Well, USC came into the season with far lower expectations than Notre Dame did and Pat Haden fired the head coach after five games. Disaster probably fits the situation. The fans who booed and chanted “Fire Kiffin” at the Coliseum definitely saw it as such.
Having said that, most Trojan fans certainly aren’t feeling the disaster right now. The excitement of having Coach O at the helm has wiped away all of the bad feelings from the first chunk of the season. Basically, the last bastion of USC fans who held onto the belief that Kiffin could turn things around scattered after the Washington State loss. From then on it was just a matter of time. Kiffin’s firing came at about the right time to turn the season from disaster-filled to potential-filled. That’s not to say that everything is bright and rosy, but in comparison, things are looking up.
Brian Kelly called this game, “our rivalry”. How does USC view the game?
USC’s local rivalry is UCLA, but the one that matters most is Notre Dame. There’s a saying: There’s nothing better than beating Notre Dame and nothing worse than losing to UCLA. That’s the way it is. We take the most pride in competing with (and beating) Notre Dame. The Trojans view the Irish as worthy adversaries for the most part and it’s more fun when the two teams are on top and competitive.
The USC Defense has surrendered about 2000 yards total this season but nearly 1000 of that total has been in the past two games. Which direction is this defense headed in?
It’s hard to tell. USC’s defense has been fairly consistent in the first half. Even Arizona State put up the majority of their points in a second-half onslaught (which was partially kick started by a pick six). The biggest problem seems to be depth. The players have made a point of dismissing the depth argument, but it’s hard to miss the way the defense has looked gassed late in games. Orgeron said that they will be changing the way they rotate during the game in an effort to fix part of that problem.
On the hand, the USC secondary looked like a concern coming into the season and they were propped up a bit by a furious pass rush in the earlier games this season. Arizona State did a great job protecting Taylor Kelly which is why he was able to pick apart the secondary downfield. Arizona didn’t have the pass protection, but late in the game B.J. Denker was able to use his ability to rollout to buy himself some extra time to find his receivers. That’s really the key. If the Trojan pass rush is on, the Trojan defense will be heading in an upward trajectory. If the pass rush falters, so will the whole machine.
Does USC continue its upward trend and beat the Irish on Saturday night?
If the game was in Los Angeles I’d be ready to say yes. Since it is in South Bend and USC caved under the pressure of their only other competitive road game this season, I’m going with no (fully intending to invoke reverse psychology). In the end, I think it will be a close, back and forth game. However, I don’t trust the USC defense to be able to hang on late in the game and I haven’t seen anything from Kessler to suggest that he’s capable of a big fourth quarter performance at this point in his career. Unless Tommy Rees turns in one of his more catastrophic performances, I think the Irish are most likely to come away with the win. And yes, it pains me to say that.