Coming off of an emotional 38-31 victory over Arizona in interim head coach Ed Orgeron’s USC coaching debut, the USC football team looks to take advantage of its extra two days of rest as it prepares to play Notre Dame this weekend.
The Fighting Irish, who finished the 2012 season ranked No. 2 in the nation, defeated the Trojans 22-13 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum last season to clinch a berth in the 2013 BCS National Championship Game.
Though the final score might not reflect it, USC played what, for the most part, was a very complete football game on Thursday. Despite a fourth-quarter rally in which Arizona took advantage of errors made by the USC defense, the team looked very good for most of the game, Orgeron was focused on the positive aspects of Thursday night.
“A lot of good things,” Orgeron said when asked what he took away from his first game as head coach at USC. “There are some things to fix on defense that I know we’re going to get fixed, but very positive, great feeling.”
Orgeron was chosen as the replacement for former head coach Lane Kiffin in large part because of the energy and enthusiasm he was expected to bring to the team, and he succeeded in that regard on Thursday.
“The energy Coach O brings and the passion he brings to everything he does, we responded well. The whole team loves it,” said redshirt senior outside linebacker Devon Kennard after the win.
The much-maligned USC offensive line has taken a fair amount of criticism this season for its inability to protect the Trojans’ many offensive weapons. But the unit had perhaps its best game of the season Thursday, and it got plenty of praise from Orgeron.
Not only did the offensive line open up holes for five different running backs that collectively, along with redshirt sophomore quarterback Cody Kessler, amassed 249 rushing yards. More importantly, the line did not surrender a single sack for the first time all season.
On the final drive of the game, in need of enough first downs before the team could comfortably run out the clock, the Trojans’ offensive line pushed through the Wildcat defense and allowed the USC rushing attack to clinch the victory.
“I liked the way we ran the ball,” Orgeron said. “I thought the offensive line played well and won the game at the end.”
Just another game
Regarded as one of the greatest rivalries in all of college sports, Orgeron acknowledged that Saturday’s game against the Fighting Irish is certainly very important.
Orgeron said that he learned of the importance of the game during his first assistant coaching stint with USC between 1998 and 2004, when USC legend Marv Goux, who played linebacker at USC in the early 1950s and spent decades as an assistant coach, explained how much the rivalry meant to the school and alumni.
Despite the added importance placed on the game, though, Orgeron emphasized that the team’s approach would not change in the days leading up to Saturday.
“One of the things we talked about when we took over is that we’re going to treat every game as a separate game, one game at a time,” he said. “It just so happens that we play Notre Dame this week, but we need to control what we can control, play great fundamental football, and I’m sure we’re going to be ready to play Saturday night.”
As a former defensive line coach, Orgeron knows a lot about big, physical defensive lines. And that’s just what he called Notre Dame’s.
“They’re very good on goal line defense,” Orgeron said. “We learned that last year.”
Orgeron was referencing the now-infamous goal line stand made by Notre Dame late in the fourth quarter of last season’s matchup, in which USC failed to score despite running four consecutive plays from the 1-yard line.
Orgeron knows even more pressure will be put on USC’s offensive line against Notre Dame this year, but he expressed confidence in his group’s ability to get the job done this time around.
“Just take care of what we can do,” he said. “Get better, one heartbeat, one team.”
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