The stage is set this weekend for Notre Dame to make a statement over one of their rivals, a rival that embarrassed them a year ago with the Irish limped into their home over Thanksgiving weekend. A year later it’s Southern Cal that comes into Notre Dame Stadium like a wounded animal ripe for a beating. Will the Irish take advantage and make a statement or will Notre Dame fail to capitalize just as they did four years ago against USC?
When USC came to town in 2011, Notre Dame had a perfect scenario set. The Notre Dame coaching staff had a long list of blue chip recruits lined up for official visits. They debuted their new helmets that were shinier than any helmet we’ve ever seen. And they introduced music to the game day environment inside Notre Dame Stadium for the first time.
The result? Notre Dame came out flat against a USC team that had lost by 21 points to Arizona State on the road just three weeks before. The Trojans jumped out to a 17-0 lead before George Atkinson returned a kickoff for a touchdown to get the Irish on the scoreboard. Then with Notre Dame on the verge of tying the game in the 3rd quarter, Dayne Crist fumbled away a snap that USC returned for a touchdown and USC never looked back.
Four years later USC limps into South Bend after a whirlwind 10 days that included an embarrassing loss to unranked Washington – a 17 point underdog – followed by their head coach taking a leave of absence after reportedly showing up for team meetings drunk who then ended up getting fired a day later. The Trojans now sport a record with two losses and their current head coach as an interim prefix attached to it.
Notre Dame also has a star studded guest list of elite recruits lined up to see the Irish and Trojans square off in their yearly showdown. Notre Dame will has up to 15 official visitors and almost 40 overall in town this weekend according to ESPN.
Add it all up and the stars are once again aligned for Notre Dame to make a statement. Will the Irish be able to do so though?
Whenever a team is in a situation like USC there are two ways they can go – they can galvinize in the face of adversity and play like world beaters or they can wilt under the pressure and fall apart amid all of the drama. Which way the Trojans fall could very well be up to Notre Dame.
If the Irish come out Saturday night and proceed to go three and out on their first drive like they did against Navy or if they let the Trojans march down the field and put seven points on the scoreboard on their first drive like they also did against the Middies, it will only serve to infuse USC with momentum. Combine that with their immense talent and it could be USC who makes a statement that they aren’t going to just roll over and die.
Two weeks ago Notre Dame had a chance to make a statement against Clemson and failed to do so. In that contest Brian Kelly deferred to the second half and put his defense on the field to start the game. Notre Dame responded by letting Clemson march down the field and reach the endzone.
If Notre Dame wins the toss this weekend, they have to take the ball. Once they have it, they need to feed it to #20 on first down. If he doesn’t get a first down, they should feed it to him again. And if the Irish find themselves facing a third down, they should give Prosise the rock again.
Notre Dame needs to make a statement early if they want to end up on the right side of this year’s showdown. Coming out and running the ball right at USC and hitting them in mouth and pushing them back is one way they can push USC towards the laying over role as opposed to that of world beaters. With the forecast for kickoff predicted to be around 40 degrees, if the Irish can line up and simply run the football and control the line of scrimmage, they will have a chance to make a statement against their rivals from sunny California.
If Notre Dame comes out flat in a big game again though, all bets are off. If Notre Dame doesn’t put points on the board early, USC has more than enough talent to make it a long night for the Irish. If the Irish come out fired up and start fast – something we haven’t seen a lot of out of them – they could very well enact some revenge on their rivals from the West.
The stage is set again for Notre Dame, but we’ve seen this happen before and it hasn’t played out as well as any of us would have liked in recent years. A win this weekend keeps Notre Dame alive in the playoffs without a ranked opponent in sight until the season finale against Stanford and could propel the Irish recruiting class towards a top 10 finish. A loss and the Irish are out of the playoffs and left searching for answers once again after it looked like they were ready to turn the corner.
Which way will the Irish go? It won’t be long until we know, but this fan for one hopes that for all of the cliche talk of treating this like another game publicly, Brian Kelly and his staff are singing a different tune behind closed doors. Kelly and his staff have to be all in on this game and with a bye week next weekend they shouldn’t have to worry as much about a letdown after expending too much emotional energy on one game.
This isn’t just any game and years from now when we are evaluating the Brian Kelly Era, this weekend could very well be a tipping point. A win could propel the Irish towards the playoffs. A loss and everyone will be wondering if the Irish are headed for another second half tailspin just like they suffered a year ago.
Which route will the Irish take? We’ll find out soon enough.