Keys to the game: How No. 15 Notre Dame can upset No. 5 USC Saturday in Los Angeles

Justin Frommer
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — No. 15 (CFP) Notre Dame (8-3) tries to win its regular-season finale and stretch its winning streak to seven when it plays No. 6 Southern California (10-1) in Los Angeles on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. and ABC will televise.

Irish need big plays to keep up with USC

Credit Notre Dame's offense for averaging 31 points per game this season relying on the run. Outside of the first half of the Navy game, the Irish haven't had many big plays through the air.

That may not cut it against a USC offense averaging 42.9 points per game. Only two teams — Tennessee and Ohio State — have averaged more.

Nov 19, 2022; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Drew Pyne (10) runs the ball as Boston College Eagles linebacker Vinny DePalma (42) defends in the second quarter at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Signs Saturday in mild LA point to an offensive track meet. Notre Dame has thrown more more than 200 yards just once in the past month. They'll need to do it again against the Trojans.

Notre Dame must slow down Jordan Addison

Another week, another big-time receiver that Notre Dame's defense will have to contain.

Last week it was Boston College's Zay Flowers, who finished with 46 yards on three receptions. This week it is USC's Jordan Addison, who has 765 yards and eight touchdowns on 51 receptions.

Jordan Addison #3 of the USC Trojans rushes after catching a pass against Kyle Soelle #34 of the Arizona State Sun Devils during the first half at United Airlines Field at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on October 1, 2022, in Los Angeles, California.

Even worse for Notre Dame is Addison is coming off his best game of the season, catching 11 balls for 178 yards and a touchdown against UCLA.

Addison lines up both in the slot and out wide, but spends the majority of his time at the latter where Notre Dame could be running thin due to Cam Hart's shoulder injury suffered against BC. That could leave true freshman Jaden Mickey vulnerable.

Irish pass block can't struggle against poor USC pass rush

Notre Dame posted its second straight Pro Football Focus pass block grade under 60 last week. That group doesn't get a lot of opportunities to protect its quarterback, but has struggled when it does.

Notre Dame offensive lineman Josh Lugg (75) Notre Dame offensive lineman Blake Fisher (54) and Notre Dame offensive lineman Zeke Correll (52) smile while singing the alma mater during the Notre Dame vs. University of Nevada NCAA football game Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

The Irish offensive line can't afford to have a subpar game against a USC pass rush that has underwhelmed all season. Last week against UCLA, in which the Trojans gave up a season-high four passing scores, sacking Dorian Thompson-Robinson just once.

Notre Dame has hit it stride in the run game, but heading into its 12th game, the line must protect QB Drew Pyne better.

Another big day for Irish running back trio?

Over the last month Notre Dame has ran the ball as well as anyone in college football.

The Irish have more than 200 yards rushing in four of their past five games, including last week's 281 yards on 38 carries against Boston College. Notre Dame's 7.4 yards per carry was a season-high and Audric Estime, Chris Tyree and Logan Diggs each found the end zone in the same game for the first time.

Notre Dame running back Logan Diggs (3) tries to run through the snow as Boston College linebacker Bryce Steele (2) tries to stop him during the Notre Dame vs. Boston College NCAA football game Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

It could happen again as USC's defense struggles to stop the run, giving up just over 147 rushing yards per game.

Notre Dame may need more explosive plays through the air to keep with USC, but shouldn't need to abandon its bread and butter all together.

Getting to Caleb Williams in the pocket

Nov 19, 2022; Pasadena, California, USA; Southern California Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams (13) runs the ball against the UCLA Bruins during the second half at the Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

It is hard to find a statline this season where Caleb Williams has struggled.

Even in USC's lone loss against Utah, Williams threw for 381 yards and five touchdowns. What was different about that game is Utah sacked Williams a season-high four times. Since then, Williams has been sacked just five times.

The Irish sacked Boston College quarterback Emmett Morehead four times last week.

Running isn't a huge part of Williams' game, with only 316 yards and seven scores this year. If there's an area the Irish can slow him down, its getting to him in the pocket before he can find an open receiver.