After a tumultuous week that included a brutal home loss and the exit of their head coach, the USC Trojans (3-2, 1-2) travel to South Bend to face No. 14 Notre Dame (5-1) on Saturday. In the 87th meeting of this storied rivalry, the Trojans seek a momentum builder, while the Fighting Irish aim to keep their national playoff hopes alive.
Perhaps the biggest storyline will be interim head coach Clay Helton taking over for Steve Sarkisian. This will be the fourth different USC coach to face Notre Dame in four years, and the second time in three years that the Trojans take on the Irish with an interim. Notre Dame is not expected to go easy on USC after the Trojans thumped a shorthanded Irish squad at the Coliseum last season, 49-10.
The Trojans look to get back in the win column as they take a break from PAC-12 conference play. Quarterback Cody Kessler and wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster have been bright spots in a fairly dark season. Overall, Kessler is completing a shade under than 70 percent of his throws, and has tossed 15 touchdowns to just three interceptions. Despite at poor effort against Washington, Kessler boasts the fourth-highest rating of any QB in college football. Smith-Schuster has been Kessler's top target, with 33 receptions and the leader in the Pac-12 with 619 receiving yards to go along with six touchdowns.
As for the running game, Tre Madden and Ronald Jones have each rushed for over 300 yards this season. While Madden leads the team with 54 carries, its Jones' 8.1 yards per carry that draws attention. Notre Dame has allowed a hefty average of 180.2 yards on the ground this season but injuries could level the playing field now that USC center Max Tuerk will miss the rest of his senior season with torn knee ligaments. The loss of such an integral part of the line could compromise the Trojans in the run game and possibly in pass protection.
Notre Dame’s sophomore quarterback DeShone Kizer has done a serviceable job since taking over for injured starter Malik Zaire in the second game of the season. Kizer has completed 65.9 percent of his passes and has eight touchdowns to go with four interceptions, but is also a threat to scramble with 41 carries for 128 yards and three touchdowns. His top target, Will Fuller, has worn out opposing defenses all season and is capable of also stretch USC's talented secondary. Fuller has 29 receptions for 571 yards and is tied for sixth in the country with seven receiving touchdowns.
But Brian Kelly's main weapon is still running back C.J. Prosise. The senior has been one of the most prolific rushers in college football this season, ranking eighth in the nation with 779 yards to go with nine touchdowns. This week Notre Dame faces a USC defense allowing 158.2 rushing yards a game, while Prosise averages about the same. He’s even got a 100-yard receiving game on his resume this year against Clemson.
Notre Dame is expected to play with extra motivation at home and after last year's lopsided loss. “They pushed us around a lot last year,” said Fuller. “We know they don’t have any respect for us. We have to earn our respect back.”
Start Time: 3:30 p.m.
TV Channel: NBC
Betting Odds: Notre Dame -6.5 (Sportsbook.ag)
Live Stream Info: NBC Sports