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Notre Dame Football: W.I.N. (What’s Important Now) — Beat SC Week

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BEAT SC BAYBEE

*knock on hotel door*

Yep, I ordered the continental breakfast...yeah, no problem if you only have North America — that’s typically the continent I pick for continental breakfast anyway!

Awesome, thanks — okay I gotta run back into my room, I’m working today and have a call. Thanks!

*Sprints back to the hotel desk with a banana, a sad-looking pastry, and a mini-box of Frosted Flakes*

Ooof I really wish I wasn’t working right now. Ohhhh well, time to get to it.

*clicks “Join Call” button*

Happy Monday everybody!

Yep, I’m not in my apartment today — I’m in NEW YORK! The Big Apple! The City That Never Sleeps! Sin City! The Windy City! The Big Easy! The Peach State!

Yeah sorry, I got carried away — I am indeed aware that those are mostly slogans for other locations. I regret nothing.

Yeah, my girlfriend has a work thing here this week, so I tagged along to see some of the sights and eat lots of great food and determine the best cookie in NYC (it’s Levain Bakery’s Two Chip Chocolate Chip Cookie, FYI).

Food Network & Cooking Channel New York City Wine & Food Festival presented by Capital One - Blue Moon Burger Bash presented by Pat LaFrieda Meats hosted by Rachael Ray Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images for NYCWFF

Yeah it’s my first time here, it’s been a lot of fun — but I’m also exhausted from doing so much this weekend, so it’s a ROUGH Monday. Thank goodness for coffee, amiright???

Okay well I’ve rambled about New York long enough, hopefully you all had nice weekends as well. I think we’ve got everyone who’s going to make it today...

Yep, Roger couldn’t join, he declined the invite and asked that I update him afterward. So I’ll handle that right after the call, and we can go ahead and get started. Can y’all see my screen?

Perfect! Welp, folks — it’s BEAT SC week, meaning it’s time to picture all the most hated USC folks you can think of in order to build up your rage and then release it via the noise we all bring at Notre Dame Stadium this Saturday. I went ahead and added Pete, Matt, OJ, and Reggie to our title slide here to get you guys going on that.

Alright so here’s the agenda, same as always — the Last Week’s Results and Project Scorecard and Team Members of the Week sections should go pretty fast considering it was a slow week, but we’ll dive into all of it now!

Per usual, I won’t linger on these next two slides — we all know the drill at this point.

Okay awesome, here’s a quick summary of results from last week — as you can see, various players used the BYE Week to get some rest and relaxation, visit family, and focus themselves for the season ahead.

I don’t think I need to read all these off to you guys, but I think it’s notable that Kyle used the break to get even better, Bellyman used it to get even more Bellyman, several guys practiced their football moves (Foskey, Bertrand, Hart), Joe “Baby Face” Alt won Homecoming King for the second year in a row, and Jonathan Doerer hit another game-winning kick despite not playing in a game to win.

Even better — there was nothing negative to report from a game, because there was no game!

One negative that didn’t make the slide but should be noted: freshman tight end Cane Berrong tore his ACL in practice last week, making tight end depth super shallow considering Kevin Bauman’s injury from Week 1. With Mitch Evans suspended for the first half of USC and Michael Mayer on the mend, it’s gonna be an interesting next week or two at that position, and a spot that can’t afford any more attrition in the second half of the season.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 02 Cincinnati at Notre Dame Photo by Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I’d also like to note the graphs on the right side of the slide, which feature my best estimate as to who on the team ate the most cheeseburgers during the off week, and also a nice little chart comparing the Irish’s performance at home against unranked Purdue vs. what Iowa was able to accomplish this past weekend in their 24-7 loss to the Boilermakers. As my good friend Travis Miller from Hammer and Rails taught me back in September — Purdue went into Spoilermaker mode this weekend, and it ruled.

Okay, now let’s take a look at the scorecard from last week, which features all the action items we assigned to Notre Dame opponents while the Irish were at home scarfing down cheeseburgers.

As you can see, we had a mostly green week in terms of what our 2021 opponents were able to do vs. their action items we assigned them. Florida State managed to not embarrass us by simply doing nothing, Wisconsin did exactly what we asked them to in barely beating Army, Virginia dispatched of Duke by 48 points with incredible ease, Cincy continued to hang onto their “good loss” status for the Irish by absolutely crushing UCF, and of course our good friends the Spoilermakers dominated Iowa 24-7 AT Iowa and earned themselves a #25 ranking this week, meaning the Irish now technically have a top-25 win!!!

Also, USC did precisely what we asked them to — sit quietly in the corner and await your reckoning on 10/23. #BeatSCBaybeeeeee

However, there are some red items here that we should discuss. Toledo, your only job this week was to take down the former program of Brian Kelly, and yet you managed to lose to the Chippewas. Meanwhile, you Hokies were supposed to manage the very simple task of defeating Pat Narduzzi, and instead you lost to his squad by 3 scores and helped set up a scenario where Pitt is rightfully favored against Clemson, which is so insane to think about.

NCAA Football: Western Michigan at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Oh, and then there’s those Tar Heels, who were supposed to be a chance for the Irish to have a win over a ranked opponent just before November, and instead they managed to blow a 28-10 2nd quarter lead and a 45-34 4th quarter lead against a struggling Miami squad that doesn’t have D’Eriq King. Woof.

Finally, all we asked of Georgia Tech was to do SOMETHING. Look alive, ya know? Instead, they chose to simply have a BYE week, so nothing was really accomplished there unfortunately.

Alrighty, time for the best slide — let’s celebrate our Team Members of the Week!!!

This week, it’s everyone!!! Because the Irish didn’t play, it felt only right to give the entire squad a nice pat on the back. I know you all want a better work-life balance or improved pay/benefits, but instead we in leadership think just giving you ALL a Chipotle gift card this week will improve engagement survey scores and boost office morale.

Congrats to you all on a moderately successful first half of the season!!!

Okay, now let’s move forward to our opponent this week — that UNIVERSITY OF SPOILED CHILDREN, also known as the USC Trojans. Here’s a quick overview:

Key items to note:

  • I unfortunately had to replace the Clay Helton bio I’d put together for this slide earlier in the year...so sad, the pic I had for him was pretty funny
  • His interim replacement, Donte Williams, has not exactly rejuvenated the troops — USC is 2-2 since he took over with losses to Oregon State and Utah
  • USC has never defeated “Olive Club,” which I imagine to be a group of olive enthusiasts who get together once a month to eat olives and learn about how they’re grown
  • USC has a lot of notable alumni, but in terms of folks notable enough to make MY slide, it was a no-brainer to call out the co-founders of Wham-O, a man responsible for creating The O.C., the man who brought society the Boogie Board, and the big 3 of acting/singing: Tom Selleck, Macy Gray, and Mark McGrath. Absolute legends across the board

Alright, let’s chug right along and check out some key competitive insights about the Trojans.

Obviously, the first thing I’m going to point out is that these assholes fired our beloved Clay Helton, to whom I penned a love letter just a couple months ago. Some of you might say I jinxed it and caused this to happen, and all I can say in response is that I was always straightforward with Clay and wore my heart on my sleeve — I don’t think you can blame this one on me, all I did was love the man, even if I did come on a little too strong.

When it comes to this actual Trojans football team, the passing offense is as dangerous as ever and drives USC’s overall strong offensive rankings. Donte Williams’s squad is 16th in the country in SP+ offensive rating, 29th in total offense, 11th in passing offense, 38th in yards per play, and 42nd in scoring.

That attack is led by Kedon Slovis, who seems like he’s been at USC forever, but only because he’s been tearing it up for the Trojans since 2019, when he took over for an injured J.T. Daniels as a true freshman and just exploded, commandeering the starting spot and making Daniels feel the need to transfer to Georgia. Slovis has played very well this season, and despite missing the majority of the Washington State game, has still managed to put up 1,519 yards and 9 touchdowns with 64% completion — although he has shown a propensity to toss some picks (5 so far this year), which has to make Kyle Hamilton’s, Cam Hart’s, and Clarence Lewis’s mouths water a little bit.

Slovis’s go-to receiver is Drake London, a nearly-unguardable 6’5”, 210-lb junior receiver whose numbers through 6 games are better than most receivers put up in a full season: 64 receptions, 832 yards, 5 touchdowns. Other solid options exist for Slovis, like Tahj Washington (22 rec, 277 yds, 1 TD), Gary Bryant Jr. (19 rec, 195 yds, 3 TD), and tight ends Malcolm Epps and Michael Trigg (combined 13 rec, 219 yds, 2 TD), but London is really the driving force behind the entire USC offensive attack — it goes as he goes.

USC isn’t a great running team, though that may just be because they pass so much — they’re 124th in the country in rushing attempts per game. Still, with Keaontay Ingram leading the squad with 419 yards and 3 TD on 5.7 ypc and 10th-year senior Vavae Malepeai adding 222 yards and 2 TD on 4 ypc, the Trojans are just 57th in the country in yards per carry, so it’s not like their limited running play-calling is exactly going for big chunk gains. So that part of the USC offense shouldn’t worry anyone on the Irish side.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that the Trojans defense really doesn’t do anything super well, aside from capitalizing on errant QB passes. USC is 81st in the country in SP+ defensive rating, 79th in scoring defense, 71st in total defense, 106th in yards per play allowed, and 99th in sacks.

They’re equally rough against the pass (79th in the nation in pass defense, 112th in yards per attempt allowed) and the run (67th in rush defense, 85th in yards per carry allowed), with one of their only really positive defensive stats being that they rank 18th in the country in interceptions — which is certainly something for Jack Coan and Tyler Buchner to keep in mind.

Okay, now that we know all that juicy inside info about USC, What’s Important Now for the Irish as they prepare to host the Trojans on Saturday night?

I wouldn’t say any of this is potentially new strategy for the Irish, but offensively I think it starts with Coan and Buchner and their ability to make reads, be patient, and make smart throws. USC’s defense is not good and can pretty easily be picked apart (just ask Stanford, Oregon State, or Utah), but obviously they still have some athletes in the secondary who can make you pay for a bad decision. Don’t give them that satisfaction — play a clean game, boys.

Also offensively, find a way to tap back into what started to work in the run game against Virginia Tech. I think part of it was the Joe Alt/Andrew Kristofic left side, but also maybe some play-calling and some actual, honest-to-God slight improvement from the big hosses up front. USC’s defense is nowhere near as strong as Virginia Tech’s, so I think the Irish should absolutely do their best to establish the run early and often in order to wear down the Trojans defense all game and also keep the ball out of Kedon Slovis’s hands a little bit. Bellyman/Logan Diggs/Chris Tyree (if he can go)/Buchner can absolutely break USC’s spirit if you give them the chance this weekend.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Virginia Tech Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Defensively, I think ND needs to focus on getting to Kedon Slovis as often as possible and on locking down all non-Drake London receivers. Slovis hasn’t been sacked a ton this year and London is going to get his, so if the Irish can disrupt Slovis a bit and give him limited options to sling it to, I think that will lead to a lot of punts from the Trojans.

Also, I think this is the game you’ve been preparing Cam Hart for — it’s time to see if he can lead the way in slowing down one of the best receivers in the country. He’s got the physicality and length to not get out-muscled by London, so it’s a matter of if he can stay with him and make the plays when the ball gets there. Get that man hyped up for the challenge and let’s see what he can do.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Wisconsin Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

If he and the rest of the secondary can limit London like they did David Bell back in September, it will be a near-guarantee the Irish will win on Saturday night. London is better than Bell (which is crazy, because Bell is ridiculously good), so it won’t be easy to replicate — but I think Hart and Hamilton and the boys could be up for the task.

Okay, that’s all we’ve got for this week — any questions?

Cool, well as usual please shoot me a note if anything comes to mind after the call!

Otherwise, I’ll make sure to send out the link to the deck so you all have it to reference, and also please make sure to check out the appendix for a useful little slide to remind you all the difference between USC and ND in terms of the kinds of people they employ as head football coaches.

That informational flyer in the picture was posted on the North Dining Hall door in October 2009, so you know it’s legit.

Okay anyway, have a great week everybody — talk to you all soon!

*Clicks “End Call” button*

Okay, that was a good call and I’ve earned a nice little break. I’m gonna eat some more of those cookies and then go pick a fight in Times Square with the guy dressed as Luigi.