SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) The rivalry game with No. 14 Notre Dame couldn’t come soon enough for Southern California.
The unranked Trojans (3-2) started the season No. 8 and everything has pretty much gone downhill since then. They lost a pair of Pac-12 home games and then coach Steve Sarkisian was fired Monday after missing practice the previous day, a messy situation that left the proud program looking like it was in shambles.
Interim coach Clay Helton said the coaching change gives the Trojans a chance for a fresh start – and Saturday’s showdown with the Fighting Irish helps.
Article continues below ...
”That’s going to provide a little bit of the juice, and I think these guys want to go out and prove something. They want to make the Trojan family proud,” Helton said.
USC quarterback Cody Kessler, who passed for six touchdowns in a 49-14 victory over the Irish last season, said the Trojans know how to survive turmoil after going through three coaches two seasons ago.
”This team has been through a lot of adversity, and that’s what we do best: Move on,” he said.
The Irish (5-1) are still aiming for a playoff berth, but the focus this week has been on showing they’ve put last season’s embarrassing loss to USC behind them.
”They pushed us around a lot last year,” receiver Will Fuller said. ”We know they don’t have any respect for us. So we have to earn our respect back.”
The Irish defense was depleted by injuries and wasn’t mentally ready for last season’s game, coach Brian Kelly said.
”What stands out more than anything else was the mental toughness that we didn’t exhibit that we needed to exhibit in that game,” Kelly said. ”This group, this football team has exhibited that every single day.”
Irish players say they haven’t talked much about that loss, but it’s in the back of their minds.
”You can’t really overlook a loss like that to a team that’s considered one of your biggest rivals,” said Irish cornerback KeiVarae Russell, who was suspended for the season last year. ”You definitely feel it.”
Other things to know about the USC-Notre Dame game:
NAVY HANGOVER: Notre Dame has struggled in the week after playing Navy the past eight seasons, going 2-6 and struggling in both wins. That streak includes losses to Air Force in 2007, Syracuse in 2008 and Tulsa in 2010 and narrow victories against Wake Forest in 2011 and Purdue in 2012. Coach Brian Kelly isn’t expecting a hangover this week, saying having next week off will help.
”Our guys have a totally different mindset with the bye week,” he said.
DEPLETED RECEIVERS: USC will be short-handed at wide receiver. Isaac Whitney is out with a broken collarbone, Steven Mitchell Jr. is doubtful with an ankle injury and Darreus Rogers, slowed by a hamstring injury, will be a game-time decision. Helton said possible replacements include Jalen Greene, a converted quarterback, and Deontay Burnett. Green has five catches for 52 yards. Burnett has played in three games and has one catch for 10 yards.
ROOKIE MISTAKES: USC head coaches are 0-6 in their first games against Notre Dame when played in South Bend. The most recent loss came two years ago in a 14-10 defeat under interim coach Ed Orgeron.
BLOWOUT WINS: Southern California’s 49-14 victory last season matched its second most lopsided win in the rivalry. The Trojans beat Notre Dame 38-0 in 2007. Each team has beaten the other seven times by 30 points or more. The Irish have never won the following season, and three times have lost by 30 or more the next season. The Trojans are 4-2-1. The biggest point swing went from a 51-0 Irish win in 1966 to a 24-7 victory by USC in 1967 in which junior college transfer O.J. Simpson scored three touchdowns.
WEATHER: The National Weather Service predicts a high of 48 Saturday. The Trojans are 1-6-1 against Notre Dame in cold weather. The victory came in 1939. The most recent loss came two years ago, a 14-10 defeat. The games in South Bend were moved from the end of the season to October after the Irish, who were 4-5, beat seventh-ranked USC, who entered the game 8-1, 16-6 in 1959. The game-time temperature was 29 degrees, the second coldest game in USC history. The coldest was two years earlier, when it was 20 degrees and snowing at South Bend.
AP Sports Writer Greg Beacham in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
AP College Football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org