#7 Notre Dame vs USF Game Preview, Stats, Spread, Moneyline

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When the University of South Florida visit #7 Notre Dame on Saturday, it’ll be game filled with familiarities. USF rookie head coach Jeff Scott was Clemson’s co-offensive coordinator from 2015-2019. While calling plays for the Tigers, he oversaw an offense that made the College Football Playoff every year; winning the national championship in 2016 and 2018.

You might recall the Cotton Bowl semifinal in the latter year. Scott’s offensive coordinator is likely the only coordinator younger than Notre Dame’s Tommy Rees in all of Division 1 football. Charlie Weis Jr., 27, is the youngest on the staff and in certain circles considered a coaching prodigy.

With stops at Florida, Alabama, the Atlanta Falcons and most recently Florida Atlantic, Weis Jr. has gotten off to a fast start and garnered an impressive resume. This game in South Bend will be a homecoming for Weis Jr., whose father coached at Notre Dame from 2005-2009. 

Game Information

Betting info: Via BetQL’s NCAA Football Betting Dashboard, ND  is -25.5, or (-110) according to the consensus, with an O/U at 48.5. Turning to the moneyline, their consensus shows Notre Dame at -2245 and USF at +1165. The consensus first half line favors Notre Dame by 14 or -115.

Location: Notre Dame Stadium | South Bend, IN 

Kickoff: Saturday, September 19, 2020, 2:30 PM EST 

TV: USA   Stream: NBC Sports App  SiriusXM Radio: Channel 129

Coincidentally, the last and only time these two schools played, a different Notre Dame coach’s son stood across from the Irish sideline. In 2011, Skip Holtz came into South Bend and pulled off a 23-20 upset of Notre Dame in a game that was not as close as that final score indicates. It was a wild affair delayed by a lightning storm.  

While Brian Kelly and then quarterback and now offensive coordinator, Tommy Rees might be looking to avenge that loss, the oldest players on the current roster were just 12 years old at the time. Both sides of the ball will be focusing on improving their slow starts from last week.

For the offense, that means executing better on the offensive line and getting in a rhythm early. On the defensive end, the back seven have to shore up their tackling. 

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USF Offense 

USF travels to South Bend following a 27-6 win over The Citadel Bulldogs. The offense was run-heavy with the Bulls rushing for 302 yards and two touchdowns. Heading into Saturday’s game, USF leads the nation with 7.7 yards per rushing attempt. Despite using three quarterbacks, the Bulls only attempted 25 passes while running the ball 39 times. 

Running backs Kelley Joiner and Johnny Ford combined for 158 yards and one touchdown against The Citadel. The two averaged a combined nine yards per attempt, and each broke free for a run longer than 40 yards. The third-leading rusher was quarterback, Noah Johnson (seven carries, 49 yards, and one touchdown). 

Charlie Weis Jr. likes to run an uptempo offense, and with the explosive athletes available at USF, he did so with ease against the Bulldogs. Six players broke runs for 20 yards or more against the Citadel, and the offense had scoring drives of 62, 60, and 86 yards, all of which took less than three minutes to complete. 

The passing game for the Bulls leaves much to be desired. Starter Jordan McCloud was 11-of-16 for 68 yards and one touchdown. USF’s leading receiver had only three receptions for 36 yards. Weis Jr. will rotate quarterbacks until he finds comfort. While North Carolina transfer Cade Fortin might see time against Notre Dame, Johnson is the group’s playmaker. 

In 2018, Johnson ran for 1,080 yards and 11 touchdowns at Alcorn State during a season the ended with him being named SWAC Offensive Player of the Year.

The Bulls’ offensive line against The Citadel looked terrible and for a good reason. Three of the team’s starting offensive linemen, Donovan Jennings, Demetris Harris, and Brad Cecil, didn’t play. The second unit surrendered three sacks and 11 tackles for loss to the Bulldogs defense. Based on the latest depth chart released, they will start against ND, so expect USF’s line play to improve. 

USF Defense 

The South Florida defense was one of the worst in football last year. The Bulls allowed at least 34 points in five games and surrendered more than 400 yards in half of its games as the team tallied a 4-8 record. 

Against The Citadel, the defensive line could not generate any push against the Bulldogs’s front five. Of the team’s seven tackles for loss, only one was made by a defensive lineman. While The Citadel is an option-run team, quarterback Brandon Rainey attempted 18 passes and was only sacked once. 

Dwayne Boyles and Antonio Grier are the standouts on an otherwise pedestrian defense. In 2019, Boyles led the team in tackles for loss with 12.5 and started the 2020 season with 1.5 against The Citadel. 

Antonio Grier spent most of the 2019 season as a rush linebacker, totaling 58 tackles and four sacks. This year, he’s moved inside and tallied ten tackles and one sack last week. 

Notre Dame Offense 

When it comes to the offensive gameplan, Notre Dame wants to run the ball.

Against Duke, five different players carried for a total of 42 times. The USF defense surrendered 200 yards rushing on 54 attempts to The Citadel. Look for the Fighting Irish to lean on ACC Player of the Week, Kyren Williams, and the running back by committee that the team displayed against Duke. 

The offensive line of Notre Dame has been and continues to be its strength. The talent of the front five will serve the Irish well against an undersized USF defensive line. Establishing the inside run will be a priority as Notre Dame will attempt to fatigue the USF defensive front.  

This week marks the return of electric wide receiver, Braden Lenzy. If the rumors were true of him suffering a hamstring injury, expect the Irish to ease him back into the offense to reduce re-injury. Even if he serves mostly as a decoy, the return of Lenzy allows Javon McKinley to play the boundary receiver position.

Returning to the short side of the field will free McKinley from press coverage and allow him to utilize his size to make plays for the Irish offense. 

Notre Dame Defense 

The matchup against USF won’t be about whether or not the Irish can stop the run; it will be about whether or not they can tackle. 

Against Duke, the Notre Dame defense held the Blue Devils to 73 yards rushing. But they will have their hands full against USF. In Johnson, Joiner, and Ford, the Bulls have three players who will likely make the first defender miss. All three are explosive runners who will punish any defense that misses tackles. It seems inevitable that one of them will have a run of 20 yards or more. 

The Notre Dame defense will have to swarm to the ball, avoid overpursuit, and put the players mentioned above on the ground, or it will be a long day. 

Final Score: 42-14 as the Irish move to 2-0.

Join me on Twitter @iiiatkins14 every Saturday

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