Noie: Watch these four when the sun sets and the lights come on for USC and Notre Dame
PLAYERS TO WATCH
WR DRAKE LONDON
The floor of the Coliseum has been a playground for many a gifted USC receiver through the years and the 6-foot-5, 210-pound junior from Moorpark, California is the latest. Maybe the greatest? He’s already done more in six games than many wideouts do in a full season. London enters Saturday with 64 receptions (yep), for 832 yards (yep) and five touchdowns.
As a group, Notre Dame’s wide receivers have combined for 58 catches in six games. London averages 138.6 yards per game, second in the nation. That’s almost three times as many yards as Notre Dame’s top receiver (Kevin Austin) averages (52.8). His receptions per game (10.7) also rank second in the country. He's fourth in overall receiving yards.
London just catches passes. Anywhere. From anyone. He’s snagged at least 10 in four of USC’s six games. Against Utah, he made 16 catches for 162 yards and three TDs. Game planning for London likely started way before the Irish off week. He’s going to be a problem. Maybe a big one.
ILB KANA’I MAUGA
The senior from Waianae, Hawaii has been on a tackling tear the last month. He's bumped his stops from two to three to seven to a season-high eight in the Oct. 9 loss to Utah. A three-year starter, Mauga leads the Trojans in solo tackles (23) and total tackles (36). He’s tied for first in tackles for loss (4.0) and also has a quarterback sack. He’s one of the main guys you have to account for on a disappointing defense that ranks 70th nationally for total defense (382.2) and 67th against the rush (148.3). If the Irish are to get their ground game in gear, they better slow Mauga.
Now 6-2 and 245 pounds, Mauga was an early enrollee coming out of high school in Hawaii, where he earned the Cover 2/Manti Te’o Defensive player of the year honor on the island his senior season. That’s some select high-praise company.
FS KYLE HAMILTON
If the adage that big players make big plays in the biggest games, then the junior from Georgia is bound to deliver something special in some way, shape or form in this one. Like the time he ran from somewhere near the Florida-Georgia state line for his second interception in the opener against Florida State. Or the big shoot-the-gap-and-make-a-stop play on fourth-and-one against Purdue. Hamilton’s been relatively quiet the last couple weeks, but still is second on the squad with 33 tackles. He leads the Irish with three interceptions and four pass breakups.
The number of home games left for Hamilton in his collegiate career can be counted on one hand, so time is running out for Irish fans to appreciate everything he does. This is a big one, so expect No. 14 to deliver. Just wait.
LG ANDREW KRISTOFIC
Don’t let this week’s depth chart fool you. The junior form Gibsonia, Pa., wasn’t expected to spend time as the backup center in practice as the chart indicated. Brian Kelly confirmed Monday that Kristofic now is the starting left guard. Maybe it’s coincidence, but the Irish run game found something in the second half of the Oct. 9 win at Virginia Tech with Kristofic in the mix. They found an edge. They found a swagger.
Notre Dame ran for a season-high 180 yards. It’s not much, certainly nothing compared to the 515 yards it tallied against Boston College in 2017, but it’s something. At 6-foot-4¼ and 295 pounds, Kristofic is bigger/longer than the guy he replaced, Zeke Correll (6-3, 295). He might also be better. He may have found a home for a run game (118th nationally) that has to get going. A start Saturday night would be the first of Kristofic’s career. Play well, and it certainly won't be the last.
Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI