Notre Dame-USC: Staff predictions for Saturday’s showdown

The 2022 regular-season finale is already upon in what has been anything but a normal fall in Marcus Freeman’s first season as Notre Dame’s head coach.  It feels like it was maybe only a month ago that the Irish defense was putting in work at Ohio State before succumbing late in the contest.  An all-time woeful loss to Marshall followed before a turnaround that featured three-straight wins, including a domination of a North Carolina team who will play in the ACC championship.

The stumble against Stanford happened in mid-October and right when the train could have really come off the track, the order was seemingly restored under Freeman’s watch.  Notre Dame has won five straight since that loss, including controlling a ranked Syracuse team on the road handily and handing Clemson their worst regular season loss in what feels like a generation.

So how does Notre Dame close the book on the 2022 regular season?  Can they find a way to slow USC’s high-powered offense and spoil a second opponent’s College Football Playoff dreams this November?

Here is how the Fighting Irish Wire staff as well as Trojans Wire editor Matt Zemek see Saturday night’s showdown in the Coliseum going.

Matt Zemek - Managing Editor at Trojans Wire:

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I do think Drew Pyne can hit some passes off play action when USC is sucked into the tackle box, but I don’t think he’ll have an amazing, transcendent game. Notre Dame probably needs to be plus 2 in turnover margin (including blocked punts) to win, and USC has been good at limiting turnovers. I’m not sure Notre Dame’s offense will dominate third downs enough to win. In many ways, the game comes down to ND getting into third and short a lot and third and 7 very rarely. If ND has a lot of 3rd and 7s, that’s not a sustainable path for the Irish.

This will be a game in the fourth quarter. The Irish will be right there. Caleb Williams vs. Drew Pyne is really hard to ignore in the final analysis, though.

 

USC 30, Notre Dame 23.

Geoffrey Clark (6-5):

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How fitting that the Irish began the regular season against one possible College Football Playoff team and will end it with another. It’s worth noting that the Irish played the Buckeyes well for the majority of the game before the bottom fell out, and that was before everything came into place for this team. That said, the Trojans are a team on a mission, and they look incredibly strong on both sides of the ball. The Irish might give them a game, but the Trojans have more to play for, and they’re not about to let their archrival have their way in the Coliseum.

USC 38, Notre Dame 22

Michael Chen (7-4):

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I’ve been thinking about it since the Irish blanked Boston College and I’ve gone back and forth about where to go. This game is much more of an even contest than many analysts would lead you to believe despite USC’s very impressive record. Both teams have distinct differences, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Lincoln Riley brought his air raid to USC and his quarterback Caleb Williams along as well. It took both teams some time to make an adjustment to their new coaches, obviously the Irish took a bit longer. One will make the argument that USC has yet to face a team with the Irish’s style of play but Notre Dame has seen one in Ohio State. They fared well and held that high-powered offense to just 21 points and I have a feeling we will see a similar result on Saturday evening. The question is if the Irish offense can score enough points and if they pound the run game, the answer is yes. I think they do and throw a wrench into the College Football Playoff picture after defeating USC. 

Notre Dame 34, USC 21

John Kennedy (9-2):

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This game is massive in my mind for two main reasons. First, It’s year-one of both programs having new Head Coaches. Southern Cal wants to seize back control of the rivalry, and Notre Dame wants to keep it having won every matchup since 2017 and 7 of the last 9. Secondly, Notre Dame and SC have completely opposite styles. Not just of play, but of life. The result of this game sets the tone for what’s to come in a long battle of Freeman vs Riley. I believe Notre Dame will win this game up front on both sides of the ball. Yes, USC will make some exciting plays and Caleb Williams will dazzle at times, but it won’t be enough. Notre Dame will follow their script, run to win, and make just enough plays on defense and perhaps even another big special teams play.

Notre Dame 38, USC 34

Jeff Feyerer (9-2):

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The prevailing thought I have about this one other than the obligatory “I hate USC” coursing through the veins of every Irish fan is that I trust the ND defense to slow the USC offense more than I trust the USC defense to stop the ND offense. This ND offensive line is playing at a level that we all had hoped they would early in the season and just as I predicted the big guys up front would win the day for the Irish against Clemson, I feel the same now. USC quarterback Caleb Williams is electric and in my mind, the Heisman front-runner. He’s going to find a way to generate points. But I think a growing ND defensive backfield and the veteran front seven can slow him down enough to allow the Irish running game to control the clock and outscore the Trojans. 

Notre Dame 34, USC 27

Nick Shepkowski (8-3):

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Something clicked with Notre Dame after the Stanford game.  No, they haven’t been perfect but you can’t tell me they don’t look every bit the part of a top-ten team at this moment, even with a quarterback that is clearly limited.  Notre Dame is going to own the line of scrimmage in this contest.  What it comes down to for me defensively for the Irish is if linebackers can make solo tackles in space.  USC is going to attack the flats and make Notre Dame’s backers make plays and stops.
Offensively Drew Pyne doesn’t need to play the game of his life but he’ll need to execute on high-percentage throws that involve the majority of yardage coming after the catch.  Do this a couple of times and the box can’t be stacked.  If that’s the case then Notre Dame will run for over 225 yards again.  I really like how Notre Dame matches up in this game and that’s before we get to their decided edge in special teams.  Irish eyes will be smiling Saturday night as USC’s playoff dreams come crashing down in a bad way.

Welcome back to college football relevance again, USC – it really has been a while.  Now go get your shine box.

Notre Dame 41, USC 27

Story originally appeared on Fighting Irish Wire