USC football attempts to get back on track with a new head coach in South Bend against a Notre Dame offense which has thrived despite devastating injuries to starters.
Brian Kelly’s Irish have gone 5-1 this season, scoring more than 30 points in each game except for the loss to Clemson two weeks ago.
On that day, they turned the ball over four times in horrendous weather conditions. Could the Trojans force similar mistakes?
Here’s a look at the Notre Dame offense:
The Second-String QB
The Irish quarterback situation has been tumultuous going back to last season when Everett Golson was benched for sophomore stud Malik Zaire.
Zaire injected life into the Notre Dame attack well after the game had already been decided, but he won’t get the chance to do damage when the contest is still a contest this time around after breaking his ankle earlier this season.
In his place, sophomore DeShone Kizer has stepped in sooner than expected. Luckily for the Irish, the drop off has not been all that noticeable.
Sep 12, 2015; Charlottesville, VA, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer (14) throws the ball against the Virginia Cavaliers at Scott Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Kizer was four-star prospect coming out of high school in Toledo. Though he is a pro-style quarterback, his physicality running the ball has allowed Notre Dame to move forward without changing the offense too much in the absence of Zaire’s more elusive dual-threat abilities.
Thus far, Kizer has thrown eight interceptions and maintains a passer rating of 154. He threw the game winning touchdown against Virginia to win the game for Notre Dame. However, he has thrown an interception a game since his debut.
Safety Turned Receiver Turned Heisman Candidate
Kizer may draw the headlines as the back up quarterback thrown into action, but running back C.J. Prosise also began the season as a second stringer.
Of course, you wouldn’t know it considering the way he has made the Irish offense his own.
Tarean Folston was the man atop the depth chart heading into this season. A torn MCL ended his season, opening the door for Prosise, the former safety, turned slot receiver turned running back who has garnered Heisman acclaim in 2015.
With 779 yards, a 7.08 yards per carry average and nine rushing touchdowns to his name, Prosise is the man for the Irish. He has the size to contend with defenders in tight spaces and the smooth speed to break away towards the endzone.
Prosise has not been completely dominant this season though. Against Clemson, he had just 15 carries for 50 yards, no touchdowns and a lost fumble during the loss, though he did find a way to contribute in the passing game with four receptions for 100 yards and a touchdown which he took 56 yards.
Fuller Receiving Corps
If Prosise is the man on the ground, Will Fuller is the man in the air.
Going back to the start of last season, few receivers in the nation have been as productive as the 6-foot Philadelphia product. In 2014, he amassed 1,094 yards and 15 touchdowns. That has not slowed down this season with 571 yards on 29 receptions and seven touchdowns.
Sep 26, 2015; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish wide receiver Will Fuller (7) is congratulated by wide receiver Amir Carlisle (3) after scoring a touchdown against the Massachusetts at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
It should be noted that, like Prosise, Fuller’s one less-than-stellar display came in the loss to Clemson. On that night, the had just two receptions for 37 yards.
In fact, the speedster hasn’t crossed the 100-yard mark in the Irish’s last three games.
The likes of Chris Brown, Amir Carlisle and Torii Hunter Jr. have picked up some of the slack, but Fuller remains the go to figure to shut down in the passing game from a USC perspective.
Clearing the Way
The Trojans should take note of that Clemson game because it was the worst showing for just about every unit on the Irish offense.
The offensive line is particularly guilty of that, as they conceded four sacks and nine tackles for loss on the night.
Like USC, the Irish line was hyped as one of the nation’s strongest units with All-American candidate Ronnie Stanley leading the way. And early in the season they were just that. However, the Tigers figured out the way to undermine that strength.
They bounced back against Navy, but the match up with an underachieving Trojan defensive front could help clarify if the line which cleared the way in strong performances for five other wins this season is the real deal or is the exposing done by Clemson was not just an off day.
What the stats say
[table id=46 /]
*Denotes statistics from 2014
- Notre Dame is ranked No. 6 in S&P+ offensive rankings and No. 7 overall by that metric. Funnily enough, despite two losses the Trojans are ahead of the Irish in both metrics at No. 3 on offense and No. 6 overall. Relating to the match up, however, the Irish seem to have the edge over USC’s 36th ranked defense.
- Though an 82% success rate in the redzone may sound strong, the Irish actually rank 76th in that statistic nationally. USC’s allowance rate of 76% is 29th in the nation, but 64th when accounting for touchdowns allowed.
- The Irish have the No. 13 rushing offense in the country for 2015. Their 5.93 yards per carry average is ninth best.
Projected starting lineups: USC football vs. Notre Dame
Notre Dame Offense[table id=49 /]
USC Defense[table id=48 /]
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