Players to watch: Notre Dame vs. USC

Tyler James
tjames1@sbtinfo.com

• USC lost four starters to season-ending injuries at various points this season: linebacker Porter Gustin, kicker Chase McGrath and safeties Isaiah Pola-Mao and Talanoa Hufanga.

• The Trojans have been flagged at an alarming rate. USC has been called for eight penalties per game (tied for 116th in the FBS) for a total of 812 penalty yards (120th).

• No team has intercepted fewer passes than USC. The Trojans have intercepted three passes — tied for last in the country with Army, Duke and Oregon State.

RB DEXTER WILLIAMS

If former UC Davis running back Joshua Kelley can run for 289 yards and two touchdowns in UCLA’s 34-27 win over USC, Williams should be gearing up for a big performance of his own. The Trojans were gashed on the ground a week ago even though their run defense hasn’t been a big issue. Whatever worked for Kelley and the Bruins should be in Notre Dame’s playbook this week. Williams has rushed for at least 142 yards in four of his seven games this season.

CB TARIQ BRACY

The freshman cornerback has resurfaced as an important piece in Notre Dame’s defense. After first being called upon in the Pittsburgh game, Bracy’s playing time disappeared. But in recent weeks, he’s been asked to play outside cornerback in certain situations to allow Julian Love to move inside to cornerback. With USC’s depth at wide receiver, the Irish will need all their defensive backs to play at a high level. That includes Bracy, a California product.

WR MICHAEL PITTMAN

The Trojans have a trio of receivers in the mix to be the top target for quarterback JT Daniels on a weekly basis with Pittman, Tyler Vaughns and Amon-Ra St. Brown. Pittman has caught fewer passes (34) than the other two, but he’s turned his catches into more yards and touchdowns. Pittman averages 19.6 yards per catch (good for 14th in the country) and has caught six touchdown passes. The Irish have to keep track of Pittman to prevent big plays.

LB CAMERON SMITH

Despite missing nearly three full games with hamstring and knee injuries, Smith still leads USC in tackles. That’s nothing new for the 6-foot-2, 250-pound senior. Smith also led the team in tackles the last two seasons. He hasn’t needed a lot of help either. Forty-nine of Smith’s 69 total tackles have been solos. Smith will be USC’s best option to slow down Notre Dame’s running game.

Notre Dame’s Dexter Williams (2) celebrates during the Notre Dame-Syracuse NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018, at Yankee Stadium in New York City.
Linebacker Cameron Smith leads USC in tackles despite missing nearly three full games with injuries.