Notre Dame may have had two seasons of games vacated this week, but the Fighting Irish’s game this Saturday against the USC Trojans still counts for something (sort of)!
ND comes in at 4-7 after blowing a 24-7 lead against Virginia Tech last weekend and is now looking to finish 5-7 in order to potentially be eligible for a terrible bowl. USC, meanwhile, enters the game at 8-3, ranked 12th in the country, and as one of the hottest teams in the nation after winning 7 straight.
So with one team hoping to stay in the hunt for a Pac-12 championship game bid and the other just trying not to have a colossally bad 4-8 season, how does USC match up with Notre Dame?
Let’s see what Julian Lopez of Conquest Chronicles has to say about all of that!
1. USC got off to a rough start this year, losing 3 of its first 4. Since the loss to Utah, the Trojans have been on a tear with impressive wins over Colorado and even more impressively, Washington. What's changed that has made USC so dangerous down the stretch?
Well, you have to start with the quarterback change… Sam Darnold has taken the nation by storm with how well he has played. His ability to evade defenders and run for first downs or throw deep balls on the run is amazing.
I also think it took the Trojans a long time to recover after their loss to Alabama. That was a really tough one to swallow and I think it took a lot of confidence away from the Trojans.
2. Tell me about Sam Darnold and the weapons he has to distribute the ball to, like Juju Smith-Schuster, Ronald Jones, etc. Do you see any way the ND defense can even slow down the offense?
I mentioned Darnold above and the only way I see the ND defense stopping the Trojans is if the Trojans beat themselves.
Darnold’s one issue has been turning the ball over. Also, there was a little bit of concern last week as the Trojans struggled to score TDs in the red zone. USC’s offense is stacked and they have so much talent that they are tough to stop.
3. Who's the X-factor for the USC offense? Whose play will be absolutely crucial to beating ND?
I’ll go with the offensive line, more importantly the running offense. USC has been really running the ball well recently and that has forced defenses to crowd the box and give USC those 1-on-1 plays that they like so much.
4. USC's defense is 28th in total defense (yards allowed per game) and 24th in scoring defense (21.7 ppg allowed). How do you see the Trojan defense matching up against an inconsistent but dangerous ND offense led by DeShone Kizer?
USC’s D-line has been amazing in the past couple of weeks and I see them performing well on Saturday. I have always like Kizer and see him as a future NFL quarterback but like you mentioned, their whole offense has been inconsistent as of late.
The one way to beat the Trojans is finding those big plays and those miscommunications that lead to big gains and touchdowns.
5. Who's the one guy/couple guys on the USC defense that ND fans should be very afraid of?
Porter Gustin and Adoree’ Jackson. Gustin has been playing well especially when he comes off the edge to blitz the quarterback. Jackson had a tough ND game last year and he is probably eyeing this game, especially since it’s probably his last game at the Coli.
6. It's been a roller coaster first full season under Clay Helton - what are your thoughts on him as USC head coach? Think he's the right guy for the job with how they're playing now? Too early to tell?
The roller coaster has gone from way up to way down and now it’s back to way up. I think he is the right guy for the job and some of the coaches he has brought in have been doing a fantastic job.
That 1-3 start really turned heads but you have to remember who they played in those games. If Utah beats Colorado this Saturday, the Trojans will have won the Pac-12 title in both of the years with Helton as HC.
7. You're picking a dodgeball team to take on Globo Gym and try to win enough money to keep your lesser gym in business. Who from this game (either team) do you pick for your team, and who is your coach?
One guy: Adoree’ Jackson. Have you seen his backflips!? Give me Helton as coach.
8. Dance-off - Clay Helton vs. Brian Kelly. Who wins, and what songs do each of them dance to?
The people that don’t watch this dance-off win.
9. Do USC fans consider this game a big rivalry? Is it bigger than UCLA or is that bigger because both schools are in LA?
It’s a huge rivalry because both teams are normally always top teams in the nation. I think this game is bigger than the UCLA game because both teams have historically always been top teams but with UCLA, it’s the Crosstown Rivalry which makes it a big deal.
10. Anything else ND fans should know about USC - about the team, coaches, fans, traditions, etc.?
We have a horse.
11. Give me your prediction for the game, including score and why you think that will be the outcome.
48-24 USC. Trojans offense is too talented and I think ND is ready to get the season over with and start the off-season conversation about whether Kelly will be back or not.
I want to give a special shout out to Julian Lopez for answering all of our questions and encourage you all to check out Conquest Chronicles for any and all USC updates leading up to Saturday’s game.
For the next few months, we are creating #Strangewiches, unexpectedly delicious sandwiches that embody the spirit and culture of your favorite college town that you can't find on a menu anywhere! For the University of Notre Dame, our friends at SB Nation and Eater helped select the best ingredients to create the BEST, and most strange, #Strangewich for your tailgate in South Bend. Ingredients below!
Notre Dame [Pork Tenderloin Sandwich: deep-fried, pork tenderloin, with cocoa mayo, fennel, focaccia]