Irish facing must-win against dangerous Trojans
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly told his players not to expect a team in disarray when the 14th-ranked Fighting Irish face rival Southern California playing under interim coach Clay Helton on Saturday.
“Teams come together under those circumstances and they’re going to play their very best,” Kelly said Tuesday. “It’s a rivalry game for them as well. It’s a chance for them to respond. You look at the way Texas responded this past weekend with a lot of media scrutiny. I expect USC to respond the same way.”
The firing of coach Steve Sarkisian on Monday means the Trojans enter the game with their fourth coach in four seasons. Lane Kiffin was coach in 2012 when the top-ranked Irish won 22-13. Notre Dame beat USC and interim-coach Ed Orgeron 14-10 in the second game after Kiffin was fired in 2013. Sarkisian guided the Trojans to a 49-14 victory last season.
A week ago, both teams were ranked and the game looked as though it would be a resume-building victory for the winner trying to make a case for a College Football Playoffs berth.
USC’s 17-12 loss to Washington on Thursday in a game where the Trojans were favored by more than two touchdowns ended that. It will now be the ninth straight year the game won’t pit two ranked teams.
That’s quite a change from when the rivalry’s heyday in the ‘60s and ‘70s when the winner won six AP national titles, with Notre Dame winning in 1966, ‘73 and ‘74. The Trojans won in 1962, ‘67 and ‘72. USC won two more titles in voting by the coaches in 1974 and 1978.
Still, Kelly believes a win over the unranked Trojans (3-2) would provide a boost for the Irish (5-1).
“I still think when you talk about beating USC it still carries a lot of weight because people know the talent they have on that football team,” he said.
The Trojans embarrassed the Irish last season when Cody Kessler threw for six touchdown passes in a 49-14 victory. Kelly last year called the loss a red letter day for Notre Dame, saying “We got our butts beat and it wasn’t as close as the score.”
Kelly said Tuesday it’s not something he will bring up this week because the Irish players know “that standard of play is not acceptable.”
Kelly, who has never faced a ranked USC team as Notre Dame coach, said the game is just as important as always for those involved.
“There’s a special feeling playing USC. I know that that still resonates with our players and coaches,” he said. “Look, whether it’s a rivalry that goes back with implications to the national championship or not, for us in the short term, we got beat up pretty good against them last year. For our football team, we certainly want to show ourselves a lot better than we did last year.”