No. 13 Notre Dame and Southern California saw their longstanding rivalry take a one-season break due to the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.
The schools had met in every season since World War II before the hiatus, and they get back on the same field Saturday when the Trojans visit the Fighting Irish in South Bend, Ind.
USC (3-3) has lost four straight road games in the series, its longest skid since dropping seven straight in South Bend from 1983-95.
The Trojans could use a big victory during a season that has been overshadowed by the firing of Clay Helton after a loss to Stanford in Week 2.
Donte Williams is serving as interim coach while athletic director Mike Bohn works on making a hire to lead the program.
Even so, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly sees the Trojans’ talent and he’s not feeling at ease.
“USC is going through a coaching change. We understand that, but this team plays extremely well against Notre Dame,” Kelly said. “It’s a rivalry game, and they’ve played very well on the road. I’m sure that’s because they can get away from the distractions that they’re dealing with on a day-to-day basis.
“So, we expect to get the best version of USC, which will be a very good football team.”
Trojans running back Vavae Malepeai made it clear his team plans to go into South Bend and come out with a victory.
“There’s a lot of history behind this game,” Malepeai said. “We’re putting it on our shoulders to make sure we get that job done.”
Both teams are coming off a bye. Notre Dame (5-1) beat Virginia Tech 32-29 in its most recent game while the Trojans lost 42-26 to Utah.
The Fighting Irish’s lone blemish this season was a 24-13 loss to then-No. 7 Cincinnati on Oct. 2.
Kelly said that Jack Coan would be the starting quarterback against USC but that Tyler Buchner also would see action.
Coan began the season with 366 yards and four touchdowns against Florida State but has seen his yardage drop in all of the ensuing games. He threw for 108 yards against Virginia Tech while splitting time with Buchner (113 yards).
“Jack Coan continues to be the guy that we feel like gives us the best chance to win, and a mixture of him with Tyler Buchner,” Kelly said. “I think right now, as we look at it, it’s probably in my mind that Jack will start, and we’ll continue to get Tyler more playing time.”
On defense, Notre Dame weak-side linebacker JD Bertrand (58 tackles), elite pass rusher Isaiah Foskey (5 1/2 sacks) and free safety Kyle Hamilton (three interceptions) are playing well.
The trio will be looking to slow down the dynamic USC duo of quarterback Kedon Slovis and wideout Drake London.
Slovis has passed for 1,519 yards, nine touchdowns and five interceptions. London has arguably been the best wideout in the country with 64 catches for 832 yards and five scores. The reception total ranks second nationally and the yardage ranks fourth.
There is also the possibility that freshman quarterback Jaxson Dart will be available. He replaced an injured Slovis against Washington State on Sept. 18 and passed for 391 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions before tearing the meniscus in his right knee.
If Dart is cleared, offensive coordinator Graham Harrell said he might use both quarterbacks.
“Kedon has been really sharp. The ball is jumping out of his hand. He’s doing a lot of good things,” Harrell said. “We’ll put whoever out there that gives us the best chance to move the ball at that point and use our guys as best we can.”
USC has allowed an average of 43 points in its three setbacks and 11.7 in its three victories.
–Field Level Media