Stacking Up: Notre Dame Offense vs. South Florida
Notre Dame faces South Florida on Saturday, marking the first matchup between the two teams since 2011. It will be Notre Dame's only out of conference football game of the season.
We kick off our coverage of the Notre Dame vs. South Florida matchup to look at how the two teams stack up on paper. Let's begin with the Irish offense.
Notre Dame Scoring Offense vs. USF Scoring Defense
Advantage: Notre Dame
South Florida defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer runs a base 3-3-5 defense that can easily adjust to a four-down look without changing personnel. Against Notre Dame, I would expect the Bulls to use their "Leo" position as a standup edge player much like we see from Notre Dame with their Vyper position.
Spencer inherits a defense that struggled mightily last season. South Florida ranked in the bottom half of the national rankings in scoring defense, total defense and third-down defense. His unit was good at forcing turnovers and was quite good in the red zone, but they gave up too many big plays.
South Florida allowed at least 34 points five times last season, and gave up at least 435 yards in half of its games.
In the opener against The Citadel, South Florida limited the option offense to just six points and 284 yards of offense. It was certainly a strong first step for the Bulls, although they did have three games last season where they held opponents to fewer than 300 yards.
Spencer's Florida Atlantic defense in 2019 ranked 40th in scoring defense and 50th in total defense, but that was partly due to giving up over 1,000 yards and 93 points in the first two games of the season against Ohio State and UCF. Over the next 12 weeks, FAU held held half of its opponents to less than 350 yards.
Notre Dame has a significant advantage over USF in every area.
Notre Dame Rush Offense vs. USF Rush Defense
Advantage: Notre Dame
South Florida's run defense was abysmal last season, with the Bulls giving up over 200 yards per game. The Bull defense gave up at least 200 rushing yards in seven games last fall, which highs of 434 yards to Navy and 325 yards to Memphis.
Spencer's Florida Atlantic defense was much better, as the Owls ranked 33rd in rushing defense, 39th in yards allowed per rush and 30th in tackles for loss. Of concern, at least from a USF standpoint, is that Ohio State racked up 237 rushing yards and UCF went for 312 yards against the FAU run defense.
The Bulls gave up 200 yards in the opener to The Citadel, but the Bulldogs are a triple option offense that rushed for 320 yards last season in a win over Georgia Tech and 275 yards in 2018 in a loss to Alabama.
South Florida's top run defender is linebacker Dwayne Boyles, who registered 12.5 tackles for loss in 2019 and had 1.5 stops behind the line in the opener.
Spencer will have to find a way to be multiple and aggressive against the Irish offense. Notre Dame's run game was sloppy against Duke, but the Blue Devils had a big and physical line, something South Florida can't match. The Bulls starting defensive line and Leo weigh 280 pounds, 271 pounds, 254 pounds and 235 pounds.
That's an average of 260 pounds against a Notre Dame line that averages 308.8 pounds. Notre Dame's size advantage, strength advantage and talent advantage should result in the Irish have a big day on the ground.
Notre Dame Pass Offense vs. USF Pass Defense
Advantage: Notre Dame
This is the most competitive on-paper matchup, and South Florida actually has a statistical advantage from a pure numbers standpoint. The reason Notre Dame still gets the on paper edge is due to context showing the Bulls weren't as good as their numbers dictate, and the fact Spencer's FAU defense was not as effective.
There were plenty of teams that simply didn't need to throw against USF last season, which kept the yards down. You get a glimpse of that when you see that South Florida's pass efficiency rating was 51st, a much lower ranking than its yards allowed number.
FAU ranked 87th in pass yards allowed in 2019, but it did rank 38th in pass efficiency defense and 40th in yards allowed per attempt. A big reason for its high efficiency ranking was the fact the Owls led the nation with 22 interceptions.
Spencer inherits a USF pass defense that picked off 12 passes last season, which is a quality number. He will have an athletic secondary that is led by second-team All-AAC cover man KJ Sails, who is a talented and athletic cornerback.
Sails isn't alone, as the Bulls return four starters to the secondary.
Notre Dame's receivers will need to play much better against USF than they did against Duke. Moving Javon McKinley to the boundary and the return of Braden Lenzy should help with that, but look for the Irish tight ends to once again be a focal point of the offense.
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