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Impact Matchups: Notre Dame Defense vs USC Offense

Breaking down the matchups between the Irish defense and Trojan offense that will have the biggest impact on this game

No matter how disparate this season and the state of the programs seem to be between Notre Dame and USC, the fact of the matter is that these two teams always play each other tough. 

In spite of the team’s overall struggles, USC ranks in the top 30 nationally in total offense with 448 yards gained per game. The Trojans are averaging 318 yards passing per game, a mark that ranks 11th in the country. Even with a talented and experienced unit, things won’t be easy for Marcus Freeman and the Irish defense. Below are a few of the most noteworthy matchups for Notre Dame defensively heading into Saturday.

CB #6 Clarence Lewis, CB #28 TaRiq Bracy vs WR #15 Drake London

Midway through the season, Drake London is one of the frontrunners for the Biletnikoff award, and rightfully so. London’s 64 catches through six games rank second nationally and his 832 receiving yards are the fourth most among FBS players. The junior is averaging 10.7 receptions per game, a mark that also ranks second in the nation, as does his average of 138.7 yards per game. The next most productive receiver for USC is redshirt sophomore wide-out Tahj Washington, who has 22 catches for 277 yards and a score. At 6-5 and 210 pounds, it’s London’s size, strong hands, route-running and ability to make contested catches that makes him so difficult to cover. London has also spent time on the USC men’s basketball team, which provides further evidence of his sheer athleticism and jump-ball capabilities.

USC likes to move London all over the field, but the matchup between London and Irish corners Clarence Lewis and TaRiq Bracy will be particularly intriguing. Notre Dame ranks 86th nationally in passing defense, giving up 237 yards per game through the air. Lewis and Bracy have had their highs and lows this season, both with an interception and pass breakup on the year. 

Most recently, Bracy, who has struggled with consistency throughout his Irish career, had a difficult time sticking with Virginia Tech receiver Tre Turner, but did make a crucial third quarter interception that set up a Notre Dame touchdown. 

As a team, the Irish held the Hokies quarterbacks to just a 50 percent completion percentage. In the loss to Cincinnati, Notre Dame gave up 297 yards through the air and Lewis struggled guarding Alec Pierce, who finished with six catches for 144 yards. Lewis and Bracy will, without question, have help over the top from All-American safety Kyle Hamilton, but they’ll have to hold their own themselves if the Irish are going to slow down London’s seemingly incessant production.

DE #7 Isaiah Foskey vs OT #79 Jonah Monheim, #74 Courtland Ford

Outside of Hamilton, Isaiah Foskey is Notre Dame’s most promising NFL prospect. The 6-5, 260-pounder from Antioch, California is in the midst of a breakout season in his first year in an expanded, every-down role. Through six games this season, Foskey has surpassed his full, 12-game season totals from last year in every statistical category. Foskey leads the Irish and is tied for 11th nationally with six sacks, and also has racked up six and a half tackles for loss. 

To put that into perspective, the next highest sack total on the team is a tie between Justin Ademilola and Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa at two apiece The junior is also tied for fourth on the team with 27 total tackles. In other words, Foskey has been a nightmare for opposing offenses.

So far this season, USC’s offensive line play has been better than originally anticipated. The Trojans are top 15 in the country with just seven sacks given up through six games even with a largely inexperienced unit. With that being said, two of those sacks came in the Trojans most recent loss to Utah, and Notre Dame features a much more potent pass rushing attack than the other teams USC has faced so far. 

Redshirt freshmen Jonah Monheim and Courtland Ford, USC’s right and left tackles, respectively, came into this season with minimal game action under their belts, but have held their own for the most part. Their worst game as a pair came in the team’s most recent game against a Utah team that ranked in the top 25 with over three sacks per game. Even still, Monheim and Ford have yet to go up against a talent like Foskey, making this a potential game-changing matchup for both teams.

LB #27 JD Bertrand, #40 Drew White vs RB #28 Keaontay Ingram, #6 Vavae Malepeai, #22 Darwin Barlow

Though the Trojans’ offensive success has been headlined by London’s receiving prowess, the USC running backs have also been enjoying solid seasons. Keaontay Ingram, the senior Texas transfer has rushed 74 times for 419 yards and three scores, good enough for 5.7 yards per carry. Ingram has also been featured in the passing game, and is fourth on the team with 14 catches. 

Redshirt senior Vavae Malepeai has gained 230 yards on 55 carries and gone for two touchdowns so far this season. Meanwhile, Darwin Barlow, a redshirt sophomore and transfer from TCU, has recently earned some reps in the USC backfield. Barlow has rushed 19 times for 112 yards on the season, putting him at 5.9 yards per rush. Though the Trojan rushing attack hasn’t been ground-breaking this season, when things are going well for USC offensively, typically the ground game is finding success.

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Inside linebackers JD Bertrand and Drew White have come on this season as two of Notre Dame’s most productive defenders, and will be tasked with stifling the USC rushing attack. Bertrand leads the Irish with 58 tackles, 25 more tackles than Hamilton, Notre Dame’s second leading tackler. Bertrand has also racked up five tackles for loss on the year, a mark that only trails Foskey’s six. 

Meanwhile, White is tied with Foskey for fourth on the team with 27 total tackles and has two tackles for loss of his own. In terms of defending the run, the Irish took a bit of a step back against the Hokies, letting up 134 rushing yards after not allowing their previous four opponents to surpass 100 yards on the ground. Though Bertrand and White will be busy in coverage defending USC’s pass-heavy attack, they’ll have to also be strong defending the run if Notre Dame is to succeed defensively. 

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