ND, USC add another chapter in their rivalry
Tonight is another of those “big games” Brian Kelly has faced in his eight years as Notre Dame’s football coach. Thus far, he has not been up to the challenge.
ND and Southern California clash in a 7:30 p.m. primetime contest. For Kelly and the Irish, this is a key game as they head into the final six weeks of the season. It is equally important for USC.
Like the 13th-ranked Irish, the 11th-ranked Trojans have one loss and are also heading into the meat of their schedule. The winner will continue its quest for a spot in a high-end bowl game come the holidays, while the loser will be just another team playing football.
The Irish had the week off last week. Kelly is 19-2 in his career following a regular-season open date and 8-1 at ND. So history is on his side.
The only loss in the ND run was to USC, 31-17, in 2011. Kelly also has a win over the Trojans in the same circumstances, 14-10, in 2013.
The Irish will be at full strength tonight with quarterback Brandon Wimbush at 100 percent, according to Kelly. Running backs Josh Adams, Dexter Williams, Tony Jones Jr. and Deon McIntosh, are all ready for tonight’s big game.
During the off week, the Irish have been trying to get their passing game in order. The Irish running attack is one of the best in the country but the passing game is far from where it should be. Wimbush was touted as a capable passer at the start of the season but has not shown that in the first six games. His 114.0 pass-efficiency rating is 96th in the nation. He has completed 69 of 132 for 782 yards and six TDs. USC is 36th in pass-efficiency defense with 10 interceptions.
The USC offense is led by outstanding quarterback Sam Darnold. He has completed 163 of 260 passes for 2,063 yards and 15 touchdowns. He has a 141.5 rating, which is among the top in the country.
The running attack for the Trojans is led by Ronald Jones II, who has 640 yards on 102 carries and eight scores followed by Stephen Carr with 309 on 52 and three scores. Top receivers are Deontay Barnett with 49 catches for 626 yards and six TDs; Steven Mitchell Jr. with 333 yards on 23 catches and two TDs; and Tyler Petite with 245 yards on 17 catches and three scores.
The USC wins have come over Western Michigan, 49-31; Stanford, 42-24; Texas, 27-24 (2 OT); California, 30-20; Oregon State, 38-10; and last week Utah, 28-27. The lone loss has been to Washington State, 30-27.
ND leads the series, 46-37-5, Last year USC won, 45-27. Kelly is 4-3 in games against USC. The last ND win was in 2015, 41-31.
NBC will televise the game with a 7:40 p.m. kickoff.
IRISH NOTES ... Senior linebacker Greer Martini suffered a knee injury in practice last week and underwent arthroscopic knee surgery last Thursday during the bye week to repair a small meniscus tear. Martini is third on the team in tackles with 39 and also has an interception and two forced fumbles. He will not play tonight and is considered a week-to-week decision to play ... Freshman defensive tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa is fully recovered from a chest contusion and will play tonight. He was recruited by USC but chose the Irish .... Senior offensive guard Quenton Nelson and grad senior offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey made the first-ever Associated Press Midseason All-American Team. Nelson is on the first team and McGlinchey on the second team ... The biggest improvement in ND’s special teams has been the jump from 106th nationally to 31st in net punting. That is important when it comes to field position. On the other side ND has not been very special with kickoff returns, falling from 28th to 55th; and kickoff coverage falling from 95th to 106th ... USC has scored 37 percent of its points this season in the fourth quarter and holds a cumulative 79-48 edge in that period ... USC struggles with turnovers lost (117th) penalty yards (103rd), kickoff coverage (119th), and punt coverage (85th). The Trojans are average in rush defense (55th) and total defense (59th) ... As we mentioned this is the start of what has been ranked as the toughest schedule in the nation for the last six weeks of the season. Next week ND hosts North Carolina State (ranked 16th). That game is followed by Wake Forest, Miami (ranked 8th) at Miami, home with Navy, who is just outside the top 25, and then they close the regular season with Stanford (ranked 22nd) ... Josh Adams is seventh on the all-time rushing leaders list at ND ... The Trojans have been tied or have trailed going into the fourth quarter in four of their games in 2017 and have won them all ... USC represents the 11th ranked opponent Kelly has faced in Notre Dame Stadium in his eight-season run, with all 11 being ranked between Nos. 11 and 18. He has a 6-4 mark in those games, having lost the last two ... Kelly on Thursday was one of 20 coaches named to the Dodd Trophy Watch list for national Coach of the Year ... The ND-USC game is the highest-priced ticket on the secondary market, specifically the Vivid Seats website. The average ticket is going for $298 ...Did you know that no other team has beaten Notre Dame more often than the Trojans — and no one has defeated USC more than the Irish ... Notre Dame is one of seven FBS teams and one of three major programs (Power 5+ND) to rank among the top 30 nationally in both red zone offense (19th) and red zone defense (27th). The Irish are joined on the list by Alabama, TCU, Army, Colorado State, Florida Atlantic and UTSA. ... QB Ian Book won his starting debut at North Carolina, giving the Irish victories in their last six games with a first time starting QB. Book was the first Notre Dame QB to win a starting debut in a true road game since 1995 .... Tonight is another one of those “big games” for Kelly. He has not been very successful in such games in the past — you only have to go back to the Sept. 9 game against Georgia, to see that ... In my preseason picks I had USC winning tonight. ND is 5-1 heading into this game. Because of my complete lack of confidence that Kelly can win the “big ones” I will go with the Trojans tonight.