It’s Trojans Week!

The end is near, and soon we’ll be able to put this disastrous, and disappointing, 2016 season to rest, but, not before one last road game to Southern California to take on Notre Dame’s most hated rivals, the USC Trojans. While most seasons this would be one of the most intriguing games on the Irish schedule, this season it’s nothing short of anticlimactic, with the Irish failing to string even two consecutive wins together, and the Trojans winning their last seven straight games. It’s a weird thing, hoping that the Irish can just keep it close, where just keeping it close has been a major disappointment all season long. Still, there’s always the possibility that luck will favor the Irish just once this season, but I’m still going to have my bottle of Jameson on hand, just in case.

The Match-Up

Notre Dame enters the game with a 4-7 record after their 34-31 loss to Virginia Tech. Even with a win this week, the Irish won’t be bowl eligible, so while a win over the Trojans won’t change the course of the season for the Irish, it might help take some of the sting out of having to sit at home when bowl season kicks off. The Trojans enter the game with an 8-3 record, having won their last seven games after starting their season with three losses in their first four games. The Trojans, who are now ranked 12th in the AP Top 25, will have a chance at playing for the Pac-12 Championship regardless of the outcome of this game, but only if Utah is able to beat Colorado.

The History

This will be the 95th meeting between these two teams in a series dating back to 1926. The 80’s and 90’s were dominated by Irish win, but, since 2000, the Trojans have had the edge, winning 10 of the last 16 meetings. The Irish have seen some recent success against the Trojans, though,, winning three of the last five games, including last season’s 41-31 win in South Bend.

 

Players To Watch

Fighting Irish

DeShone Kizer

Kizer’s first half play against the Hokies last week was impressive, the kind of performance that warrants the ‘first pick of the 2017 draft’ hype that we’ve heard all season long. Unfortunately, the second half was a completely different story,, and save for Josh Adams’ long touchdown run, the Irish offense with Kizer under center was utterly ineffective. Most analysts, not to mention even Irish fans, aren’t giving the Irish much of a shot at beating the Trojans, and if Kizer and the Irish continue their second half struggles in this game, the Trojans are likely to win this one with ease. But, with this possibly being Kizer’s last game at Notre Dame, he may have even more motivation to go out with a big win over the rival Trojans.

Josh Adams

Through the first seven games of the season, Adams found the end zone just one time, against Duke in Week 4, and was held to less than 60 yards rushing in five of those games. Over the last four games, though, Adams has found the end zone four times, including two touchdowns last week against Virginia Tech. Adams has ripped off several long touchdown runs for touchdowns in the last several weeks, and the Irish will need Adam’s game changing ability in a big way against a talented Trojan defense.

James Onwualu

The senior linebacker had been having a fairly quiet season until two weeks ago against Army when he recorded his first game with double-digit tackles, with 13 total tackles. He followed up that performance with a 10 tackle effort against Virginia Tech, recording a sack and forced fumble, and 1 TFL, as well. Onwualu’s 73 total tackles are third best for the Irish defense, but his 10.5 TFL puts him at the top of the team leader board for that category.

 

Players To Watch

Trojans

Sam Darnold (QB)

The redshirt freshman lost the QB battle in training camp, but won the starting job after the Trojans fell to 1-2 to start the season. The Trojans would lose the first game with Darnold under center, to Utah, but have now won seven straight games. Since taking over, Darnold’s had three games with 300+ passing yards, and he’s thrown 22 TDs, including back to back games with 5 TD passes, against Arizona and California. Darnold’s thrown 6 INTs in the last four games, but he’s still managed to lead his team to victory despite those mistakes, including their big win over #4 Washington just two weeks ago.

Adoree’ Jackson (CB)

Jackson’s one of the best multiway players in the country, playing on offense, defense, and special teams, but this season it’s his play on defense that’s garnering praise. Named one of three finalists for the Thorpe Award, given to the top defensive back in the country, Jackson’s been doing work for the Trojan defense with 49 total tackles, 41 of them which have been solo tackles, good for fourth best on the team. He also has a team high 4 INTs, 9 pass break-ups, and 13 passes defensed. And, proving he’s a multiway threat, Jackson also has both a kick-off and punt return for touchdowns this season.
Fighting Irish Key To Victory

Play Two Halves

The Irish have certainly had missed opportunities in the first half of games throughout this season, but their second half struggles on both sides of the ball have doomed their season from the very first game against Texas. Too many times this season the Irish have been unable to close out games, giving up large leads in the second half of games, both because of the offense’s inability to sustain drives and put points on the board, and the defense’ inability to come up with big plays, or even consistent plays, to get off the field. Against USC, that might not just be a recipe for a loss, but the first blow-out loss for the Irish this season.

Final Analysis: I’d love nothing more than for the Irish to pull out the upset win against USC, in Southern California, to finish out the season, but nothing I’ve seen in the first eleven games gives me any confidence that the Irish can actually do so. The Irish certainly have the talent to make it a competitive game, but right now it’s USC that has not just the talent, but that has consistently shown a high level of execution on the field, to come away with the win. In the end, the same things that have plagued the Irish all season long will continue to do so against the Trojans, and the Irish will have to head back to South Bend for a longer than hoped for break from football.

Final Score: Notre Dame 27 – USC 45

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