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Notre Dame Football

Scouting Report | South Carolina

December 26, 2022
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After plenty of distractions since Notre Dame last took the field against USC, it’s finally game week. The Irish have to face the other USC this Friday in the Gator Bowl. South Carolina had a great finish to their season with two huge wins over Tennessee and Clemson, so one would think they’d be riding high into this match up, but much like Notre Dame, Shane Beamer has had to deal with key personnel opting out and entering the transfer portal.

This team that will play won’t be the same one that beat Clemson.

Ranked 29th in F+, there’s still plenty of talent that Notre Dame has to prepare for. This should be one of the more interesting games of the entire bowl slate.

Injuries/opt outs

Cornerback Cam Smith, a projected first round pick, and defensive end Zacch Pickens, a former 5-star who accepted an invite to the Senior Bowl, have opted out of the game. Those are two significant losses on defense.

Starting DE Gilber Edmond is also in the portal and another quality starter, CB Darius Rush, has opted out. 

That’s also in addition to starting running back Marshawn Lloyd and their top two tight ends, Jaheim Bell and Austin Stogner, entering the transfer portal. Bell is more than just a tight end too. He was their Swiss Army knife. The equivalent of former NC State star Jaylen Samuels.

With Lloyd and Bell gone, that’s 47.3% of the total carries out the door for them. Without Lloyd, Bell, and Stogner, it’s 24.1% of South Carolina’s total targets missing from their offense. Add in injured receiver Malik Vann and the percentage jumps up to 33%. He hurt his knee against Clemson and his status is unclear for this game.

Number two WR Jalen Brooks is not practicing with the team right now so they may be missing two of their top three WRs. He traveled with the team, but is not listed on the depth chart.

RT Dylan Wonnum opted out for the NFL as well. 

Offense

This offense looked completely different in their final two games. How much of that had to do with their departing offensive coordinator (left for Nebraska) is uncertain, but whoever is calling the plays won’t stray too far away from the formula that sparked them.

They finished the regular season ranked 38th in OF+, 63rd in EPA per play, and 31st in yards per play against Power 5 competition.

Expected Strengths

The passing game in November was at another level. It was the second highest rated passing offense in the country for the month and they unlocked plenty of big plays in the passing game.

QB Spencer Rattler, a former highly ranked recruit and Oklahoma transfer, turned his season (and possibly his career?) around with his late-season surge. He has a big time arm, the ability to escape the rush and do damage with his legs, and when he’s on he looks like a future first round pick.

His number one target is James Madison WR transfer Juice Wells. He was one of the top receivers in the SEC and made several big plays in the final month of the season. They have solid talent at the receiver position even if Vann isn’t available. WR Jalen Brooks is another big play threat as well. (Update: Brooks is not practicing and sounds like he will be out)

Potential Weaknesses

The running game hasn’t been good. They are 120th in stuff rate, 95th in opportunity rate, and average 3.22 yards per carry vs Power 5 competition. Vanderbilt is the only team they had a lot of success running against out of the Power 5 teams they played.

Add in Lloyd and Bell not being there and it makes them worse. They may just drop back 50 times in this game.

Outside of that Tennessee game, Rattler had 10 touchdowns against 11 interceptions and had 7.4 YPA. Those aren’t awe inspiring numbers. Even in the Clemson game, he went back to what has hurt him during his college career. His decision-making can be questionable at best and his two interceptions against the Tigers were regrettable to say the least.

That Tennessee pass defense he carved up? They were 116th in EPA per pass. We know Rattler has great talent, but Notre Dame’s pass defense has been good and they won’t make it as easy as Tennessee did.

They may be missing up to six starters and are down to one tight end who has played. 

Scheme

They aren’t a fast tempo team. They are 88th in plays per minute.

Much like Notre Dame, they can be incredibly diverse with formations and personnel packages. They are a bit more limited without those two tight ends, but it will be interesting to see how they adjust to that.

WR Dakereon Joyner ran the Wildcat for them against Tennessee and did it successfully. The Irish will have to prepare to face it in short yardage.

They have been a pass-happy team to close the season, throwing it 55% of the time in their final three games. That’s the direction we’ll probably see from them in the Gator Bowl.

Key Players

QB Spencer Rattler - With a clean pocket, PFF graded him out 14th amongst Power 5 QBs. Under pressure, he’s worse than Iowa’s quarterback.

WR Juice Wells - 308 yards receiving against Tennessee and Clemson.

Key for Notre Dame

Rattle Rattler

They need to get pressure on Rattler and do so without Isaiah Foskey. That makes things tougher, but it’s the key to stopping them. Out of the 68 quarterbacks who have been pressured on 109 drop backs or more, he ranks 66th when it comes to his PFF grade.

Clemson only pressured him on 23.9% of his drop backs. Tennessee only pressured him on 20.9%. That’s not going to cut it for Notre Dame. When South Carolina scored six points against Florida, Rattler was pressured on over 40% of his drop backs.

Defense

It’s been a roller coaster year for South Carolina on defense to say the least. They finished 53rd in DF+, 88th in EPA per play, and 61st in YPP vs Power 5 competition.

They don’t lack talent, but they have lacked playmaking.

Expected Strengths

The pass defense has been very good for most of the season. They got torched early by Georgia, but they’ve been very good since then.

They are 30th in EPA per pass and even without Smith, they have good corners (but two have opted out). Marcellus Dial (14 passes defended) is one of the better one they’ve faced this season.

DE Jordan Burch and DT Tonka Hemingway are future NFL players up front. They lead the team in pressures.

Potential Weaknesses

Well, about that run defense…

They’re missing starting DT Pickens and with him they were 123rd in EPA per rush, 114th in opportunity rate, and 129th in stuff rate. They have given up 5.18 YPC vs Power 5 competition.

That’s pretty bad no matter how anyone would want to spin it.

They are also 102nd in sack rate, 97th in 3rd down defense, and have produced a meek 14.1% Havoc rate. As I mentioned already, they haven’t had a lot of playmaking from the group as a whole.

They count on some young players to play a lot of snaps and those guys have flashes of brilliance, but you also see busts from the group as a whole. Even in their recent big wins, they have had busts in the secondary.

Scheme

Clayton White runs a 4-2-5 and he was a bit conservative for a good chunk of the year with his approach, but he ramped that up recently. They blitzed a lot more in their final two games than they had previously.

It clearly was working for them and with a new quarterback for the Irish, I think we’ll see White attack, attack, and attack for most of the game.

Key Players

DE Jordan Burch - The former 5-star recruit has 15.3% pass rush win rate. His lack of production with sacks doesn’t reflect his impact.

DT Tonka Hemingway - 6’3” 295 and he can really move. He’ll be a tough matchup for the Irish interior offensive linemen.

CB Marcellus Dial - 15 total havoc plays and it could be argued he’s played better than anyone else on defense for them in 2022.

Key for Notre Dame

Run on a bad run defense

This team has struggled to stop the run. That trend needs to continue and Notre Dame needs to lean on their offensive line heavily in this game. It’s an opportunity for the Irish to further establish who they want to be and they have to run it down the throats of South Carolina.

Special Teams

They rank 1st in FEI special teams rankings and that doesn’t happen if a team isn’t strong in all areas. They cover well, aren’t afraid to run fakes, and have blocked six kicks.

The kicking game is also very good. K Mitch Jeter is 10 of 10 on field goals P Kai Kroger is second in the country in punting average.

Overview

There are a lot of unknowns about both teams with the players who won’t be in uniform, but what we do know is that an average performance from Rattler and an expected performance from their run defense is a recipe for a Notre Dame victory.

We’ll see if that happens, but that’s the formula for Notre Dame to close out this season with a win.

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