Another must-win for the Irish against a Trojans squad playing with house money.
When USC has the ball: Tre Madden is doubtful and Silas Redd is coming off his first game of the season after a meniscus tear. The Irish's front seven gets Sheldon Day back but loses Jarrett Grace for the season. It needs to generate the same kind of pass rush and play with the reckless abandon it did two weeks ago against Arizona State, when it notched six sacks and made life difficult for Taylor Kelly. USC has two extremely talented receivers in Nelson Agholor and Marqise Lee, who is expected to play, and Notre Dame's corners need to tackle well and limit the big plays, the way they did in last year's win in L.A.
When Notre Dame has the ball: Continue to pound the rock up the middle. If ever there were a game in which the Irish's advantage in the trenches should show itself, this one is it. Notre Dame is stronger and deeper than USC, and it should try to pick up where it left off the last two games as it builds a run game and takes some pressure off Tommy Rees, who has struggled in his last three games and must protect the ball better than he did against Oklahoma and ASU.
Intangible: Notre Dame is coming off a bye and is playing its third home night game in as many years after a 21-year absence from prime-time home affairs. But the Irish are also favored and must essentially win out to get a BCS bowl berth, and they have not beaten USC at home since 2001. The Trojans are playing their second game under interim coach Ed Orgeron and came out firing in his debut against Arizona. This is really the third straight game USC is playing Notre Dame when it has nothing to lose, as it was banned from the postseason in 2011 and was already a four-loss team during the 2012 meeting. The Trojans are talented, though, and capable of making the Irish pay for any gaffes they might make.
Prediction: Notre Dame 24, USC 13. The Irish finally play within themselves, take care of the football and control the game from start to finish against a team it is capable of doing that to.