[Editor note: This is a guest post from Hank, hailing from our good friends and partners from Rent Like a Champion. Take it away, Hank!]
Well, half the regular season is in the books, and the Fighting Irish sit at 5-1 and #16 in the latest AP poll.
At Rent Like A Champion, we haven’t just been helping fans find amazing vacation rentals near Notre Dame Stadium all season long (shameless plug, we’ve got nearly 1,000 weekend homes available for YOUR next South Bend weekend), we’ve been keeping fans posted with our weekly newsletter as the Irish climb the ranks of college football.
But we couldn’t wait until next week to start getting pumped up about this game, so as Brian Kelly and his team go into the bye week, here’s what they should be focused on with the Trojans coming to town…
1) Just run the football
Look, I’m all for letting Brandon Wimbush air out the ball, and I believe Equanimeous St. Brown is absolutely the coolest name in college football.
But Notre Dame should just run the football next Saturday, because USC’s front seven is SUSPECT to say the least, gang.
They’re giving up 143 yards per game on the ground, which lands them at 55th in the country. In their loss to Washington State a few weeks ago, they gave up 122 yards and 4.07 yards per carry to a team that hadn’t gotten close to cracking 100 yards against anyone but FCS Montana State.
Now if only there was someone on the Fighting Irish who was one of the country’s elite running backs and OH YEAH IT’S JOSH ADAMS.
Adams and this dominating front seven have been absolutely exceptional this season, with an explosiveness rating that lands them 2nd in the S&P+ rankings (1.41), and a power success rate (the rate at which rushes on third or fourth down are successful) at a staggering 80%.
Those advanced stats have resulted in a rushing attack that ranks 6th in the country in yards per game (308), 3rd in rushing touchdowns (23), and 2nd in yards per carry (6.9).
Don’t mess around this week, coach. Give the ball to Adams and company and let them work their magic.
2) Getting more aggressive in the secondary
Notre Dame’s defense has been excellent this season—especially considering it was such a weak spot during the Fighting Irish’s 2016 campaign.
Ryan noted earlier this week that it was the Irish’s defense that propelled them to victory in Chapel Hill, and with an offense that was slow going towards the beginning the season, that defensive difference-making has been the key to Notre Dame’s early-season success.
But preseason Heisman candidate Sam Darnold and this USC offense will likely attack Notre Dame in the only place where they’ve been vulnerable this season: the secondary.
The Irish rank 78th in the country in passing yards allowed per game (231.2), and their secondary’s havoc rate (percentage of plays in which they record a tackle for loss, pass defended, or forced fumble) is only 5.2%.
The front seven for Notre Dame has been excellent thus far this year—especially the linebackers. If they can get pressure on Darnold it will make life easier, but the Irish secondary will have to make plays to shut down this USC offense.
3) Win the fourth quarter
S&P+ projects that this game will come down to the wire, with an expected finish somewhere around 30-27 in favor of Notre Dame.
If this holds true, it means that for the first time since their game against Georgia, Notre Dame will have to play in a game that’s undecided going into the fourth quarter.
So far this season, Notre Dame has been up and down in the fourth quarter, with high per play success rates against teams like Temple (50%), Boston College (42%), and UNC (45%).
But they’ve struggled against higher competition, going 21% against Georgia and 25% against Michigan State.
They are, however, holding opponents to an average success rate of just 35.83% in the fourth quarter, which bodes well against a USC team that lost late in their only major road test of 2017.
And part of that, of course, will call on the Fighting Irish faithful to make Notre Dame Stadium a hostile environment for a USC team looking to get their season back on track with a huge win.
We’re already counting down the days, fans, and we can’t wait for this one to get underway…
So… you want to be at the game?
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