USC Football Hosts Notre Dame In Classic Intersectional Rivalry|
Nov. 23, 2014
USC welcomes Notre Dame to the Coliseum on Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend for the 86th rendition of the greatest intersectional rivalry in college football. Both teams, with identical 7-4 records, are looking to bounce back from tough losses last week and get it position for the post-season. It is USC's 1,200th football game. The Trojans have lost just 3 times in their last 12 meetings with the Irish, but those losses all came in the past 4 seasons, including the last 2 seasons and the last 2 times the game was in Los Angeles. This is only the 12th time that neither team has been ranked going into the game (Notre Dame holds the upper hand in those meetings). For the first time ever, FOX will broadcast the USC-Notre Dame game. USC head coach Steve Sarkisian should be wary: only 2 Trojan coaches have won their debut games against the Irish. The contest is a battle between schools with perhaps the country's most glorious gridiron heritages. The winner gets year-long possession of the jeweled Shillelagh. Both teams have faced Stanford (close wins) and Arizona State (stunning losses) this year. It is the 50th and 40th anniversaries of USC's famous comeback victories over Notre Dame in 1964 and 1974 (USC A.D. Pat Haden, who spent 12 years handling color on Irish telecasts, was a Trojan hero in the 1974 game,). It is the final Coliseum game for USC's seniors, who will run onto the field through a tunnel of former Trojan football players. QB Cody Kessler, a Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award finalist who is among the nation's leaders in passing efficiency, completion percentage, TD passes, completions and passing yards, continues having the most efficient and accurate season of any Trojan quarterback ever (he has hit nearly 70% of his aerials with 30 TDs and just 4 picks). Doak Walker Award semifinalist TB Javorius Allen, a 1,000-yard runner in 2014 with 8 century yardage outings this season, tops the Pac-12 in all-purpose yards. Dual threat WR Nelson Agholor, a Biletnikoff Award semifinalist with a school-record 4 career scoring punt returns, is in the national Top 20 in receptions, receiving yards and punt returns. Dominant All-American DE Leonard Williams made the semifinalist listings for the Lombardi and Bednarik trophies, ILB Hayes Pullard is Troy's tackle leader for a third season (he has 366 career stops) and 2013 Freshman All-American S-turned-OLB Su'a Cravens makes plays all over the field (no defensive back in the nation has more tackles for a loss). USC has had to rely on numerous true freshmen because of depth issues (11 have played significantly, including 8 who have posted 45 starts) and several are candidates for Freshman All-American honors: CB-WR-RET Adoree' Jackson (he has played 3 ways in 6 games this year and is among the nation's leading kickoff returners), WR JuJu Smith (he has 46 receptions in 2014), OG-now-OT Toa Lobendahn and OG Viane Talamaivao. No more than 57 recruited scholarship Trojans have suited up for any game in 2014 because of NCAA-mandated scholarship limitations. USC has outscored foes by 100 points in the first quarter and has yet to allow an opponent to score on its opening possession this season. Troy's offense is highly ranked in various passing categories as well as on third down conversions, while its defense is in the national Top 25 in red zone defense, turnover margin and third down conversion defense. Fifth-year Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly's team, which began 2014 with a 6-0 record, has lost 4 of its last 5 games (including the past 3) following last Saturday's loss to Louisville at home. Kelly is looking to become the first coach to begin his ND career with 5 consecutive 8-win seasons. The Irish offense is directed by dual-threat QB Everett Golson, who is ranked high nationally in total offense, passing TDs, passing yardage and passing efficiency. His top target, WR Will Fuller, is second in the nation in receiving TDs (14). RB Tarean Folston is ND's leading rusher. Defensively, the Irish are led by touted LB Jaylon Smith. P-PK Kyle Brindza owns the ND game, season and career records for field goals.