A look at a few players to watch in Saturday’s game (7:30 p.m. EDT on NBC) between No. 9 Notre Dame (4-1) and USC (3-2) at Notre Dame Stadium.
RB JAFAR ARMSTRONG, Notre Dame
Maybe the most important piece to Notre Dame’s offense makes his first return since sustaining an abdominal injury against Louisville. The offense becomes more balanced and the playbook becomes more unpredictable with Armstrong. The junior’s speed at 6-foot-1, 220 pounds combined with natural receiving abilities makes him a dynamic playmaker. The question has been whether Armstrong can remain healthy. How big of a workload Armstrong receives remains to be seen and is worth monitoring. Even if he’s on a snap count, Armstrong is Notre Dame’s best bet for a big play out of the backfield against a run defense tied for No. 89 nationally.
DE JULIAN OKWARA, Notre Dame
USC head coach Clay Helton named Kedon Slovis as his starting quarterback against Notre Dame. The true freshman missed a Sept. 28 loss at Washington after suffering an apparent concussion against Utah the week before. Slovis began the year as the backup but filled in after starter JT Daniels tore the ACL in his right knee in the season opener. With Slovis still getting accustomed to the speed of the college game, expect Irish coordinator Clark Lea to unleash his defense. Exotic looks and blitzes may confuse the inexperienced Slovis and trick him into making bad decisions. That should bode well for defensive end Julian Okwara, who is playing his best football.
WR MICHAEL PITTMAN JR., USC
Pittman ruffled feathers earlier this week after telling reporters “it’ll be fun running up the score” against Notre Dame. The Trojans enter the game as double-digit underdogs, but Pittman has the prowess and stats to back up the talking for his sake. The senior leads USC in receiving with 35 receptions for 501 yards and four touchdowns. He faces a Notre Dame defense without top field cornerback Shaun Crawford (dislocated elbow). The Irish defense also has to prepare for talented receivers Tyler Vaughns and Amon-Ra St. Brown. How they respond to Pittman’s chirping may set the tone in this one.
S TALANOA HUFANGA, USC
Maybe the most important member of USC’s defense returns this week in safety Talanoa Hufanga. A concussion and AC sprain sidelined the sophomore against Washington. He had led the Trojans with 42 tackles and set the tone with his toughness. Hufanga will be tasked with slowing down a quarterback in Ian Book that finally has all his weapons. Also look for sophomore cornerback Olaijah Griffin. He leads the Trojans with six pass breakups. As of Thursday evening, though, Griffin has yet to be cleared since exiting the Utah game with back spasms.