Well friends, it was fun while it lasted, but the mid-season break from Notre Dame Fighting Irish football is officially over. It’s time to dive into the back half of the season and revisit that lovely feeling of stress and anxiety that this team brings us every Saturday!!!
Just to refresh your memories, your #13 Notre Dame squad last played on October 9th in Blacksburg, Virginia, where they beat the Virginia Tech Hokies on a clutch last-minute field goal from Jonathan Doerer.
Now, the 5-1 Irish return home to South Bend, where they’ll play host to our hated rivals from the City of Angels, the USC Trojans (who are also coming off of a bye week).
USC has had a rough season to-date, sitting at 3-3 on the year and having had their head coach, Clay Helton, fired after the first two games. Donte Williams has taken over in the interim to mixed results, going 2-2 so far at the helm — including the Trojans’ October 9th shellacking at the hands of the Utah Utes.
Still, as always, the Trojans have a few super-talented guys running around out there, and per usual, there’s nothing those USC guys would love more than to give the Irish a second blemish to their record and potentially really hurt ND’s chances at a NY6 bowl.
So, we still need to understand what our beloved Irish are up against on Saturday night. To obtain that all-access view of the opponent, I reached out to Michael Muto of “Untitled Notre Dame USC Podcast,” a podcast he does with our good friend Greg Flammang each week, talking about both ND and USC football’s latest games and their upcoming opponents.
Michael answered all of our questions with great aplomb, which is really appreciated considering like 20% of them mentioned condoms. So, let’s dive into his very helpful answers and really get to know this USC squad and what to expect from them this weekend.
1. I have to start by asking you about the coaching search. Were you happy about the decision to fire Clay Helton? Who’s on your short list for realistic and ideal candidates, and whom do you think will ultimately be offered and accept the job?
Michael Muto: You don’t just fire the winningest coach in Pac-12 South history without a plan. In all seriousness, Clay Helton is a class act, but a terrible head coach. The team always seemed underprepared in the Helton era, so a change was definitely needed.
As for Helton’s replacement, I’ve always been a big Lane Kiffin guy, and with United Airlines as a USC sponsor the tie-ins are endless. That’s definitely not going to happen, so what I really want is someone who has no history with the Trojans. This way the whole program can get a full restart.
Stealing a Cincinnati coach has worked pretty well for Notre Dame, so maybe that’s the route to take.
2. This has been another tumultuous year for the Trojans, going .500 in the first half and with some decently-tough second half match-ups incoming (ND, ASU, UCLA, BYU). How do you see the rest of this season playing out, and is this what you expected at the beginning of the season?
Michael Muto: I’ll answer this question in reverse. The thing about rooting for a Helton-coached team is anything was possible, but I’d usually end up disappointed. I always buy into the hype at the beginning of the season and with the Pac-12 South being such a dumpster fire, making it to the conference championship game always seemed like a plausible result. Clearly that’s not the case.
The season going forward is a complete crap shoot. It seemed like the players really liked Helton and the coach getting fired mid season might have affected the team. The Trojans probably go 4-2 down the stretch, but who they beat and who they lose to is anyone’s guess… except Arizona, they stink.
3. Please use this question/response to tell us about how good Kedon Slovis and Drake London are, and then tell us if there are any other names to know on the Trojans offense heading into this one. Also, do you think the USC offense will be able to move the ball and score on this ND defense?
Michael Muto: I’m going to try and mention Clay Helton in every answer, FYI. One of the big knocks on Helton was that players never developed over the years. For example, freshman Sam Darnold was pretty much the same as sophomore Darnold and the same thing is happening with Kedon Slovis.
The nice thing is he is still really good. According to PFF, he’s graded as one of the top 10 offensive players in the Pac-12 and the 2nd best quarterback. He also has something that can’t be graded, which is 4th quarter magic. We haven’t seen it this year yet so I guess he’s due?
The No. 1 rated offensive player in the conference is WR Drake London. He has video game numbers this year. He’s pretty much the only consistent weapon the Trojans have, and the only guy Slovis throws to. He’s a giant, and is also super fun to watch. Notre Dame may have stopped David Bell, but London is a different story. The nice thing for Trojan opponents, though, is London’s performance has no direct effect on the outcome of the game.
4. How has the Trojans defense looked this season? Who are the names to know, and where might there be weaknesses or liabilities that the Irish offense can potentially exploit?
Michael Muto: Pass.
Just kidding. The Trojan defense has been a sore spot all season. I’m not qualified to describe what they do every weekend. Someone in the custodial arts would have a better handle on what to call it.
The Trojans have a knack for not tackling and getting dumb penalties. If Notre Dame can take advantage of that, my nightmares of Josh Allen running free will be replaced by nightmares of Kyren Williams.
Guys to look out for on the defense are Drake Jackson (potential first rounder), Tuli Tuipulotu and Issac Taylor-Stuart.
5. FAN QUESTION:
The Trojans defense seems “lubricated,” so to speak, for the opponent’s pleasure. Might we say ND’s offense is too “robust” for the Trojans to contain?— Hayden Adams (@HaydenAdamsZ) October 18, 2021
But fr, why don’t the Trojans and Gamecocks play in the “USC”Bowl each year to decide which mascot is the butt of the joke?
Michael Muto: The one thing the Trojan defense has going for them this weekend is it looks like Jack Coan will be playing quarterback for Notre Dame. Since I have to watch all the Fighting Irish games so @greg2126 and I can talk about them on our pod, I’m well aware of Jack’s statue-like pocket presence and inability to score points early in games (I’ll let the Irish fans in on a secret though, USC hates scoring points in the third quarter, so you got that going for you which is nice).
It’s really the immovable object versus the unstoppable force. Will the Trojans turnstile defense allow the Irish offense to go off or will Notre Dame’s sluggish offense make USC’s defense look tough?
For the second part of the question, I’m unfamiliar with this other USC. Do they even have a football team? Sounds more like a baseball school or something.
6. FAN QUESTION:
"Why would you name yourselves after arguably the most famous instance of poor late-game management ever?"— Ryan Kennedy (@RyanKWrites) October 18, 2021
Michael Muto: Not gonna lie, I couldn’t figure out how this was a condom joke, then I got it. High brow classics humor ftw.
What you see as poor game management is really exceptional foresight by the USC Trojans. While many schools are contemplating changing their mascots for various reasons (leprechauns cough cough), USC does not have that problem. Can you find Troy on a map?
Also, there are ebbs and flows to every empire and without the fall of Troy, Aeneas would have never made his way to Rome.
7. FAN QUESTION:
How does it feel to be the face of a condom company?— Clark (@GldnDmrFanInCNY) October 18, 2021
Michael Muto: I’m surprised Notre Dame fans are familiar with condom companies; isn’t that a sin or something?
8. FAN QUESTION:
Where did OJ hide the knife?— Patrick Greer (@GreerPatrick) October 18, 2021
Michael Muto: Where did OJ hide the knife? The only things I know he’s guilty of are robbery in Las Vegas and introducing the world to the Kardashians — Oh and murder (read that in your best Norm McDonald voice).
9. FAN QUESTION:
Will their stupid ass horse fit in the visitor’s tunnel?— Jeff (@jeffNDfan) October 18, 2021
*Pat Rick Note: I do not dislike the horse itself and thus do not agree with the descriptor “stupid ass.” The poor animal did nothing wrong and does not deserve to be caught in the crossfire.
Michael Muto: The horse itself will fit, but the legacy and history of the best mascot in college football wouldn’t even fit in the stadium.
10. Alright, let’s get down to it: who’s gonna win, what will the final score be, and why?
Michael Muto: Final score, since as previously stated Notre Dame can’t score early, and USC can’t score in the third quarter, we should have a game going into the 4th quarter...Let’s say 28-27 Trojans.
I’ll actually be at the game. It’s my first time in South Bend and I’m pretty excited.
I wanna give a huge shout-out to Michael for his time and all his responses to even our most inane questions, as it’s gotta be frustrating to try to talk about this USC program right now and it’s also gotta get old having condom jokes thrown at you all the time. He rose above all that noise and provided us with some really great answers here.
Make sure you check out his and Greg’s podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, etc., as you know those two talkin’ shop is always gonna be a good time. Additionally, I highly encourage you all to give Michael some follows on Twitter and show this man some support — he’s awesome.
Anyway, that’s all for this week, folks — as always, Go Irish!