Fighting the Irish: Scondi’s USC vs. Notre Dame 2017 preview


After a comeback win over Utah, USC vs. Notre Dame is about the Trojans continuing the momentum from last week’s second half against the Fighting Irish.

Is the glass half empty or the glass half full?

Glass Half Empty

USC is horrible. They’ve underachieved against awful teams, and lucked out against any opponent with a pulse. The fact that they only lost by three points to Washington State (who can’t even beat Cal) says a lot about the Pac-12 this year. No way a team from this conference is making the College Football Playoff this year.

Three fumbles from Darnold? Does this kid stick his hands in soap before heading onto the field? Even when he got a hold of the ball it was like the GPS in his throwing arm was malfunctioning. Balls were bouncing off defenders hands. Balls were 20-yards over receivers’ heads. He couldn’t hit the broad side of the barn if his podcast career depended on it. A little bit of fame and he thinks he can stop focusing on football. That’s what USC gets for being so close to Hollywood.

Can’t believe Helton didn’t bench him in the first half. Not even for a series. Just the blind leading the blind in Southern California. What’s it going to take to get Jon Gruden to answer Lynn Swann’s cellphone?

Speaking of blind, how does Tee Martin not see how well the running game is working? It’s like he lost the keys to the Texas Tesla. He thinks he can be the head coach of Tennessee. They might give Butch Jones an extension to keep him away from Knoxville.

So much for the defense keeping us in the game. Allowing 113 rushing yards from Zack Moss in the first half. Making backup quarterback Troy Williams look like Troy Aikman with his deep passes. The ones he didn’t complete, USC interfered with. So many yellow flags were thrown I could have sworn the Coliseum was giving out gold towels as a promotion.

Uchenna Nwosu should probably wait until the ball is snapped before trying to rush the quarterback. It’s not that hard. It’s five feet away from you. He’s supposed to be one of the best pass rushers in the nation according to PFF. PFF? More like pfffft.

13-point favorites and USC can’t even lead into the fourth quarter. This team was supposed to beat Alabama. They probably couldn’t even beat the Cleveland Browns.

Jack Jones missing another crucial assignment in crunch time again. What else is new? Lucky Tyler Huntley was healthy, or Trojans fans would be buying up tickets for the Foster Farms Bowl.

I’ll give credit where credit is due. Nice tackle by Ajene Harris. Too bad he couldn’t give that same kind of effort on his punt returns or lack thereof. He knows he’s suppose to catch it right. Not just let the ball bounce towards the one-yard line. Can one of the coaches figure that out? Can any coach figure anything out with this team?

Notre Dame is going to kill the USC!

Glass Half Full

Last time Sam Darnold had three turnovers in the first half against Utah, USC lost. This time, the Trojans win. That’s improvement right there. I wouldn’t even consider that last fumble on him. How is it his fault when it hits Ronald Jones II in the face? Guess they both used it as motivation given how they performed in the second half.

Darnold also didn’t throw any interceptions. More improvement.

Darnold didn’t have the greatest start to the game, but did he come out of the second half firing. That’s the Darnold everyone wants to see. Just slinging the ball everywhere. Making plays out of nothing and leading the Trojans to a sixth victory of the season. Bowl eligible!

Maybe Ajene Harris didn’t receive any of the punts because he wanted the world to see how good USC’s offense can be. This is what the Trojans can do at their full potential. The playcalling was perfection. Balance and variety.

Tyler Vaughns was a beast again. That grab on fourth down was exceptional. Really liking what the receivers corps has become over the last couple of weeks. Not to forget the tight ends, who received all three of Darnold’s passing touchdowns.

The Texas Tesla does it again. Didn’t know Tesla’s had the capability to flip. Must be an optional feature on some of their high-end models.

USC’s defense had a little too much slack to pick up in the first half so it makes sense that they let up some big plays, but they recovered after halftime. They yeld Utah to 1-of-7 on third downs and limited their running game to just 37 yards in the last two quarters.

Christian Rector has seven sacks this season? At the beginning of the year, he was sitting on the bench. Who else does USC have on the sidelines that can create havoc? Can’t wait to find out.

So that’s why Carrington was wide open on the last play. The defense knew the tight end throwback was coming and covered to prevent it. This play has worked way too many times on the goal line against the Trojans this year for them to not figure it out. Great recognition by the defense.

Some of the more pessimistic fans could say that the Trojans are playing as well as they could, but they are still pulling out quality victories against opponents of variable difficulty.

USC doesn’t cover the spread. That’s Vegas’ fault because, according to math, they have one of the hardest schedules in the nation. Love these kinds of statistics.

By these stats, looks like USC is on the trajectory to beat Alabama in the National Championship. Numbers never lie.

USC is going to kill Notre Dame!

Is the glass half empty or half full?

The glass of water is USC’s season aspirations. The Trojans lost about half the water after Washington State.

Whether you’re a pessimist or an optimist, this week’s game against Notre Dame will determine how good this USC team is.

Will the glass be filled up or emptied out?

Notre Dame Team Preview

Note: As always, Bill Connelly’s team preview of Utah was invaluable to my research. He gets the credit.


Let’s not fourgeight how bad the Fighting Irish were last year.

In 2016, they finished 4-8.

Just so everyone is following, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish finished 4-8 last year. That’s four wins and eight losses.

This year, however, is going pretty well. In six weeks they’ve already surpassed the win total from last season, which if you may have forgotten, was 4-8.

They are currently ranked No. 13 in the nation with a 5-1 record. Their wins come against powerhouse football programs like Temple, Boston College, UNC, and Miami. No, not “The U.” The team in Ohio.

Credit where credit is due, they did soundly beat Michigan State, getting revenge from last year’s loss. You know, last year, when Notre Dame went 4-8.

Their only loss came against Georgia, losing 20-19.

Nice of Notre Dame to allow Georgia an extra home game this year. That’s that Catholic generosity right there. Any chance of a sea of cardinal and gold this weekend?

The Bulldogs are currently ranked No. 3 in the nation so losing to them will look pretty good on the resume come Bowl Selection Sunday. That is, if Georgia doesn’t blow a game before getting their teeth kicked in by Alabama in the SEC Championship Game.


I thought Notre Dame was done with Brian Kelly after last year’s 4-8 season (just a reminder in case you keep forgetting) but I guess boosters couldn’t raise enough money from the collection plate to pay for his multi-million dollar buyout.

Somehow, Brian Kelly is the active winningest coach in FBS with 235 wins. That’s what Nick Saban gets for trying to coach in the NFL.

After that, there aren’t many nice things you can say about him. He certainly has a reputation for himself.

This is Brian Kelly in a nutshell. After their loss against Georgia, he berated a reporter for asking a very good question and then argued with her over the semantics.

At least he can take responsibility for when his team fails, right? Nope.

It was totally the fundraising that lead to Notre Dame’s 4-8 season in 2016. Money for more Olympic racks and flat screen TVs in their facilities would have made the Fighting Irish bowl eligible.

At least he stands up for his players? Nope.

Nothing helps your former quarterback’s NFL draft stock quite like insulting him right after he leaves. A great recruiting tool by Kelly. Come to Notre Dame, but don’t leave early, or else you’re going to regret it.

At least he’s a calm and collective individual during games? Nope.

Every game, Brian Kelly turns purple with anger on the sidelines. By the fourth quarter this Saturday, I hope he looks like Violet after she ate Willy Wonka’s gum.


Since the problem clearly isn’t Brian Kelly’s coaching (it is), Notre Dame decided to hire new coordinators on both sides of the ball. On offense, they hired Chip Long. He was previously at Memphis, a pass-first offense. With the Fighting Irish average only 163.3 yards passing per game, it seems he didn’t bring that with him from Tennessee.

Long’s offense at Memphis did excel at creating one-on-one matchups and creating solo tackle opportunities. Those sound like qualities of an air-raid offense, but Notre Dame is running more of a blitzkrieg offense with 308.0 rushing yards per game. That’s fifth in the nation. The three teams above them run the triple option and the fourth is Arizona, who discovered a clone of Michael Vick on their bench.

Ron Mexico may have made his way to Tuscon and renamed himself Khalil Tate. That’s going to be fun to stop in two weeks.

The Notre Dame offense is led by Brandon Wimbush, who has thrown for 783 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions. He may be a quarterback, but he does most of his damage on the ground, running for 402 yards and 8 touchdowns. That’s second in the nation for a non-option quarterback. You already know whose first. Don’t make me post another Arizona highlight video in my Notre Dame preview. Too much cactus with my Catholics.

The bell cow of this offense is running back Josh Adams, who has rushed for 776 yards, which is seventh in the nation, and five touchdowns. He’s done this with little effort, averaging 9.0 yards per carry, which is second in the nation. Adams will be the second best running back they face all year. Hopefully the Trojans will be able to stop him like they stopped Bryce Love. By stop, I mean contain for less than 200 yards.

Just because they don’t rely on their passing game doesn’t mean they don’t have weapons at receiver. Equanimeous St. Brown has 15 receptions for 211 yards and two touchdowns. More importantly, his dad is John Brown, a two-time Mr. Universe winner. Dick Hammer has some competition.

Notre Dame seems to be gunning for USC’s title of “Tight End U” with five tight ends that have seen action in the first six weeks. The main passing threat at that position, Alize Mack, has 17 receptions for 154 yards.

Notre Dame’s successful rushing attack can be attributed to their offensive line, which returns four starters from last year. Three of four returners have started two or more years. Their left side is anchored by two preseason All-Americans. The right side isn’t too shabby either. With injuries to the defensive front of USC, the Trojans aren’t looking too good in the trenches against this team.

The Fighting Irish are 18th in red zone offense. If they get into the red zone, they’re probably going to score. Unless it’s a tight end throwback.


There will always be a special place in my heart for former defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. When Michigan State was marching up and down the field against Notre Dame last year, the camera must have panned to him at least 100 times that game. Each time better than the last.

To replace the Lego version of Uncle Rico, Notre Dame hired Mike Elko as coordinator. He was previously at Wake Forest, where the Demon Deacons had the 22nd-ranked defense in the nation.

Unlike his counterpart Chris Long, he brought a little bit of that to South Bend where the Fighting Irish are 48th in total defense.

Wake Forest also had one of the best red zone defenses in the country last year. He brought that too, with Notre Dame ranked 28th this season. USC has struggled inside the 20-yard line this season. They might need a little extra push to get past the goal line.

Notre Dame runs both a 4-3 and 4-2-5 defense. The 4-2-5 is basically the same as the 4-3 defense except a defensive back is substituted for a linebacker. It is very similar to the defense USC runs except the Trojans ends on the defensive line are considered linebackers. If anyone is still confused, their defense consists of 11 players of various size and build.

Notre Dame’s defensive line has 8.5 sacks, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and an interception for the season. Their pass rush comes from defensive end Daelin Hayes and nose guard Jerry Tillery, who has three sacks this season.

USC fans might remember Jerry Tillery from antics against the Trojans last year.

First, he kicked the head of Aca’Cedric Ware after a helmet-to-helmet hit with Nicco Fertitta. That’s not proper concussion protocol. While Fertitta was ejected for targeting, Tillery was allowed to stay in the game to commit more cheap shots.

Heads. Ankles. Nothing is safe from Tillery’s feet after the whistle. Wouldn’t be shocked if his player comparison going into the draft this year is Ndamukong Suh.

Since the kick to the head wasn’t noticed by referees, stepping on someone’s ankle after the whistle apparently wasn’t enough grounds for an ejection, so Tillery faced no formal punishment from the NCAA. It was up to Brian Kelly to discipline his player. I bet you can guess what happened.

Translation: He had a 30 minute session with a therapist and worked at a soup kitchen for half a day.

How do you not suspend Tillery at least one game? I know, it’s the NCAA. The only way you can get punished is if you are receiving 100 dollar handshakes and properly being paid for your services. Still, did you really need him against Temple?

The Irish could have beat the Owls with one of those squirrels lining up at nose guard.

Notre Dame has a very experienced linebacking corps. All four in rotation are team leaders in tackles. Although, only three of those four may see the field as Greer Martini is day-to-day with a knee injury. The linebackers are led by Drue Tranquill and Nyles Morgan who both have 4.5 tackles for loss. If you mashed up their names you’d get Nyquill. Hopefully they don’t put USC’s offense to sleep.

Notre Dame has forced a punt or turnover on opponents’ first drive in each game. Not a good sign for a team that has slow and sloppy starts to each game.

Injuries from last year led to a lot of players getting reps in the secondary. With everyone healthy, Notre Dame now has a large rotation of defensive backs. While the defense has only allowed 231.2 passing yards a game, that doesn’t mean its a strength. They haven’t really played many gunslingers this season.

Special Teams

On special teams, kicker Justin Yoon is a perfect 31-for-31 on extra points. That’s the kind of stat that will make you swoon. But his long distance kicking is not in tune. He’s 7-for-10 on field goals, missing three from 40+ yards. Guess he doesn’t have the leg to kick the ball to the moon.

At punter, Notre Dame has Tyler Newsome. He is currently 11th in the nation in punting. If that means he’s able to kick the ball inside the 20, I hope USC will be ready to start their drives at the two-yard line again since Ajene Harris wants nothing to do with the ball once it’s in the air.

If Harris does want to return a punt for the first time in two weeks, he’ll have an opportunity to finally give Trojans fans Adoree’ Jackson flashbacks as the Fighting Irish have been very poor on punt and kickoff defense.

Not only that, but they somehow have a worse punt return average than USC. I guess when a team actually tries to receive punts, it can bring down the average.

Should I Stay Or Should I Go

One of the greatest rivalries in college football? Under the lights? In Primetime? I don’t think you need me to convince you to go to South Bend this week. Although, if you’re going to go, you probably should have ordered tickets months ago. Can’t imagine how much a ticket to Chicago is right now.

Last time USC played at Notre Dame, every fan from California was turning into a cardinal and gold popsicle. Thanks to global warming, you might not even need to bring a sweater. Who said climate change was a bad thing? Stupid nerd scientists.

Not only is this going to be a great game, but Notre Dame finally entered the 21st century by adding a video board to their stadium. Now you won’t need binoculars to read off player’s numbers. God forbid if you missed a play. You’d have to rewatch it when you got back home.

I guess I should expect the stadium to add WiFi capabilities next century?

For those attending, just be aware of time zones. That bus ride to South Bend can be fun, but the ride back to Chicago is long and sometimes full of tears.


This section is devoted to the long time tradition of creating scenarios in which USC can make the College Football Playoff.

A loss this week will sink USC’s chances at the College Football Playoff. It would take an extremely impressive finish and a lot of help for two-loss Trojans team to be one of the four teams selected for the playoff. Penn State got awfully close last year.

You know, before losing to USC in the Rose Bowl.

While a rival, Notre Dame is a non-conference opponent so the game will not impact the Pac-12 South standings.

How about both Arizona schools in second place? Before the season started, I thought both would compete to see who would fire their head coach first, not contend for the conference title.


Scrappy underdog Notre Dame faces off against USC for Jewelled Shillelagh.

USC will have to play all four quarters. If they have a sloppy first half like they did last week, there won’t be another heroic comeback. The Trojans are out of Genie’s wishes, and the Fighting Irish have stockpiled all the four-leaf clovers. USC can’t rely on luck this week.

The second half against Utah showed what the Trojans can do when they are playing at their best. Moving the ball on offense. Creating stops on defense. They just need to do it for the whole game.

That may be hard. The Trojans haven’t fared that well on the road this season and instead of flying up the west coast, they are traveling all the way to the Indiana. The Trojans won’t have to deal with much crowd noise in South Bend. Judging by the Georgia game, Notre Dame might be the Los Angeles Chargers of college football. USC fans might not attend their own home games, but they can travel very well.

The Trojans won’t have to worry about the lawn conditions since Notre Dame added artificial turf two years ago. No speed bumps to stop the Texas Tesla.

On offense, USC will have to beat Notre Dame through the air. The defense of the Fighting Irish has been great against the run, but their secondary seems to be the weakest link. Good thing Sam Darnold has been the focal point of the play calling this season. Tee Martin won’t have to change his offensive scheme.

USC should still dial-up a lot of runs for Jones II. It might not work, but it can keep the defense honest and help to establish play-action passes and run-pass option plays. Plus, the Trojans are undefeated when Jones gets over 20 carries.

Notre Dame is ninth in the nation in turnover margin so hopefully Sam Darnold has been practicing wet ball drills this week. The Trojans can’s have productive drives derailed by turnovers this week.

On defense, USC needs to stop the run. This may be an issue with the injuries to the defensive line.

Josh Fatu got into a car accident this week, and is most likely out. Rasheem Green is recovering from an ankle injury, but should be able to play. Backup Kenny Bigelow retired and is now coaching for the team.

The Trojans defensive line is depleted and it’s going against one of the best rushing attacks in the nation. The team might have to burn a couple redshirts just to field a decent rotation.

More from Reign of Troy

To compensate for the lack of talent in the trenches, USC needs to load the box and do whatever they can to contain Josh Adams and the rushing attack. Force Brian Wimbush pass the ball. Make Notre Dame win through the air.

On special teams, can someone please return a punt? USC can’t continue to start every drive on the five-yard line.

The second half against Utah last week showed that the Trojans finally found their groove. I think they continue that this week and the rest of the season.

This is the first game all year that USC isn’t favored to win.  I guess the Trojans will be disappointing Las Vegas bookies again.

Nothing better than beating Notre Dame.

USC 35, Notre Dame 28