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Notre Dame Football

“Everything” about USC's offense concerns Irish coach Marcus Freeman

November 21, 2022

The Fighting Irish dismantled Boston College 44-0 in a snow-covered Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Coach Marcus Freeman’s post-victory message to his team was to enjoy the night before turning their attention to next weekend’s opponent: No. 5 USC. 

Only, Freeman struggled to follow his own advice. 

He stuck to his normal post-game routine. After the press conference, he watched the Boston College film and grabbed a quick bite to eat with his wife and kids before heading home. 

When he arrived, USC’s top-25 clash with No. 16 UCLA was already on television, which proved to be a back-and-forth battle between two offensive juggernauts. At first, Freeman couldn’t resist following along.

“I watched a couple of series, and I felt like I was working,” he said, “so I turned it off and tried to go to bed.”

The game ended with the Trojans racking up 649 total yards in a 48-45 victory

On Sunday, Freeman returned to the USC-UCLA  film and watched in awe of Trojan quarterback Caleb Williams. The Heisman Trophy hopeful completed 32 of 43 passes for 470 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He also picked up 33 yards on the ground, as well as another score.

“We've faced some really good quarterbacks this season, and he is one of the best I've seen,” Freeman said. “His arm strength is one thing, but his decision-making is another. He has the ability to extend plays, and he's one of the few guys I've seen just continuously break tackles.”

Among individual players, William ranks fourth in the nation with 345.1 total yards per game, which is more offensive production than 30 FBS teams average. He’s also thrown just four interceptions all season.

It’s his second season playing in USC head coach Lincoln Riley’s offense, which is known for accentuating its quarterback’s strengths and putting them in a position to succeed.

“They do a really good job of mixing up tempos and at times going Mach speed, as fast as they can and, at times, slowing down and use some of the play clock,” Freeman said. “They're able to run the ball and throw the ball and put different guys in motion and put them in different spots.”

Williams’ primary target is wideout Jordan Addison. A transfer from Pitt, he won last year’s Biletnikoff Award, which goes to the outstanding receiver in college football. 

He was hobbled with a knee injury for a few weeks in October and early November but returned to form against UCLA with 11 catches for 178 yards and a touchdown. He’s listed at just 6-0 and 174 pounds, but the Trojans will line him up anywhere on the field.  

“They snuck him into the backfield [against UCLA] and he ran right up the seam and scored a touchdown,” Freeman said.

The Trojans have two other wideouts with more than 500 receiving yards in Tahj Washington and Mario Williams. By comparison, Michael Mayer is the only Irish player to eclipse the 500-yard mark. 

Former five-start receiver Kyle Ford has just 15 catches on the season, but he’s averaging 20.2 yards per reception. 

USC may feature a pass-first offense, but the Trojans are still hyper-effective at running the ball. They average 5.3 yards per carry, which ranks 15th among 131 FBS programs.

The Trojans, however, will be without leading rusher Travis Dye, who suffered a leg injury a week ago.

Even with Dye sidelined, Freeman says USC has “a stable of running backs” to turn to. 

Stanford transfer Austin Jones averages 6.2 yards per carry and has five touchdowns on the season. USC also leans on blue-chip freshman running back Raleek Brown, who has 287 yards from scrimmage to go with three total touchdowns.

Led by left guard Andrew Vorhees and right tackle Jonah Monheim, the offensive line is experienced and a competent all-around unit compared to past years.

Freeman may have a host of reasons to be concerned about the USC offense, but the Irish are familiar with defending prolific quarterbacks.

North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye ranks ahead of Williams in passing yards and total offense, while CJ Stroud, who the Irish faced to open the season, is still the odds-on favorite to win the Heisman.

“We have to continue to prepare, prepare, prepare, and that’s the answer to the test,” Freeman said. "I don't know any other way. It isn't to come up with trick plays. It isn't trying to confuse them. It's prepare and continue to get better at the things we do really, really well and continue to try to fix the things that we need to improve at. 

“We're looking forward to the great challenge and great opportunity ahead of us."

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