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USC vs Notre Dame: Preview and Prediction for Saturday's Intriguing Matchup

ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 05:  Dan Fox #48 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Jaylon Smith #9 celebrate a fumble recovery against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Cowboys Stadium on October 5, 2013 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Tim KeeneyContributor IOctober 18, 2013

This year's anticipated battle between Southern Cal and Notre Dame may not have the same feel as years past with both programs currently outside the Top 25, but that doesn't make it any less of a heated rivalry. 

While both schools have endured quite a bit of inconsistency in 2013, both still sit at 4-2.

This game remains one that fans from both sides circle on the calender each year. It is still one of the greatest out-of-conference rivalries in America and means far more than just a regular-season game for both programs and their fanbases. 

With both talented, yet underperforming, sides still working to find their identity, this already enticing annual matchup becomes even more compelling on Saturday. 

Let's take a look. 

 

When: Saturday, Oct. 19, at 7:30 p.m. ET

Where: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind.

Watch: NBC

 

When USC Has the Ball

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 10:  Quarterback Cody Kessler #6 of the USC Trojans throws a pass against the Arizona Wildcats at Los Angeles Coliseum on October 10, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

This will be the most intriguing aspect of the game, simply for the fact that both units were supposed to be the strength of their teams, but have instead struggled to find cohesion. 

The Trojans are a team with weapons all over the field, but scored just seven points in a loss to Washington State, 17 points against a 3-4 Utah State team and have averaged just 22.8 points per contest.

That being said, they have averaged just under 40 points per game in the last two weeks against the Arizona schools. With interim head coach Ed Orgeron taking over for Lane Kiffin last week, sophomore quarterback Cody Kessler threw for a season-high 297 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. 

Moreover, future NFL first-rounder and dynamic wide receiver Marqise Lee, who missed last week's game, is expected to be back. The arrow is pointing up at the moment for this unit. 

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 07:  Wide receiver Marqise Lee #9 of the USC Trojans carries the ball against safety Deone Bucannon #20 of the Washington State Cougars at Los Angeles Coliseum on September 7, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. The Cougars won 10
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Defensively, the Irish boast a formidable front seven that should be able to give the Trojans offensive line trouble, but teams have simply chosen to beat Notre Dame through the air this season. Opponents have thrown the ball an absurd 56.19 percent of their plays against the Irish, per Teamrankings.com.

USC has a terrific running game, averaging nearly 5.0 yards per carry, but Kessler and the Trojans' passing game will be crucial in this one. 

 

When Notre Dame Has the Ball

SOUTH BEND, IN - NOVEMBER 17: George Atkinson II #4 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish moves past Scott Betros #32 of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at Notre Dame Stadium on November 17, 2012 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Wake Forest 38-0.  (Ph
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Irish quarterback Tommy Rees has shown an ability to move the ball down the field, especially with such a talented and versatile receiving corps, but as we've seen, he's not immune to interceptions with six picks in six games. He also has been inconsistent.

Getting the Notre Dame running game going will be integral for the Irish. 

Lately, head coach Brian Kelly has been able to do that with the thunder-and-lightning duo of the bruising Cam McDaniel and electric George Atkinson III. Against Oklahoma, Atkinson had 14 carries for 148 yards rushing, including a blazing 80-yard score, while McDaniel tallied 82 yards rushing against ASU, as the Irish grinded out 145 total rushing yards.

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 21:  Cam McDaniel #33 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates his game-winning touchdown against the Michigan State Spartans at Notre Dame Stadium on September 21, 2013 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Michigan St
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

If those two can get going, a little bit of the pressure (both figurative and literal in the form of guys like Devon Kennard and George Uko) will be taken off Rees, allowing the offense to thrive. 

As soon as the Irish become one-dimensional, however, the Trojans, who rank 19th in the nation in yards allowed per game, will become the favorite. 

Prediction

Notre Dame hasn't beaten USC at home since 2001, but I think that streak ends this week. 

It's going to come down to the final possessions. The Trojans looked more loose under Orgeron last week and the return of Marqise Lee should help, but in the end, Notre Dame's skill players of T.J. Jones, DaVaris Daniels and Atkinson will make enough plays in front of the home crowd.

Score: Notre Dame 31, USC 28 

 

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