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Impact Matchups: Notre Dame Offense vs USC Defense

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

At the midway point of the season, Notre Dame offensively and USC defensively are units still searching for answers. The Irish are still mixing it up at quarterback and trying to get what’s been a faulty rushing attack going, while the Trojans are giving up over six yards per play and 27 points per game. 

These are the key matchups to look out for as both teams try to start the second half of the season on the right foot.

WR #4 Kevin Austin vs CB #8 Chris Steele

It’s been a long time coming, but Kevin Austin is finally giving in-game credence to the high praise he’s garnered over the previous three seasons from Irish coaches and teammates. Austin’s 317 receiving yards trail only tight end Michael Mayer for most on the team, and he is tied for the team lead with Mayer and running back Kyren Williams with three receiving touchdowns. With 18 receptions so far, Austin is even with Avery Davis for third most on the team behind Mayer and Williams. 

Though Austin was noticeably absent in both the Purdue and Cincinnati games, his presence as a deep-ball threat cannot be understated. Austin hauled in a key 37-yard touchdown grab in the season opening win over Florida State, and then a similar 36-yarder for a score against Wisconsin for the first of his two touchdown grabs against the Badgers. The senior Florida native also made arguably the biggest play of the game in the recent win over Virginia Tech, securing a two-point conversion pass while being taken down by his helmet. Austin also hauled in a 46-yard deep ball from Tyler Buchner that set up Notre Dame’s first scoring drive against the Hokies.

So far this season, the Trojans are giving up an average of 6.2 yards per play and have yet to play well in the secondary, meaning Austin should get a number of targets on Saturday night. Three-year starting cornerback Chris Steele will be tasked with keeping Austin in check for USC, and the preseason first-team All-Pac 12 selection has struggled being consistent in coverage so far this season. Steele came into this season as one of the nation’s top returning defensive backs, and the Trojans are going to need him to play more of that part if they want to keep Austin and the Irish offense in check.

OL #73 Andrew Kristofic, #55 Jarrett Patterson, #62 Cain Madden vs DT #49 Tuli Tuipulotu, #97 Jacob Lichtenstein

It’s no secret. Notre Dame’s offensive line play has been subpar this season. But the unit put together a much-improved performance against Virginia Tech, leading the way for a season best 180 yards rushing and 4.2 yards per rush. Even still, the Irish are still averaging a lamentable 2.77 yards per carry on the season. 

Junior Andrew Kristofic will get the start on Saturday at left guard over fellow junior Zeke Correll, who has started and then been replaced in each of the past four games. Meanwhile, sixth-year Marshall transfer Cain Madden has yet to live up to his preseason All-American status. Senior center Jarrett Patterson, Notre Dame’s best offensive lineman, hasn’t been able to shine as bright thanks to the line’s overall miscues.

With that being said, USC is ceding 148 yards per game and 4.4 yards a pop on the ground. In other words, the work-in-progress interior offensive line group for the Irish should be able to pick up where they left off of against the Hokies. 

That’s not to say it’s a sure thing that will be the case. USC has some playmakers on the defensive line, most notably Tuli Tuipulotu and Jacob Lichtenstein. Tuipulotu is fourth on the team with 27 tackles and three tackles for loss to go along with 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble. Lichtenstein is second on the team in both tackles for loss with 3.5 and sacks with two. So far this season, USC has been outmatched up front, but the same can be said of Notre Dame, making this a notable matchup to keep an eye on.

#76 Joe Alt, #75 Josh Lugg vs DE #99 Drake Jackson, #0 Korey Foreman

At this point, you’re probably sick of hearing about the Notre Dame offensive line. But, that doesn’t take away from how important the line is to the team’s success each week. This contest is no different. USC has experienced unsatisfactory play in both the secondary and at the linebacker position this season, but the best way to combat poor play on the second level is to get to the quarterback, which teams have been doing at will against the Irish. 

Notre Dame is giving up four sacks and eight tackles for loss per game this season, which is bad, to say the least. True freshman Joe Alt was the fourth different left tackle to start a game this season for Notre Dame against Virginia Tech.

Though the Trojans haven’t been stellar rushing the passer, with just 10 sacks on the year, the team has the talent and capability on the outside to cause more trouble for Notre Dame. Junior Drake Jackson is likely headed to the NFL after this season, and even in what most have considered a down year he has been able to rack up a team-leading four tackles for loss and three sacks to go along with an interception and a forced fumble so far. Jackson’s disruptive potential is undeniable, as the Corona, California native amassed 5.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss back in 2019 as a true freshman. 

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Additionally, freshman Korey Foreman, college football’s No. 1 recruit from the Class of 2021, has been able to register 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks in spite of a slow start and some injury setbacks. The Irish offensive line looked better against Virginia Tech, and Alt looked solid at left tackle after giving up a sack on the opening drive, but regardless of what the stat sheets say thus far the Notre Dame offensive tackles will have their hands full against the likes of Jackson and Foreman.

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Irish Breakdown Content

Notre Dame 2021 Roster
Notre Dame 2021 Schedule

Notre Dame 2022 Commits Big Board: Offense
Notre Dame 2022 Commits Big Board: Defense

Notre Dame 2022 Scholarship Offers

Notre Dame 2022 Class Big Board
Notre Dame 2023 Class Big Board

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