Can USC slow Irish ground game?

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Jonas Gray saw what USC did to Cal's rushing attack Thursday and, without hesitation, pointed to the strength of the Trojans' defense when asked about it five days later

"The front seven," Gray said Tuesday. "They block a lot of passes, they play a lot of games up front, they tackle well in the secondary. They're a physical group."

USC held Cal to 35 rushing yards in a 30-9 win that was the Trojans' most convincing defensive performance to date.

In its two previous games, USC had allowed 43 and 41 points to Arizona State and Arizona, respectively, the first time in school history it allowed 40-plus points in consecutive contests. The Trojans allowed a school-record 37 first downs against Arizona as well.

The Trojans are 56th nationally in total defense and 46th in scoring defense. But they rank 19th against the run, allowing 99.5 yards per game and have held three of their six opponents under the 100-yard mark as a team.

"I think they've got a specific scheme that they like to employ," coach Brian Kelly said. "It's very similar to what we've seen. They're very consistent in that respect. They're not gonna give you just one look. They played well, they tackled well. I think they got up on Cal and forced them to throw the football. I think one of the things that's really important to point out is Monte still has his influences in that defense. … You can still see there are some Monte Kiffin influences in what they do defensively.

"If they get up on you, they're a tough group to rally on. I think that's probably more of a difference than anything else.

Notre Dame, meanwhile averages 194 rushing yards per game, 30th in the nation.

Gray and Cierre Wood have accounted for the majority of those yards. Wood, an Oxnard, Calif., native, was recruited by the in-state Trojans before choosing Notre Dame, where he thought he would have an easier time making a name for himself early.

"I've never really been big on it," Wood said. "I was growing up and I see everybody going there, and I had a lot of friends and whatnot and it was always a big school, but it just seemed there was way too many people there and whatnot. And you hear about five different people on the team who like, you hear about them at one time and then you don't hear about them because something happens to them.

"But at the same time, you hear the next man in because there's five different running backs or five different tight ends and stuff like that. So I've always thought [of them] being like a great powerhouse but it's never really something that I was too big about, really."