Five keys to the Notre Dame-USC game

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

RUN THE BALL

There’s no need to get fancy, even with the name of this key. If Notre Dame is going to beat USC, the Irish have to continue to dominate in the running game. The bye week should have the running back Josh Adams healthy and ready to roll. The Irish offensive line should be salivating at the chance to set the tone against a front seven missing outside linebacker Porter Gustin and defensive tackle Josh Fatu.

PICK ON DARNOLD

Quarterback Sam Darnold could be the No. 1 reason for a USC victory on Saturday. But he could also hamstring the Trojans with turnovers. He already has thrown nine interceptions in seven games and lost three fumbles last week against Utah. The Irish secondary will be tested by Darnold, but a couple of turnovers could be enough to turn the game in Notre Dame’s favor.

STRETCH THE FIELD

Deep shots haven’t been a consistent part of Notre Dame’s passing game despite the arm strength of quarterback Brandon Wimbush. Only two Wimbush completions — a 54-yard touchdown to Miles Boykin and a 40-yard toss to Equanimeous St. Brown — have gone for 40 yards or more. The Irish have attempted a few deep balls but haven’t found many connections. They shouldn’t stop trying. One or two long pass plays could create a scoring opportunity and, just as importantly, open up throwing lanes in the secondary.

SLOW DOWN JONES

Much like Josh Adams, USC running back Ronald Jones II is a threat to score from anywhere on the field. Jones, who will be one of the fastest players on the field Saturday, has scored a touchdown in each of his last 13 games. The speedster could create a lot of stress for Notre Dame’s defense. The Irish will need to keep him contained and not allow him to get into the open field to make big plays.

EMBRACE THE MOMENT

A night kickoff creates a big stage, but there’s no fabrication necessary for Notre Dame and USC this year. The two ranked teams would find the spotlight regardless. Yet night kickoffs at Notre Dame Stadium have ended in losses the last three times. The Irish have a tough road ahead this season, but no result will signal a turnaround of the program more than a win Saturday night over USC.

Southern California running back Ronald Jones II (25) runs against Oregon State linebacker Bright Ugwoegbu (1) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Los Angeles, Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)