Site Predictions

In a statistical oddity, our weekly staff and moderator predictions for Saturday's contest bring harmony for the fourth straight season -- or the duration of the Brian Kelly era -- vs. USC.

Tim O'Malley -- Publisher

Certainty and Irish game predictions have proved mutually exclusive for me over the last two weeks. I thought ND would rise to the occasion vs. Oklahoma -- no dice. I thought Arizona State would expose the back seven of Notre Dame's defense in coverage -- no dice.

Saturday, Notre Dame enters with a coaching advantage, continuity that lacks in Troy, a better offensive line and more skill position weapons from which to choose (though not better weapons, necessarily).

Of concern, however, is the Trojans historical ability to defend the Irish, and I'm not referring to the Pete Carroll era.

The NCAA tracks 13 defensive statistical categories: USC ranks higher than Notre Dame in each of them, no exceptions. This despite a 62-point outing allowed two weeks ago vs. Arizona State.

Not all statistics impact games equally, but most concerning among USC's are nationally elite ranking in tackles-for-loss (#16), their rush defense (#15), and their first-down defense (#21). To be successful, Notre Dame has to stay ahead of the chains (i.e., not be dropped for loss and have first-down success) and be able to balance a sometimes pass-centric attack with a successful, patient ground game.

None of the above will prove easy vs. USC. In fact, during the Brian Kelly era, Notre Dame has managed just four offensive touchdowns in three games vs. USC, all coached by since-deposed head man Lane Kiffin.

Even USC's main unit in question, its secondary, has been good enough for a #40 ranking in pass efficiency defense, one of the five key indicators of defensive success over the long haul. The Trojans front line often makes up for their shaky defensive backfield, ranking 13th nationally in sacks (Notre Dame is 90th after finishing #22 last season).

USC's defensive strengths will challenge Notre Dame's offense, but it's the other side of scrimmage in which I believe the Irish are far better than their current rankings. 90th in sacks? 80th in 3rd Down defense? The two are interlinked and will trend well for Irish fans and Bob Diaco's defense over the season's second half.

In another low-scoring Notre Dame/USC battle, Irish 23 Trojans 17

Anna Hickey -- Recruiting Reporter

Notre Dame will be riding some momentum here, coming off a big win in Dallas and an extra week of prep and rest. But, the Trojans can say the same thing, entering Saturday's game with little (nothing) to lose and coming off a win against Arizona under new interim head coach Ed Orgeron. In other words, anything can happen Saturday night, especially since its a huge rivalry game.

No doubt USC has talent on defense, and obviously so does Notre Dame, but I think this will come down to an offensive battle. USC's secondary is prone to giving up the big play, and I'm not convinced the Irish secondary has worked out all its kinks either. A lot rests on the play of USC quarterback Cody Kessler, the potential return of Marquise Lee, and most of all -- the play of Tommy Rees. It's a home game under the lights, and Kelly > Orgeron. Simple as that. Notre Dame 38 USC 32

Brian Dohn -- Recruiting Analyst

USC got its bump from the firing of coach Lane Kiffin and replacing him with Ed Orgeron in the interim, and it resulted in a win in the first game. However, the initial thrust of energy will be replaced by pure coaching, and Oregeron's track record as a coach at Ole Miss suggests the strong play will not last long.

Notre Dame had time off to heal from the bumps and bruises of the first month-and-a-half, and to install a few new things to keep the Trojans off balance. USC has talent, but Notre Dame has the superior coaching. Notre Dame 24 USC 17

SeattleNDFan -- Moderator

USC may be spiritually rejuvenated under Interim Head Coach Ed Orgeron, but they remain critically thin at key areas. Their two best players outside of Marquis Lee are arguably both running backs, especially speedy but powerful Tre Madden, so as usual this game will likely come down to whether USC can run the ball on Notre Dame. The Irish defense has made strides and is coming off a bye week in which fundamentals like tackling and taking proper game speed angles were addressed.

USC's new offensive coordinator Clay Helton will be calling his second college game ever against the Irish, and in the one game sample ND has to work with, Helton has taken shots downfield early and often, so the Irish secondary will need to be alert. USC's offensive line looks like a favorable matchup for the Irish, though, so if Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt and Prince Shembo can be anywhere near as good as they were against the Sun Devils, they may be able to shut down the USC downfield passing game and pressure Cody Kessler into throwing before he really wants to.

The Trojan defense has played very well against some poor offenses and has been torched by some mediocre offenses, but the recurring pattern is they tend to run out of steam late in the game. Their starting safeties are excellent but neither corner is a dominant player.

This is a capable defense, but no comparison to Michigan State. Still, the Irish offense has struggled against considerably worse units in Purdue and even Arizona State for two quarters. Notre Dame's best hope here is that the Trojan defense has definitely appeared to tire out late in games and this is when they have had video game numbers racked up on them, and that the Irish offensive line has been positively elite in pass protection, even with a relatively immobile quarterback to protect.

I think the Trojans will score a few early but run out of steam late, so I see a second half comeback win to break SC's decade plus long non-conference road winning streak. Notre Dame 31 USC 21

Amruther24 -- Moderator

Apparently, all it takes to fire USC up is to fire their head coach and replace him with a guy that likes to rip his shirt off and growl. I guess it always worked for Hulk Hogan...

Thanks to NCAA penalties and scheduling, USC enters the 2013 game looking to make a statement in much the same way they did in 2011. Obviously, the 2011 team was far more talented and quite happy to take advantage of Notre Dame's inability to hang on to the ball or any type of momentum, both of which defined Brian Kelly's second, and likely most talented, Irish team.

Forgive me for bringing up this history, but it feels like deja vu all over again with the exception that Matt Barkley isn't around to pick Notre Dame apart. Other than that, every analysis focuses on USC's depth issues, their desire to prove something, and Notre Dame's maddening inconsistency. Heck, there's even the "night of a thousand recruits in South Bend" storyline as well.

Basically, we've heard this story before and it ended in catastrophe. Fortunately, I think Notre Dame writes their own ending this year. Not only that, but I think the Irish are going to make a statement of their own and finally break the back of their greatest West Coast rival. Call me crazy, but Notre Dame 34 USC 20.

Morrissey79 -- Moderator

Since USC fired Lane Kiffin, the program has received a bit of a spark. The players seem to be responding better to Ed Orgeron. They seem to be having more fun. And they seem to be more excited to play the game. Now we've really only seen them play one game, but there is some positive momentum out of LA.  

Some Irish fans may be worried about this, but personally, I'm not.  

I feel ND turned a corner during that ASU game and finally started playing like they did a year ago.  They played aggressive, they played hard, and they competed for 4 quarters.  

I think the first half will start very competitively, but ND will wear down the Trojans and when adversity hits them, they will wilt under the pressure. ND 34 USC 21

KurzND -- Moderator

USC hasn't lost on the road vs a non conference team since 2002 and the irish have dropped 5 straight home games vs the men of Troy. All of that ends this weekend. 

The Irish offense will be able to keep a balanced attack and wear down the Trojans. While the defense stops usC run game. Aghular will do some damage but without a fully healthy Lee, the Trojans cannot maintain drives. The Irish control the clock and he game.  Notre Dame 30 USC 17

GaviND -- Moderator

Speaking in general terms, the bye week in any football season is viewed as a good thing. It's an opportunity to reflect on where you've been and come up with a game plan to address where you want to be when things are all said and done. It also provides an extra week to prepare for a regular season game.

In South Bend, Indiana, however, the bye week has not always been a recipe for success. Brian Kelly had started to change those ways, going 2-1 in his three seasons at the helm...but that one loss came to this week's opponent, USC.

USC is in the midst of a disastrous season which has seen injuries to key players and their head coach being fired. On paper, this game has victory all over it, however keep in mind that what the Trojans lack in numbers, they more than make up for in explosiveness.

While in-game predictions are virtually pointless when it comes to figuring out the direction Brian Kelly will steer the ship on any given Saturday, I have a feeling we might finally see the offense run a more up-tempo offense as they try to wear down the undermanned Trojans.

I expect the Irish to pound the ball relentlessly in their efforts with Cam McDaniel ultimately choking them out in the fourth quarter.

I expect the wide receiver tandem of Marqise Lee (yup, he'll be playing) and Nelson Agholar to challenge the Irish secondary and keep this game closer than it should be, but at the end of the day, the Irish will move to 5-2 and hop back into the top 25.
ND 30 USC 24


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