Notre Dame wants to look smoother on offense when it takes on South Florida. Should you bet in the top sports betting sites on an Irish offensive turnaround?
South Florida vs. Notre Dame
Saturday, September 19, 2020 – 2:30 P.M. ET at Notre Dame Stadium
South Florida’s (Non-Existent) Pass Game
Two things hold back South Florida’s pass attack. One, its pass protection was abysmal last year. Despite playing in a weaker conference, the Bulls ranked 127th in sack rate. A major problem for the Bulls, in general, has been recruiting adequate talent.
This problem is apparent in its offensive line. Three starters from this unit return plus a lot of other players — that is, other players who couldn’t earn playing time in a unit that ranked so abysmally in pass protection.
Second, South Florida is extremely unsure at the quarterback position. In its season opener against The Citadel, Jordan McCloud attempted most of his team’s pass attempts. Last season, McCloud completed 55 percent of his passes and threw four more touchdowns (12) than interceptions (eight).
Statistically speaking, he lucked out by not having to deal with Wisconsin. He struggled even more mightily against the stronger competition on his schedule.
Notre Dame’s Pass Defense
Year after year, the Irish reload with pass rushers. One noteworthy candidate to exploit USF’s soft pass protection is Ade Ogundeji. Despite receiving few opportunities last season, the long and disruptive pass rusher accumulated 4.5 sacks and five quarterback hurries.
It’s true that the Irish lost key pieces in the secondary. But South Florida completely lacks the tools to exploit this potential weakness.
In Notre Dame’s opener against Duke, Ian Book looked horrible. His numbers don’t do justice to his performance because they mask the degree to which he relied on pass attempts at or behind the line of scrimmage.
He did not showcase the deep-throwing ability which he developed — shockingly to even most of his supporters — last season. But still, it was the first game of a season that didn’t follow much preparation. For argument’s sake, I’ll assume that we see an in-form Book this weekend.
Irish Wide Receivers
My problem is that Notre Dame faces a complete overhaul at wide receiver with its top two at the position gone. Plus, his top tight end is gone. Replacing last year's top three pass-catchers are a bunch of young or otherwise unproven nobodies. These new pass-catchers represent a significant regression as they are only guys who showed, at best, little glimpses here or there.
Two such guys are Braden Lenzy and Lawrence Keys. Based on speed alone, they are Book’s best bets to help him showcase his newfound deep-passing ability. But Lenzy is injured yet again. Keys, despite not having Lenzy’s injury history, has had a quiet history so far at Notre Dame and he remained quiet against Duke.
Brian Kelly loves playing veterans. So the one heralded recruit at wide receiver — Jordan Johnson — didn’t see any action even though the position took some hits.
South Florida Pass Defense
USF returns just about its entire secondary, which is easily the strongest component of its defense. This unit ranked sixth last season in opposing pass yards per game. It features K.J. Sails, an All-AAC second-teamer due to his coverage skills at cornerback.
Because I foresee both pass attacks struggling — McCloud due to his ineptitude and Irish pass pressure, Book due to lack of adequate targets and USF’s secondary — I will recommend an NCAAF Pick on the Under.
Notre Dame Rush Attack vs. USF Run Defense
Notre Dame will absolutely dominate this game on the ground. It won’t need to pass much. The Irish return six regulars in an offensive line that will crush a Bull defensive line that inspires negligible optimism after its debacle last season. This unit also took severe losses during the offseason at the defensive end position.
Last year, almost no team was run on at the rate that South Florida was. Even though they knew what was coming, the Bulls failed to mount much resistance and ranked 117th in opposing rush yards per game and 87th in opposing YPC.
For the Irish, Kyren Williams had a strong opener last week, thus earning him ACC Running Back of the Week honors. He was efficient on the ground where he exceeded 100 yards on over 5.9 YPC. Williams also helped Book out in the passing game where he accrued 93 yards, more than twice as many as any Irish receiver. 75 of those yards came on a screen.
Largely thanks to Williams, Book can to a degree avoid trying to test USF’s secondary. There are examples in recent Irish history of this team leaning on its run game to cover as favorites.
Against Duke in 2019, for example, the Irish failed to reach 200 passing yards. However, they ran for more and easily covered. I foresee a similar result on Saturday.
The common thread that links my two plays is South Florida’s offense. Besides adapting to a new tempo and a new overall style, the Bulls lack any reliable quarterback play and any pass protection. They will want to keep the ball on the ground.
Until the Irish start running away from South Florida, the Bulls can make the best use of their offensive line’s strengths — it blocks much better against the run. But Notre Dame will start pulling away as McCloud struggles to keep USF’s defense off the field. With a seasoned o-line and superior ground game, the Irish will wear down South Florida.
So I like the under because South Florida can drain the clock until Notre Dame starts pulling away and because the Irish lack of pass attack will keep them from scoring too quickly. I like the Irish to cover because USF’s pass attack and run defense are so catastrophic that the Irish ground game will eclipse over 200 yards with the likes of Kyren Williams.
For the above reasons, we should place a parlay at the top sportsbooks.
Best Bet: Parlay Irish -25.5 (-105) & Under 50.5 (-105) at +273 Odds With Heritage (visit our Heritage Review)