USC is 10-1, they were 1-point losers in week seven to 20th ranked Utah. Last week they outlasted #16 UCLA 48-45. 4-8 a year ago, first year head Coach Lincoln Riley brought in 26 transfers in the off season and has rapidly turned around Trojan football fortunes.
The Trojan identity becomes clear when looking at just two national ranks. No. 2 in total offense at 513 yards per game, and 94th in total defense giving up 405 yards per game.
At the top of that big group of transfers is quarterback Caleb Williams. Williams is a 65% passer and has thrown for an impressive 3480 yards and 33 TD passes against just three interceptions. Williams is also a strong runner having gained 316 yards and scored 7 TDs. He has been sacked 21 times, a shade under twice per game. Overall the USC passing attack is ranked No. 2 nationally at 330.8 per game.
The Trojan running attack averages 182 yards per game and until a couple of weeks ago was led by Oregon transfer Travis Dye. Dye is now out for the season with injury and next man up has been Stanford transfer, Austin Jones. Last week against UCLA, Jones rushed for 120 yards and 2 TDs.
Catching the football from the impressive Williams has been a large group of wideouts including five who have at least 300 yards and 2 TDs. Junior Jordan Addison looks to be the best of the big group, he has tallied 765 yards and 8 TDs on 51 catches. Against UCLA Addison went off for 178 yards on 11 catches.
Defensively the Trojans have been giving up plenty of yards and points, but they have been complimentary to their high-powered offense. The Trojan defense is 3rd in nation with 25 turnovers (18 interceptions and 7 fumbles), providing lots of extra possessions for their offense. Leading the interception charge are their cornerbacks Calen Bullock with four and Mekhi Blackmon with three.
Transfer linebacker Shane Lee was a 13 game starter at Alabama and he leads USC in tackles at 65. Last year’s leading pass rusher Tuli Tuipulotu is back at it this year, he has 11.5 sacks this season.
The Trojans look to be most vulnerable against the run. They are 102nd in rushing defense per carry average at 4.57 yards.
Freshman place kicker Denis Lynch has been solid hitting 12-18 field goals and is a perfect 60/60 on extra points. But the rest of the USC special teams have not been strong, 111th in punt return defense, 99th in net punting and 77th in kickoff return defense.
This Trojan high-powered offense and ability to force turnovers is impressive. Notre Dame, who might be short starting corner, Cam Hart will have their work cut out trying to slow down a talented group of wide receivers and the precision passing of Caleb Williams.
Offensively the Irish should be able to run the ball and if Drew Pyne can pass just enough and stay away from interceptions the Irish may be able to control the tempo of the game. Success in the red zone will be critical, and the Irish will need touchdowns, not field goals.
USC expended a lot of mental energy in their tough battle with rival USC last week. Something tells me that the Irish will once again play to the level of their completion, and might just have a mental edge this week.
USC is a 4.5-point favorite and the over/under is 62.5
The Fighting Irish Preview Pick: ND 31 USC 28