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Notre Dame's Defense Is Well Aware Of The Challenge USC Presents

The combination of Lincoln Riley's offensive system and the talent of Caleb Williams, Jordan Addison and the rest of the USC skill players presents problem for the Irish
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In an era where transfers have become the norm, there may be no better current transfer in the country than USC quarterback Caleb Williams. The sophomore followed Lincoln Riley to Los Angeles from Oklahoma a year ago and he has been the front man for one of the best offenses in college football this season.

"He Is he a talented quarterback,” Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman proclaimed this week. "We faced some really good quarterbacks this season. He is one of the best. One of the best I've seen. His arm strength is one thing. His decision making is another his ability to extend plays. He's one of the few guys I've seen just continually, continuously break tackles.”

Williams’ elusiveness has helped him run for 316 yards and seven touchdowns through 11 games. The most similar quarterback Notre Dame has face this year is North Carolina’s Drake Maye, who has rushed for 597 yards and five touchdowns.

Maye hit a couple early runs against the Irish in the Sept. 24 Notre Dame win in Chapel Hill, but Al Golden’s defense shut him down after that. Maye finished with 13 carries for just 36 yards, which is his second-worst rushing day of the season. The attack plan on Maye changed after that first drive after a conversation Freeman had with defensive line coach Al Washington.

"I said, we're not playing spy,” Freeman recalled. "I don't want to just play patty cake and spy the guy I want to rush but we have to be in our lanes. That will be the challenge with Caleb Williams.”

Freeman knows the coverage has to continue to be good for the Irish to keep Williams and Co. in check. But there must be discipline with how they go about attacking him up front as well.

"Stay in your rush lanes if you have an opportunity to bring him down then bring him down,” Freeman stated. "Bring your feet and don't dive. But don't play spy in his car. I like to use the term ‘controlled aggression’. You know we have to be aggressive but it has to be under control.

Williams has been sacked 20 times this season. Some of it stems from his willingness to stand in the pocket to wait for one of his band of receivers to break free for another big play.

2021 Biletnikoff Award winner Jordan Addison, who transferred from Pitt in the offseason, is Williams’ top target. The 6-0 junior leads the Trojans with 61 receptions for 765 yards with eight touchdown grabs in his first (and likely only) season at Southern Cal.

"You'll see Addison at wide out going in motion,” Freeman explained. "He's in the backfield. I think that was against UCLA. I was just watching him when he was third down. Maybe they went tempo and he snuck him into the backfield and running right up the seam and scored a touchdown.

Addison finished with 11 catches for 178 yards, both the second-best totals in his three-year career, against rival UCLA. It was his fourth 100-plus yard game of the season, but he is not alone in that department. He is one of five different Trojans who have had a 100-yard game in 2022.

"You can just go down the list from Addison to (Brenden) Rice to Mario Williams who transferred from Oklahoma,” Freeman said of the USC receiving room. "(Tahj) Washington from Memphis, I mean, you can just go down the line of talented wide receivers that find a way to get their hands on the ball.”

Williams is coming off a career day in last week’s 48-45 win over UCLA. The Washington, DC native completed 32 of 43 passes for 470 yards with touchdown passes to Addison and Ford. He ran for another score as well.

His 316.3 passing yards per game rank 6th in the nation, his 167.59 pass efficiency rating ranks No. 9 and his 33 touchdown passes are No. 4 (one spot behind North Carolina’s Maye and three spots behind CJ Stroud of Ohio State). It all adds up to the nation’s No. 3 scoring offense (42.7 ppg) that knows how to go at different speeds.

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"They do a really good job of mixing up tempos and at times,” said Freeman. "Match speed as fast as they can at times slowing it down and using some of the play clock and they're able to run the ball, throw the ball really put different guys in motion to put in different spots.”

It’s a challenge for the Fighting Irish for sure, but Notre Dame has already faced the No. 2 (Ohio State), No. 13 (North Carolina), No. 28 (Clemson), and No. 44 (BYU) scoring offenses in the nation this season. Golden’s defense has held those teams to 25.6, 6, 20.7, and 11.6 points under those season scoring averages, going 3-1 against the four teams.

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