By Greg Katz – WeAreSC.com columnist
The Obvious: In the 86th renewal of college football’s greatest intersectional rivalry, the USC Trojans (7-4, 6-3 Pac-12) and Notre Dame Fighting Irish (7-4), two storied programs desperately in search of a win, will have at it on Saturday afternoon (12:30 p.m. PST) in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
The Not So Obvious: The Trojans are just 2-2 in their past four games and the Irish even worse, having dropped the last three of four games. This season’s matchups find to two bitter rivals urgently looking for the winning formula. ND opened their season 7-0 before losing that heartbreaker at Florida State and the Trojans saw their Pac-12 champion hopes eviscerated by UCLA last weekend in the Rose Bowl. The Trojans and the Irish should be in very prickly moods when they face off in Los Angeles. This one will get down to which team wants it more, and, of course, coaching.
The Obvious: The Trojans opened as 7-point favorites over the Irish.
The Not So Obvious: The Trojans have lost just three times in the last 12 meetings with the Irish, but those losses all came in the past four seasons, including the last two seasons and the last two times the game was played in the Coliseum. The Irish lead the series with the Trojans 45-34-5. This will mark the first time since 2000 that the teams play a day game at the Coliseum and just the second time since 1990, and both teams are uncharacteristically unranked, denoting just the 12th time in 86 meetings.
The Obvious: The Los Angeles weather report for Saturday calls for mostly sunny with a high of 70 and a low of 54 degrees.
The Not So Obvious: The real weather report will be whether the Trojans can bounce back after their humiliating defeat to crosstown rival UCLA. Notre Dame will be physical and we’ll find out whether the Trojans can be more physical than they were against the Bruins. Notre Dame is on a real downer of its own, partly due to injuries, and will, no doubt, play with a sense of urgency. The question remains whether the Trojans under Steve Sarkisian will feel that same sense of urgency. The Irish are an injured team with many of their defensive studs now on the sidelines. We’ll see whether the Trojans can take advantage of the Irish’s misfortune.
The Irish will bring their version of Brett Hundley in the form of senior Everett Golson, who has had a roller coaster 2014 season of highs and lows (20 turnovers in his last eight games). Given Golson’s penchant for fumbles and interceptions, we’ll find out whether the Trojans defense, which was raked last week by the UCLA offense, can keep the heat on Golson. This is the type of game that will need the Trojans All-America defensive tackle Leonard Williams to have a major impact. Golson needs to be strongly pressured. It remains to be seen whether fellow linemen like Antwaun Woods and Claude Pelon/Delvon Simmons can give Williams some help in controlling Golson. Containment of Golson on the edge will be paramount. We’ll find out whether Trojans linebackers Su’a Cravens, Scott Felix, and rush end J.R. Tavai can do the job.
Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler will look to rebound last week after his difficult outing with the Bruins. Notre Dame figures to try and emulate the UCLA defensive game plan of pressuring Kessler and playing physical with the Trojans wide receivers. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly is considered, like UCLA’s Jim Mora, to be a defensive guru, although it hasn’t looked like later in the season due to the injury factor. We’ll see whether the Irish can defend the Trojans vaunted receiving group. The Irish secondary is considered a major weak spot. If Trojans wide receiver Nelson Agholor has the type of lackluster receiving day that he had against UCLA (24 yards receiving) and the Trojans again elect not to throw their tight ends, we’ll find out whether the Trojans offense can mount drives against one of the weaker ND defenses in recent memory.
In terms of special teams, it could come down to whether Trojans senior placekicker Andrei Heidari is on his game or whether senior Notre Dame kicker Kyle Brindza continues to miss field goals in critical moments.
Then there is the battle of the coaches in Sarkisian and Kelly. Sarkisian is more laid back and Kelly seems like 1st-and-goal on and off the field. The attitudes and demeanor of each coach could decide whether their team rallies after having difficult seasons. Teams reflect their coach and his attitude.
The Obvious: Saturday’s game from the Coliseum will be telecast live on FOX (12:30 p.m. PST), the first time a USC/ND game has been shown on this network.
The Not So Obvious: The FOX announcing team will feature Gus Johnson (play-by-play), Charles Davis (analysis), and Molly McGrath (sideline reports).
The Obvious: Saturday’s Trojans game from the Coliseum will be broadcast on the Trojans flagship station, ESPNLA 710 Radio, with Pete Arbogast (play by play), John Jackson (analyst) and Jordan Moore (sideline) describing all the in-game action.
The Trojans pre-game show will commence at 8:30 a.m. (PST) with Arbogast, Steve Mason, Harvey Hyde, Jackson, and Moore with contributions from WeAreSC.com publisher Garry Paskwietz. A three-hour post-game show will follow the completion of the game with Kelli Tennant and former All-America defensive tackle Shaun Cody.
The Not So Obvious: The game will also air on the Notre Dame network, flagship station WSBT 960AM, with Don Criqui doing play-by-play, analyst Allen Pinkett, and sideline reporter Jeff Jeffers.
The Obvious: It was made public this week that former Trojans Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Matt Leinart will lead the Trojans out of the tunnel prior to the Notre Dame kickoff.
The Not So Obvious: The Trojans are hoping that the Leinart factor is the same as last season when Lefty led the Men of Troy out of the Coliseum tunnel and then proceeded to upset nationally ranked Stanford.
The Obvious: The Trojans offense is averaging 33.8 points per game while the Irish defense is allowing 27.5 points per game.
The Not So Obvious: The Irish offense is averaging 34.7 points per game while the Trojans defense is allowing 24.6 points per game.
The Obvious: Neither the Trojans nor the Irish are nationally ranked.
The Not So Obvious: This is only the 12th time that neither team has been ranked. The Trojans are 11-13-1 against unranked Irish teams.
The Obvious: The Trojans quarterback is Cody Kessler, who hopes the Irish defense won’t find him the way the UCLA front seven did, sacking him a painful six times and harassing him repeatedly last weekend at the Rose Bowl.
The Not So Obvious: The Notre Dame quarterback is senior Everett Golson, who is ranked high nationally in total offense, passing TDs, passing yardage and passing efficiency. Golson, however, has been a turnover machine in terms of fumbles and interceptions this season after sitting out last season due to academic improprieties.
The Obvious: The Trojans first-year head coach is Steve Sarkisian and the Trojans coach should be aware than only two USC head football coaches have won in the first outing against the Irish. Sarkisian could best be described as a player’s coach.
The Not So Obvious: The Notre Dame head coach is Brian Kelly, now in his fifth season with the Irish and has a 3-1 record against the Trojans. Kelly is a disciplinarian, no nonsense type of coach.
The Obvious: The Trojans have no players on their roster from the state of Indiana.
The Not So Obvious: Notre Dame has 12 Californians on its roster.
The Obvious: Notre Dame senior wide receiver Amir Carlisle was once a tailback at USC.
The Not So Obvious: In 2014, Carlisle has 19 receptions, three for touchdowns.
The Obvious: As per tradition, there is a salute to the seniors that are playing their last regular season home game in the Coliseum.
The Not So Obvious: The Heritage Tunnel will present those seniors running on the field prior to the team taking the field for the opening kickoff. The tunnel will be comprised of former Trojans football alumni. Seniors to be recognized include E-TE
Teddy Baker, S Gerald Bowman, C Giovanni Di Poalo, OT Nathan Guertler, PK Andre Heidari, QB Anthony Neyer, ILB Hayes Pullard, CB-S Josh Shaw, OLB J.R. Tavai, TE Randall Telfer, OT-OG Aundrey Walker, and TE Chris Willson.
The Obvious: The Trojans are playing the Irish a week after they have played at UCLA.
The Not So Obvious: The Trojans are 16-20-4 against the Irish immediately following the UCLA game, including 7-11-1 when the Trojans are coming off a loss to the Bruins.
The Obvious: Manti Te’o is one of the all-time Notre Dame linebackers.
The Not So Obvious: Trojans outside linebacker Su’a Cravens is a distant cousin of Te’o.
The Obvious: Throughout Saturday’s game, the Trojans will do their standard recognitions of former standouts and contributors to the athletic department.
The Not So Obvious: The Trojans will recognize members of the Trojans 1964 and 1974 football teams with an on-field salute to their historic Coliseum comeback victories over the Irish. The 1964 team is best remembered for its Craig Fertig to Rod Sherman game-winning touchdown pass/reception with 1:33 left to defeat the Irish 20-17, and the 1974 Trojans will be honored for the “Comeback” when the Men of Troy, down 24-0 late in the first half, went on to blitz the Irish with 55 points in under 17 minutes for a legendary 55-24 victory.
The Obvious: And finally, historically beating either the Trojans or the Irish has been a challenge for opponents.
The Not So Obvious: The Trojans and the Irish have beaten each other more than any other opponent (45 wins by the Irish and 34 wins by the Trojans).