It’s that time of the year when there is little more bounce to the step on the USC practice field, a time of the year known as Notre Dame week.
As it turns out for the Trojans, there is already an increased level of energy thanks to the boost provided by interim head coach Ed Orgeron but Orgeron knows as well as anyone that a heightened level of spirit is only going to get you so far against the Irish.
Orgeron had the pleasure in his early days of getting to know Marv Goux -- the legendary USC D-line coach and master motivator who held a reverence for the rivalry between Notre Dame and his beloved Trojans. Goux liked to call this rivalry “big man on big man football” and Orgeron realizes that kind of game is waiting for his team on Saturday.
It doesn’t matter that both teams are 4-2 and out of the national rankings. These are still two very good programs that are meeting up for the 85th time and both teams have a lot to gain with a victory.
Notre Dame is just a year away from a trip to the national title game and the Irish are in no hurry to disappear from the national spotlight.
Their hopes for maintaining that high level took a dip this offseason when starting quarterback Everett Golson was declared out for the season but they were fortunate to have an experienced veteran like Tommy Rees as a backup option. Rees isn’t the most talented quarterback the Trojans will face this year but he’s efficient and doesn’t make a ton of mistakes.
The Irish feature names familiar to USC fans as part of their offensive attack. Former Trojans tailback Amir Carlisle and one-time USC recruit George Atkinson III are part of the tailback group while another former recruit, Troy Niklas, is a standout at tight end.
The defensive front is the strong suit of the Irish defense, which should make for a physical test against a USC offense looking to establish the run. Notre Dame is led by the talented duo of Stephon Truitt and Louis Nix on the line along with linebacker Carlo Calabrese.
Cody backs coach
This will be the first USC/Notre Dame game for Cody Kessler as a starter but he took a big step forward in the team leadership department with his impassioned words in support of Orgeron following the victory over Arizona last Thursday.
"No disrespect to the coach who was here before and I'm not getting into that, but you want a coach that you will freaking just go to war for every time [like] this man here to my right. I don't only speak for myself. I speak for the whole team. We would go to war for this guy any day of the week. Any time he needed us we have his back 100 percent.
"When you have a coach that you can see and feel that he cares about you so much and wants you to be the best that you can be and succeed, that's love right there. I couldn't ask for a better head coach. All of us would go to war and put our lives on the line for this man any day of the week."
When you looked at the USC roster coming into the season, the deepest and most talented position group was tailback. By the time fall camp hit the midway point, injuries had depleted the group to the point that there was often only one scholarship back available. Fast forward to this week and the tailback position is once again healthy and looking strong.
There is a little bit of uncertain status with Tre Madden, who has been the leading rusher so far this year but who suffered a hamstring issue against Arizona.
Silas Redd returned in the game against the Wildcats and showed that he is ready to resume his place in the rotation, no matter who else is available. The way Redd closed out the final drive with seven straight carries was impressive.
Justin Davis has also earned his place at the table with six touchdowns in six games while Buck Allen has done as much in his limited time as he can possibly do. Ty Isaac showed a lot of promise with his carries last week too. Don’t be surprised if the Trojans continue with the deep rotation of backs in this game to help maintain a fresh and physical presence.
Status of Lee
At the Sunday session, Marqise Lee ran wind sprints during practice with a brace on his left knee. That’s the first on-field work he’s done during a practice since suffering the injury against Arizona State. Orgeron continues to call him “questionable” for the game against Notre Dame but you know this is one that Marqise doesn’t want to miss.
Tavai taps in
Not only are the Trojans facing the possibility of playing without their biggest weapon on offense, but their top defensive sack master may miss a second straight game as well. Outside linebacker Morgan Breslin sat out the Arizona game with a sore hip and is also described as “questionable” for Notre Dame. Fortunately for the Trojans, J.R. Tavai was able to make the move from defensive end and started in place of Breslin at the stand-up OLB spot. Tavai ended up second on the team in tackles with 10 and also added 3.5 tackles for loss.
For the second straight game a Pac-12 opponent was able to see good success throwing the ball against the Trojans and Orgeron admitted after the Arizona game that he would speak to Clancy Pendergast to look at options, including potential personnel moves. One bit of help could come in the form of Anthony Brown, a pre-season starter who has been out of action since the Hawaii game with an ankle issue. Brown was able to practice on Sunday and could see game action against the Irish.