Prister’s Preview: Notre Dame @ USC

Notre Dame defense has hands full against Sam Darnold-led passing attack that is complemented by a 200-yard-plus running game.


INSIDE NOTRE DAME-USC

Who: Notre Dame (4-7) @ USC (8-3)
Where: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (93,607)
When: Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016; 3:30 p.m. EST (12:30 PST on ABC)
USC head coach: Clay Helton  (14-7 in 2nd year at USC)
USC 2015 record: 8-6 (6-4 under Helton)
Last meeting: 2015—Notre Dame 41, USC 31
Series record: Notre Dame 46-36-5

USC FIRST-RATE

Overall ND/opponent rank: No. 4
Rank by position: QB (3rd), RB (2nd), WR/TE (1st), OL (1st), DL (7th), LB (3rd), DB (1st), ST (10th), C (11th)

2016 USC SEASON REVIEW

Winners of seven straight – six by double-digits – and an average margin of 20.0 points per game, USC is back and playing some of the best football in the country under Clay Helton.

It was a rocky start to the season for Helton after taking over for Steve Sarkisian four games into the 2015 season, winning six of the Trojans’ last 10 games.

Alabama murdered USC out of the gate, 52-6, and losses at Stanford (27-10) and at Utah (31-27) dropped the 2016 season mark to 1-3 and Helton’s overall record to 7-7.

Sparking the resurgence was the insertion of Sam Darnold at quarterback in place of Max Browne. Since taking over as the starter against Utah, the Trojans are 7-1. USC has swept through seven Pac-12 opponents, including 9-2 Colorado (21-17), 10-1 Washington (26-13) on the road and crosstown rival UCLA (36-14).

In USC’s victory at Washington, the Trojans held the Huskies to 276 yards total offense, including 17 yards rushing on 27 carries. Five of seven opponents have been held to less than 100 yards during the current winning streak.

KELLY’S CALL

“Since Sam Darnold was inserted into the lineup, that’s been a transformation of that football team. He’s as good as I’ve seen in a long, long time. His escapability, his ability to throw on the run, his accuracy…I don’t see anything there that is anything short of brilliant.”
-- Brian Kelly on USC quarterback

IRISH ADVANTAGES

USC pass defense: As talented as the Trojan secondary is – and it’s extremely talented – the Trojans have intercepted just 10 passes on 371 attempts. USC has 19 sacks, which ranks tied for 86th. You can’t, however, underestimate cornerbacks Iman Marshall and Adoree Jackson. A variety of fronts employed by coordinator Clancy Pendergast make it difficult for opposing quarterbacks.

Darnold’s recent picks: Four of Sam Darnold’s eight interceptions have come in the last two games – two each against Washington and UCLA. That’s one interception every 17.5 passes spanning 70 attempts.

USC’s fumbles: Only 10 teams in the country have fumbled more than the Trojans (21), although their eight lost fumbles tie them with Notre Dame and others for 70th nationally.

IRISH CONCERNS

Passing game rolling: Sam Darnold took over as the starter against Utah on Sept. 23 and the passing game has flourished. He hasn’t thrown for less than 231 yards in a game, has surpassed 300 yards three times, and has completed at least two-thirds of his passes in all but one game.

Three primary targets have done most of the damage – 6-foot-2, 220-pound JuJu Smith-Schuster, 6-foot-1, 215-pound Darreus Rogers and 6-foot-0, 170-pound Deontay Burnett.  A fourth wideout – Steven Mitchell, Jr. – had 24 receptions through seven games before suffering a season-ending knee injury.

Smith-Schuster – who has eight of the trio’s 15 touchdown grabs -- caught eight passes for 76 yards vs. UCLA before exiting with a leg injury. He has 58 catches for 758 yards.  Rogers has 47 catches for 605 yards and three scores. Burnett has 38 receptions for 424 yards and four scores. Look for a bevy of tight ends as well to keep the chains moving.

Balanced attack: Since Darnold’s emergence as a starter eight games ago, the passing game has picked up considerably. But the Trojans are running the ball with an authority that hasn’t been approached since the 2010 team averaged 189 yards rushing per game. The current USC offense is averaging 207.3 yards rushing per game at a 5.3-yard-per-carry clip.

Ronald Jones, Jr. leads the way with 893 yards, a 6.3-yard average and 10 of the Trojans’ 16 rushing scores. Justin Davis has 528 yards on the ground and Aca’Cedric Ware has 76 carries as the third tailback (more than twice as many as Notre Dame’s No. 3 -- Dexter Williams) for 389 yards. Darnold has 214 yards and the same number of rushing touchdowns (2) as Davis and Ware.

Run-stopping defense: Since Alabama rushed for 242 yards in the opener and Stanford tacked on another 302 in game three, the Trojans have held five of eight opponents to less than 100 yards. The last three opponents – Oregon, Washington and UCLA – have combined for 157 yards on 76 carries (2.06 average).
 
Return threat: Adoree Jackson has a touchdown return as a punt and kick returner this season. He’s averaging a spectacular 14.8 yards per punt return with a 77-yarder against Utah State. His 100-yard kick return came against Utah. He had two punt returns for scores last year. A big return against Notre Dame’s special teams is virtually guaranteed.

NOTRE DAME @ USC

It’s been a bad week. Make that a bad month. Okay, a bad 2016.

Coming off a 10-win season with valiant losses on the road to Clemson and Stanford, the Irish began the season vulnerable and succumbed, starting in Austin, Texas, where a defensive scheme from worlds far, far away and a quarterback issue led to a loss and the ensuing free-fall.

For the first time in 56 years, Notre Dame did not win two games in a row.

Now, with unprecedented sanctions handed down by the NCAA -- a gut-shot the tradition-proud program will contest – Notre Dame is on to Los Angeles to take on the Men of Troy, who are playing their best football since the Pete Carroll era.

Seven wins in a row. Most of them with authority, including an emasculating manhandling of previously-undefeated Washington. They handed Colorado one of only two losses through 11 games, and pulled away from local rival UCLA last week.

During the seven-game winning streak, USC has won by 21 over Arizona State, 34 at Arizona, 21 over Cal, and 25 over Oregon, in addition to the four-point win (21-17) over Colorado and the thorough 26-13 win at Washington.

The 52-6 beating from Alabama in Jerry World on Sept. 3 is a faded, albeit constant reminder of reality.

Notre Dame at USC is two worlds colliding Thanksgiving Saturday, one moving at a meteoric pace and another just trying to hang on for dear life.

Losers of seven games by a total of 32 points, Notre Dame has not fallen by more than eight points, and yet they’re 17-point underdogs on the road against a juggernaut.

The only area that looks to be an opportunity for Notre Dame is in the passing game, which is good because the Irish want to throw it. Make no mistake, the Trojans have the best secondary/secondary depth on Notre Dame’ schedule this year. It’s usually that way, which is a major reason – and has been the last 50 years – that it’s so difficult for Notre Dame to beat USC.

Iman Marshall, Adoree Jackson, Marvell Tell and at least half-a-dozen other guys are some of the most gifted defensive backs in the country. Talent and depth is not an issue on the back end.

You can throw against USC if you protect the quarterback – just 19 sacks – and they don’t take it away from you (10 interceptions) very often. Marshall and Jackson, the corners, have seven and nine passes broken up respectively. They will make life difficult for Notre Dame’s young receivers, as will a variety of looks up front that could baffle the inconsistent Irish offensive line.

Other than that, it’s difficult to detect where the Irish could exploit USC. The Trojans have been very good against the run, holding a majority of their opponents under 100 yards after getting knocked around by the Crimson Tide and Cardinal.

Offensively, the Irish have to call plays that the players can execute over the course of 60 minutes in a way that hasn’t been done this season. DeShone Kizer has to be at his absolute best. He certainly was dialed in at his Tuesday gathering with the media.

USC has a 200-yard-per-game rushing attack to go with Darnold’s emergence, his three-pronged wide-receiver corps, and some inviting targets at tight end. The offensive line returned all five starters this year, and even with the loss of injured center Toa Lobendahn, it’s a quality unit.

The Trojans have converted at least 50 percent of their third downs six straight games. Notre Dame’s defense is pretty good on third down, but it will need to be better than pretty good.

USC’s special teams can detonate at any time with Adoree Jackson. Notre Dame’s special teams are always on the verge of implosion, which is a lethal combination. It will be a real challenge for the Irish to avoid something really catastrophic on special teams.

For Notre Dame to have any chance, it starts with the collective minds of this football team. If everything that’s happened this season finally brings the team to the brink, this would be a really bad opponent to face without complete focus and commitment.

The difference from two years ago, when the Irish lost to the Trojans by 35 in the Coliseum, is significant. Notre Dame is healthy. They will, by and large, put their best players out there, and as we’ve seen many times this year, Notre Dame has some good players.

But it shows itself individually, not collectively, not because it isn’t a unified team, but because they don’t know how to win and the coaching staff hasn’t been able to teach it.

There may be no more damning indictment of a coaching staff than that.

Notre Dame must play like a team it hasn’t play like all year, and they have to do it at USC. Holding USC to less than 40 points will be a challenge.

A lot of things have to go Notre Dame’s way this weekend to compete, let alone win. Maybe the leadership of this team has enough to put up a good fight, and even then, it still might not be reflected on the scoreboard.

Pointspread: USC by 17; over-under 57½  
Prister’s Prediction: USC 42, Notre Dame 20
Season Record: Straight-up 5-6, vs. points 8-3, over/under 2-9


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INSIDE NOTRE DAME-USC

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Who: Notre Dame (4-7) @ USC (8-3)
Where: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (93,607)
When: Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016; 3:30 p.m. EST (12:30 PST on ABC)
USC head coach: Clay Helton  (14-7 in 2nd year at USC)
USC 2015 record: 8-6 (6-4 under Helton)
Last meeting: 2015—Notre Dame 41, USC 31
Series record: Notre Dame 46-36-5

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USC FIRST-RATE

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Overall ND/opponent rank: No. 4
Rank by position: QB (3rd), RB (2nd), WR/TE (1st), OL (1st), DL (7th), LB (3rd), DB (1st), ST (10th), C (11th)

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2016 USC SEASON REVIEW

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Winners of seven straight – six by double-digits – and an average margin of 20.0 points per game, USC is back and playing some of the best football in the country under Clay Helton.

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It was a rocky start to the season for Helton after taking over for Steve Sarkisian four games into the 2015 season, winning six of the Trojans’ last 10 games.

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Alabama murdered USC out of the gate, 52-6, and losses at Stanford (27-10) and at Utah (31-27) dropped the 2016 season mark to 1-3 and Helton’s overall record to 7-7.

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Sparking the resurgence was the insertion of Sam Darnold at quarterback in place of Max Browne. Since taking over as the starter against Utah, the Trojans are 7-1. USC has swept through seven Pac-12 opponents, including 9-2 Colorado (21-17), 10-1 Washington (26-13) on the road and crosstown rival UCLA (36-14).

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In USC’s victory at Washington, the Trojans held the Huskies to 276 yards total offense, including 17 yards rushing on 27 carries. Five of seven opponents have been held to less than 100 yards during the current winning streak.

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KELLY’S CALL

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“Since Sam Darnold was inserted into the lineup, that’s been a transformation of that football team. He’s as good as I’ve seen in a long, long time. His escapability, his ability to throw on the run, his accuracy…I don’t see anything there that is anything short of brilliant.”
-- Brian Kelly on USC quarterback

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IRISH ADVANTAGES

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USC pass defense: As talented as the Trojan secondary is – and it’s extremely talented – the Trojans have intercepted just 10 passes on 371 attempts. USC has 19 sacks, which ranks tied for 86th. You can’t, however, underestimate cornerbacks Iman Marshall and Adoree Jackson. A variety of fronts employed by coordinator Clancy Pendergast make it difficult for opposing quarterbacks.

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Darnold’s recent picks: Four of Sam Darnold’s eight interceptions have come in the last two games – two each against Washington and UCLA. That’s one interception every 17.5 passes spanning 70 attempts.

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USC’s fumbles: Only 10 teams in the country have fumbled more than the Trojans (21), although their eight lost fumbles tie them with Notre Dame and others for 70th nationally.

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IRISH CONCERNS

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Passing game rolling: Sam Darnold took over as the starter against Utah on Sept. 23 and the passing game has flourished. He hasn’t thrown for less than 231 yards in a game, has surpassed 300 yards three times, and has completed at least two-thirds of his passes in all but one game.

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Three primary targets have done most of the damage – 6-foot-2, 220-pound JuJu Smith-Schuster, 6-foot-1, 215-pound Darreus Rogers and 6-foot-0, 170-pound Deontay Burnett.  A fourth wideout – Steven Mitchell, Jr. – had 24 receptions through seven games before suffering a season-ending knee injury.

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Smith-Schuster – who has eight of the trio’s 15 touchdown grabs -- caught eight passes for 76 yards vs. UCLA before exiting with a leg injury. He has 58 catches for 758 yards.  Rogers has 47 catches for 605 yards and three scores. Burnett has 38 receptions for 424 yards and four scores. Look for a bevy of tight ends as well to keep the chains moving.

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Balanced attack: Since Darnold’s emergence as a starter eight games ago, the passing game has picked up considerably. But the Trojans are running the ball with an authority that hasn’t been approached since the 2010 team averaged 189 yards rushing per game. The current USC offense is averaging 207.3 yards rushing per game at a 5.3-yard-per-carry clip.

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Ronald Jones, Jr. leads the way with 893 yards, a 6.3-yard average and 10 of the Trojans’ 16 rushing scores. Justin Davis has 528 yards on the ground and Aca’Cedric Ware has 76 carries as the third tailback (more than twice as many as Notre Dame’s No. 3 -- Dexter Williams) for 389 yards. Darnold has 214 yards and the same number of rushing touchdowns (2) as Davis and Ware.

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Run-stopping defense: Since Alabama rushed for 242 yards in the opener and Stanford tacked on another 302 in game three, the Trojans have held five of eight opponents to less than 100 yards. The last three opponents – Oregon, Washington and UCLA – have combined for 157 yards on 76 carries (2.06 average).
 
Return threat: Adoree Jackson has a touchdown return as a punt and kick returner this season. He’s averaging a spectacular 14.8 yards per punt return with a 77-yarder against Utah State. His 100-yard kick return came against Utah. He had two punt returns for scores last year. A big return against Notre Dame’s special teams is virtually guaranteed.

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NOTRE DAME @ USC

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It’s been a bad week. Make that a bad month. Okay, a bad 2016.

\n

Coming off a 10-win season with valiant losses on the road to Clemson and Stanford, the Irish began the season vulnerable and succumbed, starting in Austin, Texas, where a defensive scheme from worlds far, far away and a quarterback issue led to a loss and the ensuing free-fall.

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For the first time in 56 years, Notre Dame did not win two games in a row.

\n

Now, with unprecedented sanctions handed down by the NCAA -- a gut-shot the tradition-proud program will contest – Notre Dame is on to Los Angeles to take on the Men of Troy, who are playing their best football since the Pete Carroll era.

\n

Seven wins in a row. Most of them with authority, including an emasculating manhandling of previously-undefeated Washington. They handed Colorado one of only two losses through 11 games, and pulled away from local rival UCLA last week.

\n

During the seven-game winning streak, USC has won by 21 over Arizona State, 34 at Arizona, 21 over Cal, and 25 over Oregon, in addition to the four-point win (21-17) over Colorado and the thorough 26-13 win at Washington.

\n

The 52-6 beating from Alabama in Jerry World on Sept. 3 is a faded, albeit constant reminder of reality.

\n

Notre Dame at USC is two worlds colliding Thanksgiving Saturday, one moving at a meteoric pace and another just trying to hang on for dear life.

\n

Losers of seven games by a total of 32 points, Notre Dame has not fallen by more than eight points, and yet they’re 17-point underdogs on the road against a juggernaut.

\n

The only area that looks to be an opportunity for Notre Dame is in the passing game, which is good because the Irish want to throw it. Make no mistake, the Trojans have the best secondary/secondary depth on Notre Dame’ schedule this year. It’s usually that way, which is a major reason – and has been the last 50 years – that it’s so difficult for Notre Dame to beat USC.

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Iman Marshall, Adoree Jackson, Marvell Tell and at least half-a-dozen other guys are some of the most gifted defensive backs in the country. Talent and depth is not an issue on the back end.

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You can throw against USC if you protect the quarterback – just 19 sacks – and they don’t take it away from you (10 interceptions) very often. Marshall and Jackson, the corners, have seven and nine passes broken up respectively. They will make life difficult for Notre Dame’s young receivers, as will a variety of looks up front that could baffle the inconsistent Irish offensive line.

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Other than that, it’s difficult to detect where the Irish could exploit USC. The Trojans have been very good against the run, holding a majority of their opponents under 100 yards after getting knocked around by the Crimson Tide and Cardinal.

\n

Offensively, the Irish have to call plays that the players can execute over the course of 60 minutes in a way that hasn’t been done this season. DeShone Kizer has to be at his absolute best. He certainly was dialed in at his Tuesday gathering with the media.

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USC has a 200-yard-per-game rushing attack to go with Darnold’s emergence, his three-pronged wide-receiver corps, and some inviting targets at tight end. The offensive line returned all five starters this year, and even with the loss of injured center Toa Lobendahn, it’s a quality unit.

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The Trojans have converted at least 50 percent of their third downs six straight games. Notre Dame’s defense is pretty good on third down, but it will need to be better than pretty good.

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USC’s special teams can detonate at any time with Adoree Jackson. Notre Dame’s special teams are always on the verge of implosion, which is a lethal combination. It will be a real challenge for the Irish to avoid something really catastrophic on special teams.

\n

For Notre Dame to have any chance, it starts with the collective minds of this football team. If everything that’s happened this season finally brings the team to the brink, this would be a really bad opponent to face without complete focus and commitment.

\n

The difference from two years ago, when the Irish lost to the Trojans by 35 in the Coliseum, is significant. Notre Dame is healthy. They will, by and large, put their best players out there, and as we’ve seen many times this year, Notre Dame has some good players.

\n

But it shows itself individually, not collectively, not because it isn’t a unified team, but because they don’t know how to win and the coaching staff hasn’t been able to teach it.

\n

There may be no more damning indictment of a coaching staff than that.

\n

Notre Dame must play like a team it hasn’t play like all year, and they have to do it at USC. Holding USC to less than 40 points will be a challenge.

\n

A lot of things have to go Notre Dame’s way this weekend to compete, let alone win. Maybe the leadership of this team has enough to put up a good fight, and even then, it still might not be reflected on the scoreboard.

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Pointspread: USC by 17; over-under 57½  
Prister’s Prediction: USC 42, Notre Dame 20
Season Record: Straight-up 5-6, vs. points 8-3, over/under 2-9

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INSIDE NOTRE DAME-USC

Who: Notre Dame (4-7) @ USC (8-3)
Where: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (93,607)
When: Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016; 3:30 p.m. EST (12:30 PST on ABC)
USC head coach: Clay Helton (14-7 in 2nd year at USC)
USC 2015 record: 8-6 (6-4 under Helton)
Last meeting: 2015—Notre Dame 41, USC 31
Series record: Notre Dame 46-36-5

USC FIRST-RATE

Overall ND/opponent rank: No. 4
Rank by position: QB (3rd), RB (2nd), WR/TE (1st), OL (1st), DL (7th), LB (3rd), DB (1st), ST (10th), C (11th)

2016 USC SEASON REVIEW

Winners of seven straight – six by double-digits – and an average margin of 20.0 points per game, USC is back and playing some of the best football in the country under Clay Helton.

It was a rocky start to the season for Helton after taking over for Steve Sarkisian four games into the 2015 season, winning six of the Trojans’ last 10 games.

Alabama murdered USC out of the gate, 52-6, and losses at Stanford (27-10) and at Utah (31-27) dropped the 2016 season mark to 1-3 and Helton’s overall record to 7-7.

Sparking the resurgence was the insertion of Sam Darnold at quarterback in place of Max Browne. Since taking over as the starter against Utah, the Trojans are 7-1. USC has swept through seven Pac-12 opponents, including 9-2 Colorado (21-17), 10-1 Washington (26-13) on the road and crosstown rival UCLA (36-14).

In USC’s victory at Washington, the Trojans held the Huskies to 276 yards total offense, including 17 yards rushing on 27 carries. Five of seven opponents have been held to less than 100 yards during the current winning streak.

KELLY’S CALL

“Since Sam Darnold was inserted into the lineup, that’s been a transformation of that football team. He’s as good as I’ve seen in a long, long time. His escapability, his ability to throw on the run, his accuracy…I don’t see anything there that is anything short of brilliant.”
-- Brian Kelly on USC quarterback

IRISH ADVANTAGES

USC pass defense: As talented as the Trojan secondary is – and it’s extremely talented – the Trojans have intercepted just 10 passes on 371 attempts. USC has 19 sacks, which ranks tied for 86th. You can’t, however, underestimate cornerbacks Iman Marshall and Adoree Jackson. A variety of fronts employed by coordinator Clancy Pendergast make it difficult for opposing quarterbacks.

Darnold’s recent picks: Four of Sam Darnold’s eight interceptions have come in the last two games – two each against Washington and UCLA. That’s one interception every 17.5 passes spanning 70 attempts.

USC’s fumbles: Only 10 teams in the country have fumbled more than the Trojans (21), although their eight lost fumbles tie them with Notre Dame and others for 70th nationally.

IRISH CONCERNS

Passing game rolling: Sam Darnold took over as the starter against Utah on Sept. 23 and the passing game has flourished. He hasn’t thrown for less than 231 yards in a game, has surpassed 300 yards three times, and has completed at least two-thirds of his passes in all but one game.

Three primary targets have done most of the damage – 6-foot-2, 220-pound JuJu Smith-Schuster, 6-foot-1, 215-pound Darreus Rogers and 6-foot-0, 170-pound Deontay Burnett. A fourth wideout – Steven Mitchell, Jr. – had 24 receptions through seven games before suffering a season-ending knee injury.

Smith-Schuster – who has eight of the trio’s 15 touchdown grabs -- caught eight passes for 76 yards vs. UCLA before exiting with a leg injury. He has 58 catches for 758 yards. Rogers has 47 catches for 605 yards and three scores. Burnett has 38 receptions for 424 yards and four scores. Look for a bevy of tight ends as well to keep the chains moving.

Balanced attack: Since Darnold’s emergence as a starter eight games ago, the passing game has picked up considerably. But the Trojans are running the ball with an authority that hasn’t been approached since the 2010 team averaged 189 yards rushing per game. The current USC offense is averaging 207.3 yards rushing per game at a 5.3-yard-per-carry clip.

Ronald Jones, Jr. leads the way with 893 yards, a 6.3-yard average and 10 of the Trojans’ 16 rushing scores. Justin Davis has 528 yards on the ground and Aca’Cedric Ware has 76 carries as the third tailback (more than twice as many as Notre Dame’s No. 3 -- Dexter Williams) for 389 yards. Darnold has 214 yards and the same number of rushing touchdowns (2) as Davis and Ware.

Run-stopping defense: Since Alabama rushed for 242 yards in the opener and Stanford tacked on another 302 in game three, the Trojans have held five of eight opponents to less than 100 yards. The last three opponents – Oregon, Washington and UCLA – have combined for 157 yards on 76 carries (2.06 average).

Return threat: Adoree Jackson has a touchdown return as a punt and kick returner this season. He’s averaging a spectacular 14.8 yards per punt return with a 77-yarder against Utah State. His 100-yard kick return came against Utah. He had two punt returns for scores last year. A big return against Notre Dame’s special teams is virtually guaranteed.

NOTRE DAME @ USC

It’s been a bad week. Make that a bad month. Okay, a bad 2016.

Coming off a 10-win season with valiant losses on the road to Clemson and Stanford, the Irish began the season vulnerable and succumbed, starting in Austin, Texas, where a defensive scheme from worlds far, far away and a quarterback issue led to a loss and the ensuing free-fall.

For the first time in 56 years, Notre Dame did not win two games in a row.

Now, with unprecedented sanctions handed down by the NCAA -- a gut-shot the tradition-proud program will contest – Notre Dame is on to Los Angeles to take on the Men of Troy, who are playing their best football since the Pete Carroll era.

Seven wins in a row. Most of them with authority, including an emasculating manhandling of previously-undefeated Washington. They handed Colorado one of only two losses through 11 games, and pulled away from local rival UCLA last week.

During the seven-game winning streak, USC has won by 21 over Arizona State, 34 at Arizona, 21 over Cal, and 25 over Oregon, in addition to the four-point win (21-17) over Colorado and the thorough 26-13 win at Washington.

The 52-6 beating from Alabama in Jerry World on Sept. 3 is a faded, albeit constant reminder of reality.

Notre Dame at USC is two worlds colliding Thanksgiving Saturday, one moving at a meteoric pace and another just trying to hang on for dear life.

Losers of seven games by a total of 32 points, Notre Dame has not fallen by more than eight points, and yet they’re 17-point underdogs on the road against a juggernaut.

The only area that looks to be an opportunity for Notre Dame is in the passing game, which is good because the Irish want to throw it. Make no mistake, the Trojans have the best secondary/secondary depth on Notre Dame’ schedule this year. It’s usually that way, which is a major reason – and has been the last 50 years – that it’s so difficult for Notre Dame to beat USC.

Iman Marshall, Adoree Jackson, Marvell Tell and at least half-a-dozen other guys are some of the most gifted defensive backs in the country. Talent and depth is not an issue on the back end.

You can throw against USC if you protect the quarterback – just 19 sacks – and they don’t take it away from you (10 interceptions) very often. Marshall and Jackson, the corners, have seven and nine passes broken up respectively. They will make life difficult for Notre Dame’s young receivers, as will a variety of looks up front that could baffle the inconsistent Irish offensive line.

Other than that, it’s difficult to detect where the Irish could exploit USC. The Trojans have been very good against the run, holding a majority of their opponents under 100 yards after getting knocked around by the Crimson Tide and Cardinal.

Offensively, the Irish have to call plays that the players can execute over the course of 60 minutes in a way that hasn’t been done this season. DeShone Kizer has to be at his absolute best. He certainly was dialed in at his Tuesday gathering with the media.

USC has a 200-yard-per-game rushing attack to go with Darnold’s emergence, his three-pronged wide-receiver corps, and some inviting targets at tight end. The offensive line returned all five starters this year, and even with the loss of injured center Toa Lobendahn, it’s a quality unit.

The Trojans have converted at least 50 percent of their third downs six straight games. Notre Dame’s defense is pretty good on third down, but it will need to be better than pretty good.

USC’s special teams can detonate at any time with Adoree Jackson. Notre Dame’s special teams are always on the verge of implosion, which is a lethal combination. It will be a real challenge for the Irish to avoid something really catastrophic on special teams.

For Notre Dame to have any chance, it starts with the collective minds of this football team. If everything that’s happened this season finally brings the team to the brink, this would be a really bad opponent to face without complete focus and commitment.

The difference from two years ago, when the Irish lost to the Trojans by 35 in the Coliseum, is significant. Notre Dame is healthy. They will, by and large, put their best players out there, and as we’ve seen many times this year, Notre Dame has some good players.

But it shows itself individually, not collectively, not because it isn’t a unified team, but because they don’t know how to win and the coaching staff hasn’t been able to teach it.

There may be no more damning indictment of a coaching staff than that.

Notre Dame must play like a team it hasn’t play like all year, and they have to do it at USC. Holding USC to less than 40 points will be a challenge.

A lot of things have to go Notre Dame’s way this weekend to compete, let alone win. Maybe the leadership of this team has enough to put up a good fight, and even then, it still might not be reflected on the scoreboard.

Pointspread: USC by 17; over-under 57½
Prister’s Prediction: USC 42, Notre Dame 20
Season Record: Straight-up 5-6, vs. points 8-3, over/under 2-9

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