the past 20 seasons gives me no reason to believe we can win this game, which is sad. As usual, I’ll hope for the best, but won’t be watching. It’s been too painful to see lately, so I’ll work on decorating for Christmas instead.

    16. Bad coaching overwhelms good players and soft offense breeds soft defense. Both need to change in 2017 for a better outcome.

    17. The prognosis is grim for this ND football team tomorrow in the coliseum. I’m getting so sick and tired of hearing that “we’re young” and “we lack experience” as if no other programs have youth issues. Kelly and his peanut gallery of supporters are implying that if they weren’t so young they’d be battling for a playoff position. This is year seven but it’s like Kelly is a new coach installing a new system with players he didn’t recruit.

      As others have pointed out, USC has a young roster, too, but somehow they’ve been able to overcome that and are playing some of the best college football right now while dominating their opponents. Clay Helton just might be Pete Carroll 2.0 after all. If USC’s strength is in the trenches then it’s already over as that is ND’s Achilles heel and they’ve been getting pushed around all season long.

      If Kelly is retained at best he’ll be 7-5 or 8-4 in 2017 even with a more experienced roster. But if the pre-season is fraught with more academic scandals and disciplinary problems resulting in suspensions of key players then it’s back to square one again.

    18. USC 62-ND 16

    19. Jenkins said, without ambiguity, that if ND is found to have used ineligible players, it would voluntarily vacate any and all wins in which ineligible players played. The NCAA gave him exactly what he said would be an appropriate penalty. NCAA member institutions are largely a self policing and self enforcing. Not sure what Jenkins is complaining about or appealing. He uncovered the cheating and he indicated the appropriate sentence all of which played out. He lectured all on the most important ND value: integrity. Perhaps it is time to display some of that Father J.

    20. I heard today that Kelly has been told to return to South Bend after tomorrow”s game and not stay and recruit out on the coast. Any truth to that? Could this be the end of BK?

      • What does it matter
        The admin will screw up the next head coach too
        With their 4 year undergrad rule
        Poor pay for staff
        A loftus football field that can’t handle an interior punt
        A requirement to have 23 act premium footballers take 400 level courses

    21. ND 38
      USC 35

      ND plays for pride, pulls upset

    22. Denverjoeirish says:

      I can’t see ND even getting an offensive TD in the first three quarters. The TD will come when SC puts its third-string defense on the field for mop-up play. This time-honored rivalry won’t make a dent in the TV ratings, except on the west coast. The Irish program is tanking unless the administration hires another Lou-Holtz-personality to motivate and discipline the team. For the time being it’s $warbucks and lame-duck BK.

    23. I think the same thing happened to Ty Williingham. Hope we have the same outcome.

    24. irishhawk50 says:

      I have no rational reason to think ND will even keep this game close and I try to be rational. USC 48 ND 14.

    25. 61-9, SC.
      Ignorance prevails if ND does not fire Kelly AND Swarbrick.
      Tired of suspensions and dismissals as a result of recruiting “Wrong kind of guys.”
      There is no more pride in ND football and surly no more winning seasons.
      I look for a 7-6 season next year. No nattys since 1988 and probably no more in the future.
      ND does not care about the football program, only making money. No one should buy another ticket period. Let the administration fell as badly as we do when they see what putting a poor product on the field.
      No longer a fan, which I have been since 1955.

    26. Austinirish says:

      I keep posting that one game this season we will put it all together. We’re running out of opportunities. But even with putting it all together I don’t think we have enough to beat the Trojans the way they have been playing the last couple of months. I’mhopeful we’llmount a good effort, but 31-28 Trojans.

      Would be interested in hearing if anyone could confirm that BK has been told not to stay on West Coast.

    27. I hope we get blasted by 49

    28. james twarek says:

      Texas got it right today. LSU smart move. Can the Irish get smart today and fire Kelly?

    29. Thank God this crappy season comes to an end. Another game we should win but we ‘ll loose
      because of our mistakes. Charlie Strong for ND coach next year!!!!!

    30. irishhawk50 says:

      24-7 at half. Did anyone really expect anything other?

    31. Fire Kelly now!

    32. 1. Get Jerry Tillery off this team, the kid is a punk and needs to go smoke weed with Max.
      2. Kizer is just not that good, he continues to struggle in the spotlight and needs at least another year.
      3. Please go after a new OC as Kelly has lost touch with how to run this offense, he is wasting talent.
      4. What is the special teams issue? Unreal all year how poor this group has performed.

    33. Well that’s it. We will know by Tuesday if Notre Dame our beloved IRISH are committed to Championship football.

    34. Kelly smiling on the sidelines after the laughable two point conversion failure on the last ND touchdown. That sums up Kelly’s true coaching philosophy at ND. It’s a joke for him at this point.

    35. Viktor racz says:

      It was like watching a repeat of the same lame sitcom over and over