HAPPY THANKSGIVING, YA TURKEYS!!!
I hope your big meal prep/cooking is going well!
We’ve certainly got a lot to be thankful for this year, especially in terms of Notre Dame Fighting Irish football. Whether it’s Marcus Freeman’s handsomeness and natural charisma, or Brian Mason’s punt-block wizardry, or Michael Mayer’s big, beefy bad-assery, or Benjamin Morrison’s rise to stardom, or Jon Sot’s magic leg, or Audric Estime’s punishing-yet-nimble running style, this 8-3 season to-date by our Irish has given us plenty of amazing highs to cherish, as well as some very low lows.
With that said, the season isn’t quite over. I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but our Irish have this itty-bitty little match-up on the road on Saturday night, when they’ll face off against the 6th-ranked, 10-1 USC Trojans in their annual battle for the Jeweled Shillelagh. The Irish have won 4 straight in the series and 8 of the last 11, but this ain’t Clay Helton’s or Lane Kiffin’s Trojans squad they’re facing (at least offensively).
Former Oklahoma boy-genius Lincoln Riley has taken over the USC program, brought a potential Heisman quarterback with him, and reeled in countless transfers in order to get the Trojans in contention for a CFP berth in his first year in Los Angeles. Standing in his way, before he even gets to the Pac-12 title game next weekend, are the 15th-ranked Fighting Irish, playing some pretty darn good football of late.
How will these two squads match up, and will the Irish be able to do enough against a vulnerable but opportunistic Trojans defense to keep up with USC’s juggernaut offense? Will Al Golden’s group find a way to slow all those receivers down? Will Brian Mason do a backflip in celebration if his guys somehow find a way to block yet another punt in a big game?
I’m not sure we’ll be able to answer all those questions until the postgame on Saturday night, but in the meantime, we figured it would be best to get some insider info from behind enemy lines to better understand what the Irish are up against this weekend. So, we once again 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.
In his responses, Michael provided some excellent insight, eye-opening analysis, and lots of confidence on topics such as Lincoln Riley, Caleb Williams, the key names on both the USC offense and defense, USC players as Thanksgiving dishes, and more. So, assuming you all want to go about your day of consuming tons of food and watching plenty of football, why don’t we go ahead and dive in, eh?
1. Lincoln Riley hasn’t even been at USC for a season and he’s already got the Trojans on the precipice of making a College Football Playoff for the first time.
How’s he been able to reverse course for the program so quickly, how are USC fans feeling about him (considering the coaching they’ve had post-Pete Carroll before him), and do you think he can take the Trojans back to a national title, especially considering the coming move to the Big Ten?
Michael Muto: Great first question. I want to start by thanking all of the lovely people at OFD for having me back. Last year I wrote this with my hat in my hand and an aww shucks attitude, now thanks to Coach Riley, or LFR as he is referred to on the Twitter machine (use your imagination on what the F stands for), my perspective has totally changed. Spoiler alert, with a top ten Trojan team I’m going to be insufferable throughout this whole Q&A.
Back to the question, what is not to love about Riley? For years he’s been the best offensive mind in the game, and always had Oklahoma in playoff contention and stacked with talent. I’ve never been to Oklahoma but I imagine acquiring all that talent had more to do with Riley than the geography of Norman. Now, he’s taken all of the above to USC and they are challenging for their first CFB playoff appearance. Regardless of the conference, Riley should have the Trojans competing nationally for years, or until he becomes the Cowboys head coach.
2. Caleb Williams is, simply put, sensational. Please use this question to sing his praises and tell us everything he’s great at, but also to PLEASE point out any minor flaws or weaknesses or ways ND DC Al Golden can hope to slow him down.
Michael Muto: Caleb Williams is incredible. Full stop. He can throw, he can run, and he doesn’t turn the ball over. A recipe for success.
After torching UCLA for 502 total yards he is the He13man front runner. If I knew how to stop him I wouldn’t be working at a bank right now, so in all sincerity, good luck.
3. The USC offense is littered with great skill players. Who are the names Irish fans should know/be afraid of heading into this match-up? Any under-the-radar ones to be aware of?
Additionally, how do you think the Trojans will fare against the Irish when it comes to the big beefy boys in the trenches on both sides of the ball?
Michael Muto: As the co-host of the #5 podcast about USC football I’m happy to give Notre Dame fans a rundown of some notable Trojan skill players.
#13 Caleb Williams, Quarterback - see question 2
#3 Jordan Addison, Wide Receiver - 8 touchdowns in 9 games. Two touchdowns against Stanford, which is almost as many as some teams score against the Cardinal. Oh and he’s the 2021 Biletnikoff award winner.
#4 Mario Williams, Wide Receiver - Mario is one of the Trojans’ other receivers. He is a big play guy, averaging almost 19 yards a catch.
#81 Kyle Ford, Wide Receiver - Another Receiver! Ford was the recipient of Caleb Williams’ highlight reel throw against UCLA, and for good measure he even caught a clutch touchdown against the Bruins. He’s been hurt for most of his career at USC, so it’s nice to see him making plays.
When it comes to the big boys up front, the USC offensive line is a seasoned bunch who have plenty of starts under their belts, and have really come into their own this year. The unit is a semifinalist for the Joe Moore Award recognizing the nation’s best offensive line. Notre Dame is not, just fyi.
4. What does this USC defense do best, and how would you attack them if you’re Irish offensive coordinator Tommy Rees?
Michael Muto: If I’m Tommy Rees I’m kicking myself for not going to LSU. All jokes aside, attacking the Trojan defense isn’t the problem. Something else Lincoln Riley brought with him from the Big-12 was the defense. It’s very possible and quite likely for a team to gain tons of yards and score a lot against USC, but the Trojans are always making big plays on defense and getting a zillion turnovers.
5. Which key USC players, if any, are questionable or out for this weekend, and what could their absence mean for the result of the game?
Michael Muto: The big one is Trojan running back Travis Dye. He was hurt in the Cal game and is out for the season. Big loss.
Linebacker Eric Gentry is also hurt, and it’s unclear how much he will play. The guy is 6’6”, 210 lbs and plays middle linebacker in his own way.
6. Who on the ND side are you most afraid of, if anyone?
Michael Muto: No one. I mean that as politely as possible.
The Fighting Irish are a good team but no one singular player has me overly concerned. Also, did I mention this team lost to Stanford?
i have alot. First off, how dare you— PWagon (@PWagon60) November 20, 2022
Michael Muto: I Dare. I’m not sure which of my transgressions against the Irish this question is referring to. For a little recency bias I’ll stand with Phil Jurkovec and remind everyone how dumb it is that a team from South Bend comes out to a song about Boston.
However, I will not go as far as him and say it’s cultural appropriation. You’re on your own with that one Phil.
8. FAN QUESTION:
How does your lack of a defense match up against ND’s lack of a QB?— Chris Gaines (@bertinbertin) November 20, 2022
Michael Muto: ”Lack of a defense” has me insulted. As stated above the Trojans are a top team when it comes to turnovers. Also the D-line coach was nominated for the Broyles Award.
Now, “lack of quarterback” I can agree with. Can your guy even see over that non Joe Moore award semifinalist offensive line?
9. FAN QUESTION:
What bloggers will Lincoln Riley be bringing in from the transfer portal to replace you?— Moons *Official* (@GAMoons) November 20, 2022
Michael Muto: I’ve always thought “X’s and Noles” was a great name, so maybe those guys could be the #4 ranked podcast about USC football.
10. If you had to compare current USC players/coaches to Thanksgiving meal staples, whom would you say best epitomizes the following:
Michael Muto: Trojans as a Thanksgiving dinner.
- Turkey - Obviously Caleb Williams
- Gravy - This would have been Travis Dye because gravy is my favorite
- Stuffing - defensive lineman Tuli Tuipulotu strictly for the word play
- Mashed potatoes - Jordan Addison, a consistent classic
- Green bean casserole - Guard Andrew Vorhees, he’s been around forever, is really good and sometimes I forget about him
- Cranberry Sauce - Mario Williams, big play guy that has the ability to star
- Corn - Cornerback Mekhi Blackmon, just like corn ends up all over your plate, Mekhi is all over the field getting interceptions
- Rolls - Safety Calen Bullock, rolls are there to sop everything up, Bullock is at the back of the defense making big plays
- Pie - Backup Quarterback Miller Moss, everyone loves dessert and I love Miller Moss. Also, just like dessert comes at the end of a meal, maybe Moss can get in at the end of this game
11. Alright, time to get down to it: what’s your prediction for this game? Who wins, what’s the final score, and give your reasoning why.
Michael Muto: This will come as a shock to no one, I think the Trojan offense is too potent and the defense is good for at least one big turnover. Notre Dame keeps it within striking distance, but USC by 6. Something like 34-28 USC.
One last thing, since it’s Thanksgiving and I’m a guest I’ve brought a gift. It’s some of Lincoln Riley’s world famous brisket. See, the guy isn’t great at everything.
Alright y’all, I wanna give a major shout-out and thanks to Michael for his time and all his responses to our questions. Despite his horrible taste in college football programs, he’s a friend of the OFD site for sure and is always up for having some fun in these Q&As, which I know we all appreciate.
Make sure you check out his and Greg’s podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, etc., and I highly encourage you all to give Michael some follows on Twitter as well to catch any USC news, analysis, thoughts, feelings, etc. heading into, during, and after this huge rivalry game. Although you may want to unfollow him if Caleb Williams decides to have a Heisman moment on Saturday night...
That’s all for this week, folks — everyone have a safe and amazing Thanksgiving today, and as always, Go Irish, BEAT SC!