USC Football Schedule Preview 2015: Scouting Notre Dame


USC football heads to South Bend in October to face a Notre Dame team hopeful of shaking off last year’s end-of-season meltdown including a blowout loss to the Trojans.

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Brian Kelly’s Irish could have finished 2014 on a lower note, but that not much lower. Notre Dame lost five of their final seven games, salvaging the year with a bowl win over LSU after hitting rock bottom in a 49-14 beat down by the Trojans.

Here’s an early look at USC’s sixth opponent of the year:


Malik Zaire is Notre Dame’s starting quarterback heading into 2015.

Everett Golson’s decision to transfer to Florida State for his fifth year after spring camp secured that statement as fact, but there’s plenty of questions still surrounding the Irish at quarterback.

Zaire seemed to have a solid spring camp and the Notre Dame offense certainly seemed more dynamic with him at the helm when he replaced Golson midgame against USC last year.

Still, the quarterback went 9-of-20 against the Trojans and certainly won’t be trusted with the same workload as Golson carried in the passing game.

Dec 30, 2014; Nashville, TN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Malik Zaire (8) runs the ball in the first quarter against the Louisiana State Tigers at LP Field. Notre Dame won 31-28. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Instead, the Irish should ride the ground attack with Zaire’s mobility complimenting junior Tarean Folston at running back. C.J. Prosise rushed for 75 yards and a touchdown as a receiver against LSU and was moved to running back this spring, showing tons of promise at the position.

Offensive line strength lends itself to a focus on the rushing attack for Notre Dame. Though they lost two starters, they return last year’s offensive lineman of the year Ronnie Stanley and experienced starters Nick Martin and Steve Elmer.

Of course, when Notre Dame does air it out there will be no shortage of experienced options. All four of the Irish’ top receivers from last year return, including junior Will Fuller, who was third in the nation in touchdown catches in 2015. USC transfer Amir Carlisle could be a major component of the Irish offense if he can stay healthy this year.

Notre Dame did lose top tight end Ben Koyack, but their ability to reload the position is well known over the past few years. Incoming freshman Alize Jones could be the next big thing for the Irish.


The Irish defense boasts a strong front as well, with four returning starters in the trenches.

Sheldon Day leads the line with Jarron Jones, Romeo Okwara and Isaac Rochell all back in the firing line.

Though they offer plenty of experience, the line was not particularly great in 2014, particularly when Day and Jones were sidelined with injury. Getting both back to full speed and beefing up the effectiveness of the two-deep will be a key effort.

Jerry Tillery, the 6-foot-7, 300-pound defensive tackle early enrollee who has already established himself as a potential contributor, is definitely one to watch.

At linebacker, Notre Dame also have the advantage of returning every starter. Adding to that advantage is Butkus Award finalist Jaylon Smith, who looks primed for a top season as a junior.

Aug 31, 2013; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish linebacker Jaylon Smith (9) falls back into pass coverage against the Temple Owls at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Senior Joe Schmidt missed the final five games of the year but was still named Notre Dames Most Valuable Player for 2014. That may be because with the former walk on the Irish allowed 19.1 points per game, without him they conceded 42.1 points per game. With that in mind, it is now surprise his return is a major boost.

Though the secondary also returns most of the starters, Notre Dame will be without leading cornerback Cody Riggs. That leaves Cole Luke to build on a productive sophomore season and step into his place.

Both of last year’s starting safeties, Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate, will be back though their struggles last year saw them demoted, leaving doubts about their effectiveness unanswered until they get back on the field this fall.

Special Teams:

Kyle Brindza handled kickoffs, punts and place kicking for the Irish last year, so replacing him is focus number one for Notre Dame special teams heading into 2015.

Justin Yoon, the No. 2 kicker in the 2015 recruiting class, will face the immediate pressure of filling Brindza’s shoes.

Carlisle handled kickoff returns in 2014 and figures to retain his role.

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The Irish do have to replace Riggs as the punt returner, though running back Greg Bryant covered the job in the latter half of last season and should be the top choice.

Threat Level: High

Notre Dame has gotten almost as much preseason hype as USC, but remains in the same camp as the Trojans when it comes to delivering on it.

There is so much returning talent you can’t help but believe they could take the next step. At the same time, that returning talent lost five of seven in the second half of 2014 and failed to beat a ranked team all season.

By October when the Trojans and Irish face off, this could be a major national match up. Or it could be a contest between two disappointments.

Either way, a 30-point blowout on either end looks unlikely.