Tale of the tape: Who has the edge when No. 13 Notre Dame battles No. 5 USC Saturday?

Mike Berardino
South Bend Tribune
Notre Dame quarterback Drew Pyne (10) hands off to Notre Dame running back Logan Diggs (3) during the Notre Dame vs. Boston College NCAA football game Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

When Notre Dame has the ball

Drew Pyne, 8-1 since replacing the injured Tyler Buchner as starting quarterback, is coming off his third turnover-free game of the season. … The Irish rank fourth in run-blocking efficiency, per Pro Football Focus, after posting their sixth game with 223 rushing yards or more. The 281-yard rushing total against Boston College was the second highest for Notre Dame this year, trailing only a 287-yard effort at North Carolina. … USC is tied for 71st with Rutgers in defensive efficiency against the rush. … The Trojans are 51st in tackling efficiency and tied for 59th in pass coverage. … Tight end Michael Mayer has just two touchdown receptions in his past six games, but he enjoyed a season-high three receptions off the jet sweep against BC. Mayer made five catches (out of six targets) for 54 yards last season in his only previous game against USC.

Edge: Notre Dame

USC quarterback Caleb Williams gets ready to throw a pass from the end zone during the Trojans' 48-45 win over UCLA on Saturday night at the Rose Bowl.

When USC has the ball

Oklahoma transfer QB Caleb Williams, a leading Heisman Trophy candidate, has thrown just three interceptions in his past 13 games, dating to last season. He has passed for 39 touchdowns in that span. For his career the sophomore has a TD/INT ratio of 54/7. … Freshman cornerback Benjamin Morrison has five interceptions in his past three games. Notre Dame has 11 takeaways (8 interceptions, 3 fumble recoveries) during its five-game winning streak after producing two (interception vs. BYU, fumble recovery at North Carolina) in the first half of the season. … Oregon transfer RB Travis Dye suffered aseason-ending injury to his left leg on Nov. 12 against Colorado. Dye averaged 6.0 yards per carry for his career and had 5,058 combined rushing/receiving yards and 38 combined touchdowns. … Dye’s replacement, Stanford transfer Austin Jones, had 177 yards from scrimmage in last week’s win over UCLA. Jones had 19 touches for 103 yards and a touchdown in two previous games against Notre Dame while playing for Stanford. …

Notre Dame defensive back Benjamin Morrison (20) makes an interception intended for Clemson wide receiver Joseph Ngata (10) during the Notre Dame vs. Clemson NCAA football game Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana.

Edge: USC

Special teams

Brian Mason didn’t make the cutdown to 15 semifinalists for the Broyles Award, given annually to the top FBS assistant coach in college football. … Notre Dame had blocked at least one punt in five straight games before being coming up empty in the blowout win over Boston College. … Punter returner Matt Salerno had a 28-yard return against the Eagles that was the longest of the year for the Irish. … While Notre Dame is sixth nationally in special teams efficiency, as measured by Pro Football Focus, USC is tied for last with UMass among 131 FBS teams. … Redshirt freshman kicker Denis Lynch is 12 of 18 on field-goal attempts, with five of those misses coming from inside 40 yards. … Jordan Addison, who shares punt returns with Michael Jackson III, has muffed two of 14 punts he’s attempted to field. The Trojans’ longest punt return this year is 17 yards.

Edge: Notre Dame

More:Cam Hart's injury could give Notre Dame freshman Jaden Mickey more chances in homecoming finale at USC

Coaching

Marcus Freeman, 36, has a chance to knock off two AP top-5 programs in the same month. Notre Dame hasn’t done that in the same season since 1993 under Lou Holtz: at No. 3 Michigan, vs. No. 1 Florida State. … Notre Dame has won 19 straight games in November, the longest active streak in FBS. … This will be the first meeting between Freeman and USC’s Lincoln Riley as they never met as coordinators. … Riley was 33 when he was hired in 2017 to replace the retiring Bob Stoops at Oklahoma. Riley is 65-11 (.855) in six seasons and has finished out of the top seven in the final AP rankings just once (No. 13 last year). … USC is plus-20 in turnover margin, best in the nation, with just one lost fumble and three interceptions.

Edge: USC

Southern California coach Lincoln Riley looks at the scoreboard during the second half of the team's NCAA college football game against Colorado on Friday, Nov. 11, 2022, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/John McCoy)

Predictions

TOM NOIE: USC 31, Notre Dame 27 —The Trojans are at another level right now in steamrolling toward a College Football Playoff semifinal spot. They've got a gear that the Irish just can't match.

MIKE BERARDINO: Notre Dame 30, USC 28 — The ground-and-pound Irish impose their will and take their fifth straight in the ancient series against the dudes from Portal City.

JUSTIN FROMMER: USC 35, Notre Dame 28 — Trojans have too much offensive firepower as Caleb Williams looks to secure his Hiesman Trophy Show ticket to New York

MICHAEL WANBAUGH: USC 37, Notre Dame 34 — Going down to the wire with the Trojans getting one more defensive stop than the Irish. QB Caleb Williams better be at his best if USC is to pull this one out.