We have finally reached that point in the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football offseason where we can talk about this year’s opponents without thinking about it all as an event still months away. The conference media days are underway (lol conference things) and camp is just right around the corner. So, we’re dedicating each day (other than Chick-fil-A Day) to Notre Dame’s 2021 opponents, and starting off those days with a quick look preview. Join the conversation in the preview and the editorial in their respective comment section, and/or use the FanPost/FanShot feature to share something more in depth.
Game 7 — Notre Dame VS USC Trojans
Where: Notre Dame Stadium, Notre Dame, IN
When: October 23, 7:30 p.m.
How to Watch: NBC
The USC Trojans
The Trojans return to normal play with Clay Helton’s sixth season as head coach. He heads into the 2021 season with a 45-23 record.
For most of Helton’s time in Los Angeles, it has felt like he was just a half step away from being shown the door — and yet here he is as he enters his 7th season as the Trojan head coach. In Pete Carroll’s 9 years at USC, he only lost 19 games (6 in his first year and 4 in his last year).
While offensive skill talent has never been an issue, USC has seen a steady decline in solid play along the trenches on both sides of the ball.
USC finished out its conference-only season with a 5-1 record, losing to Oregon 31-24 and electing not to go for a bowl to end the season of coronavirus craziness.
Notre Dame — USC All-Time
The Jeweled Shillelagh is in Irish hands following three Notre Dame victories and a rivalry game that was not to be as the PAC-12 restricted play to only conference matchups as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
Historically this has been one of the all-time great rivalries in college football with many games over the years deciding who (or who won’t) be a national champion — as well as the many different Heisman Trophies involved in this war.
The last time the Irish and the Trojans met, the Irish running game was able to make up for a shaky first quarter and scratch out a 30-27 Notre Dame win.
The Top 3 Players
1.) Kedon Slovis - This quarterback wasted no time demanding attention as a freshman; after a knee injury sidelined 2019 starting quarterback JT Daniels in USC’s opener against Fresno State, Slovis went 6 of 8 for 57 yards. The showing set the stage for 11 starts for Slovis as well as the completion of 282 of 392 passes for 3,502 yards. His 71.9% completion percentage ranked him third in the nation in 2019. While this figure dipped slightly to 67% with 177 completed passes of 264 in 2020, Slovis served as a captain and began to generate Heisman buzz last season.
2.) Drake London - Size, accuracy, and opportunity will align in this wide receiver’s favor in the season ahead. Over 6 starts in the 2020 season, London recorded 33 receptions for 502 yards as well as three touchdowns and one tackle. Notably, he caught a 21-yard pass on a fourth down to win it for the Trojans against Arizona State. 6’5”, 210 lb. London has the intimidation factor and is sure to make an impact as Trojan offensive talent heads for the NFL.
3.) Drake Jackson - The 2021 season marks this junior outside linebacker’s third season as a starter. As a freshman in 2019, Jackson chalked up 46 tackles and distinguished himself as the second true freshman from USC to start on the defensive line in the season opener since Tim Ryan in 1986. During the six-game 2020 season, Jackson recorded 20 tackles, two sacks, and an interception. A powerhouse on the pass rush, Jackson is a projected first-round pick for 2022.
The stakes are high, especially after putting this rivalry on hold for a season. While Slovis is earning award nods, he has proven to be pretty injury-prone. However, he finds a formidable opponent in Jack Coan, with a 69.6% completion percentage and a notable comfort level in the pocket.
Notre Dame is on a roll in the series and will have the upper hand at home in prime time. The last time the trojans beat the Irish in South Bend at night, was in 2011. Notre Dame has the better coaching staff, and is still better along the trenches on both sides of the ball, which should ultimately give them the edge.
Difficulty 1-10: 6
Early Win or Loss Prediction: Win
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