GAME NOTES: Now under the direction of interim head coach Ed Orgeron, the USC Trojans take a break from their Pac-12 Conference schedule to do battle with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in South Bend on Saturday evening.
Orgeron, who has taken over for Lane Kiffin after the latter was fired following USC's dismal 62-41 loss at Arizona State on Sept. 28, got his team off on the right foot after a week off, putting up a 38-31 victory versus Arizona at home on Oct. 10. The win was the third in the last four outings for a Trojans squad which is tied with Utah for third place in the South Division of the Pac-12 standings, sporting a 1-2 mark in league action.
As for the Fighting Irish, a squad that operates as an Independent, they are tied with BYU for the top record among those six schools at 4-2. Prior to having last week off, Notre Dame bounced back from a 35-21 loss to Oklahoma with a 37-34 triumph over 22nd-ranked Arizona State at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas as part of the Shamrock Series.
Notre Dame leads the all-time series, one that dates back to 1926, by a count of 44-34-5. Last season, the Irish defeated USC for the second time in the last three encounters by a score of 22-13 when the victors were the top-ranked team in the nation.
USC, which has not lost in South Bend since 2001, did post a win over the Irish in 2005 by a score of 34-31, but that decision has since been vacated due to NCAA penalties.
Since scrambling a bit to fill the void left by the departed Everett Golson, Notre Dame has installed Tommy Rees as the full-time starter at quarterback and thus far the results have been favorable. Rees is completing close to 52 percent of his passes for an average of 249.0 ypg, and he has tossed 13 TDs against only six interceptions.
Rees doesn't give the team much in terms of running with the football, in fact he has lost a net of 25 yards and because of that the squad ranks 95th in the country with only 137.0 ypg rushing. George Atkinson and Cam McDaniel have combined for 582 of the unit's 818 rushing yards through six games and split the group's four TDs, but if not for an 80-yard run Atkinson wouldn't look nearly as good on paper.
Of the aerial touchdowns for the Irish, TJ Jones, DaVaris Daniels and Troy Niklas have each recorded four scores. Despite starting just once, Jones paces the squad with 33 catches for 481 yards.
On the defensive side of the ball, Carlo Calabrese and Jarrett Grace are tied for the lead with 40 tackles apiece, the former posting four stops behind the line of scrimmage to place second in that department. The bad news for the Irish is that Grace is now out indefinitely due to a knee injury.
Prince Shembo and Stephon Tuitt are tied for the team lead with three sacks apiece and have combined for 15 quarterback hurries, the rest of the unit posting a collective five such plays for Notre Dame.
Against Arizona the Trojans opened with 14 unanswered points in the first quarter, but eventually the hosts had to hold on for the seven-point win at LA Memorial Coliseum. Quarterback Cody Kessler converted half of his 30 pass attempts for 297 yards and two touchdowns and, perhaps more importantly, was not sacked nor did he throw an interception.
With Marqise Lee still recovering from injury, Nelson Agholor claimed the spotlight with seven catches for 161 yards and a score.
On the ground, Silas Redd carried the ball 19 times for a team-best 80 yards in his first appearance of the season, but it was Javorius Allen who made even more of an impact with six carries leading to a couple of touchdowns.
With Redd back in the lineup the Trojans should be more than ready to attack via the run, already averaging 200.3 ypg and close to five yards per carry at this stage. Tre Madden leads the way with 611 yards on 115 carries, followed by Justin Davis with 349 yards and a team-best six TDs. Madden has also turned his 13 catches into another 198 yards and a team-best four TDs.
Lee is slated to return to the field this weekend, which means Kessler will be seeking out his favorite receiver once again for sure. Lee has but one TD through his five games, but he is still the leader in receptions (30) and yards (385).
USC has played quite strong when it comes to slowing down opponents on the ground here in 2013, holding foes to just 107.2 ypg rushing, which is 15th- best in the country right now. In terms of total defense, the Trojans rank 19th nationally with just 340.3 ypg allowed.
USC has shown that it can play on the big stage, under the lights against top- notch opponents, but getting over on the Fighting Irish in front of their fans will not be easy at all. As long as Notre Dame can apply enough pressure on Kessler a win should be in the cards for the hosts.