USC Trojans vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish Pick 10/12/19
USC Trojans (3-2 SU, 2-3 ATS) vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (4-1 SU, 3-1 ATS)
Date/Time: Saturday, October 12th, 7:30 PM
Where: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, IN
Point Spread: USC +11/ ND -11 (Bookmaker)
Over/Under Total: 57.5
Notre Dame welcomes USC to South Bend for a primetime showdown on Saturday Night in their yearly battle for the Jeweled Shillelagh trophy. The Irish lead the all-time series with a record of 48-37-5 and have had the upper hand of late having gone 6-3 over their last nine meetings, including wins in the previous two matchups.
The Trojans come into the game off a much-needed bye week after losing 28-14 at Washington to end September. The defeat was their second road loss of the season and have now won just twice in their last eight games away from home. There is only so much they have been able to accomplish thanks to injuries throughout the team, but none more so than at the quarterback position where they are now using their third-stringer thanks to a season-ending injury to expected starter JT Daniels and backup Kedon Slovis currently in concussion protocol. This has left redshirt junior Matt Fink to take over the reins at the position, and while he looked good in an upset win against Utah, Fink struggled mightily against the Huskies with three interceptions thrown and now has to go up against a Notre Dame defense that leads the nation in turnover ratio with an average of 2.25 caused per game.
INJURIES ALL OVER
Offensively injuries have not just been limited to the quarterback position as starting running back Vavae Malepeai and wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown are both also banged up and thanks to a late released injury update from the Trojans their status for Saturday night remains in question. If Malepeai is limited, that means Stephen Carr will lead the way for the backfield, and he has performed well in limited action so far with an average of 6.1 yards per carry along with two touchdowns scored. At the wide receiver position, Matt Fink will look to maintain a connection with Michael Pittman Jr. and Tyler Vaughns, who both have over 30 catches on the season apiece while putting up a combined 66 catches for 915 yards and six scores thus far.
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On the defensive side of the ball, the Trojans have struggled as well, currently ranked 83rd in yards allowed per game, 89th against the run, 78th against the pass, and 56th in points allowed. Going into the season, USC had zero starters back in their defensive backfield, and this has shown this season with just two interceptions on the year, which has led to them being ranked 121st nationally in turnover ratio. Safety Talanda Hufanga is the teams’ second-leading tackler, but his availability for Saturday also remains in doubt thanks to a concussion, and if he is unable to go will the team in even worse shape in attempting to stop Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book, who is coming off a career game last week when he threw for five touchdowns in the first half against Bowling Green.
After five games, Ian Book has been consistently accurate throughout the season with a 13/2 TD-INT ratio with both turnovers coming in their game at Georgia. He has spread the ball around well amongst the Irish offensive options with seven different players catching touchdown passes. Wide receiver Chase Claypool and tight end Cole Kmet remain Book’s top targets, with Claypool leading the team in scores with four and Kmet putting up over 200 yards and two scores through just three games after missing the beginning of the season due to injury. Chris Finke and Javon McKinley round out the remaining best of the possibilities, and McKinley has shown the knack for the big play putting up three scores already and an impressive 25 yards per catch average.
STRENGTH IN NUMBERS
The Irish are continuing to look forward to getting their backfield to full strength with injuries limiting multiple players over the first month of the season. Tony Jones remains the only running back to gain over 61 yards so far and has now rushed for 100 yards in a game three times while averaging an impressive 6.9 yards per carry and scoring four touchdowns. If they can find even more balance to their offense, they could take some off the added pressure off of Book when they get into the back half of their schedule and possibly even improve on an impressive 15th in scoring ranking that has them averaging 41 points per game.
WHAT LIES AHEAD
This game will be especially crucial for Notre Dame as they go into the bye week before their most difficult remaining matchup on the schedule when they travel to Michigan to take on the surprisingly vulnerable Wolverines. Past that, they only have games against teams that have, for the most part, underachieved this year in Virginia Tech, Duke, Navy, Boston College, and Stanford. With the Irish only loss coming against third-ranked Georgia in a closer than expected road matchup, they will undoubtedly put themselves into the BCS playoff conversation if they can continue their success and run the table over the final two months of the season.
THE FINAL DECISION
While the USC vs. Notre Dame rivalry remains one of the most historic throughout college football history, this week’s matchup does not appear to be one set up for a close game. The Irish are stronger on both sides of the ball, which is only magnified by the number of injuries facing the Trojan squad. The fact the game is also at South Bend also provides a distinct advantage for Notre Dame, as they have won their last 14 straight at home while USC has continued to struggle in away games, going 2-6 straight up in their previous eight while also putting up an abysmal 3-14 record against the spread in their last seventeen games as a road dog. They have also played less than stellar against conference and non-conference opponents alike, going 11-26 versus the number in their previous 37 games against teams not in the Pac-12 and 10-21 in their last 31 games overall. With a chance to show their playoff value in front of a national, primetime audience, I expect Notre Dame to take full advantage of their situation against a short-handed rival and end Saturday with an easy win and cover at home against USC.
Mike’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Notre Dame -11. When it comes to the spread, Pac 12 and Notre Dame games can oftentimes be a crapfest. Get a stranglehold on this game by betting USC at +31 or N.D. at +9 by inserting either into a massive 20 point college football teaser found at 5Dimes Sportsbook.
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