Burning questions for USC – Notre Dame football throwdown

This little snippet from Fighting Irish Wire editor Nick Shepkowski should get your blood pumping before Saturday’s renewal of the USC-Notre Dame rivalry:

“We’re all about to enter an era that this rivalry hasn’t seen in a sustained matter since the seventies,” Shepkowski wrote.

“Yes, there is a lot of hate and a lot of winning between Michigan and Ohio State as well as Alabama and Auburn.  Army and Navy is a classic you can set your watch to, but all things considered, Notre Dame-USC is the best rivalry in college football when both are ticking.”

Nick joined us to answer lots of key questions about Notre Dame and USC. We go “Behind Enemy Lines” as we rev up our coverage of this huge game on Saturday night:

After the Stanford loss, did you think Notre Dame would be 8-3 heading into USC?

Trojans Wire: No

Nick Shepkowski: No

What's the biggest thing which changed for the Irish after Stanford?

Trojans Wire: offensive line

Nick Shepkowski: Self-acceptance on offense

Is Drew Pyne ready to win this game vs USC?

TW: Yes

Nick Shepkowski: Yes

Is Drew Pyne likely to win?

TW: No

Nick Shepkowski: Pyne alone — no. Notre Dame as a team: very possible.

What is ND's key weakness on offense in this game?

TW: Non-Michael Mayer second option

Nick Shepkowski: Lack of downfield threat

How many points does ND need to win?

TW: 25

Nick Shepkowski: 32

Can the ND defense hold USC under 30 points?

TW: Yes

Nick Shepkowski: They held Ohio State to 21 in the Shoe. Yes.

Does the Pac-12 make you increase or decrease ND's odds?

TW: Increase

Nick Shepkowski: Do you mean the fact the conference is again brutal but has figured out a way to sell cannibalizing itself as a strength?  Yes, yes it does.

The matchup Notre Dame has to win to prevail over USC

TW: offensive line run blocking vs USC’s front four

Nick Shepkowski: Win line of scrimmage

On a scale of 1-10, how important is it that Eric Gentry plays for USC and can be somewhat effective?

TW: 6

Nick Shepkowski: USC fans know more about the Trojans’ depth than I do, but it’s significant considering what Notre Dame will try to establish offensively.  7.

What is the most problematic matchup for Notre Dame's offense?

TW: Tuli Tuipulotu

Nick Shepkowski: I used one of my three Bednarik Award semifinalist votes on Tuli.  Guy has been a force making plays behind the line of scrimmage all year and plays a huge role in USC’s ability to create turnovers.  Tell me his stat line at the end of the night and I’ll tell you the winner of this game and by how much.

What is the most problematic matchup for Notre Dame's defense?

TW: Jordan Addison

Nick Shepkowski: Caleb Williams.  Hate giving the basic answer of the quarterback, but when pressure is applied, can ND get him down or force a throwaway?  They couldn’t for long enough against Stroud in Week 1.  If they don’t here, that’ll be what gets it done for USC’s offense.

What is the most problematic matchup for USC's offense?

TW: Isaiah Foskey

Nick Shepkowski: Freshman cornerback Benjamin Morrison, who has five interceptions in the last three games.

What is the most problematic matchup for USC's defense?

TW: Audric Estime

Nick Shepkowski: Michael Mayer

ND just played Clemson, Navy and BC. Now USC. Big gulf in offensive talent. 1-10, how big a key is this?

TW: 8.5

Nick Shepkowski: 3.5. This is a team that went on the road and kept both Ohio State and North Carolina’s powerful offenses well below their elite season averages.

On a scale of 1-10, how terrified should USC be of Notre Dame's punt block unit?

TW: 473

Nick Shepkowski: Ditto to what Matt said. 473.

Odds of Notre Dame blocking a punt in this game

TW:

Over-Under 2.5: Under

Over-Under 1.5: Over

Over-Under 0.5: Over

Nick Shepkowski:

Over-Under 2.5: Under

Over-Under 1.5: Under

Over-Under 0.5: Over

How many times will USC punt in this game?

TW: 4

Nick Shepkowski: 3

On a scale of 1-10, how badly will USC's lack of a special teams coordinator influence the flow of this game?

TW: 346

Nick Shepkowski: 9. Whatever is the cause for USC’s special teams issues, they’ll need to be addressed before this team wins like USC fans expect.  Special teams are such a huge equalizer and Notre Dame’s seeming advantage should go a very long way in this one being a thriller.

Stars: Lincoln Riley vs Marcus Freeman; Junior Varsity: Tommy Rees vs Alex Grinch -- which matters more?

TW: Rees-Grinch

Nick Shepkowski: Answer C is neither.

It’s Brian Mason vs. USC special teams.  I’m not kidding, how much he has overhauled an entire special teams philosophy in a single season after it was looked at essentially as an afterthought for 12 years is insane.  I feel like after this year I understand what it was like to be a Virginia Tech fan during Frank Beamer’s glory days.

Game Prediction

TW: USC 30, Notre Dame 23

Nick Shepkowski: Notre Dame 34, USC 31

Confidence level in your game prediction

TW: 4

Nick Shepkowski: 10, duh. 😉

FROM IRISH WIRE

Story originally appeared on Trojans Wire