USC continued its preparation for Notre Dame on Tuesday, and the focus was again on getting the USC offensive line ready to take on one of the nation’s top defensive units. Led by defensive linemen Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt, the Fighting Irish are among the top 25 teams in the country in stopping the run.
“They have a very good team,” interim head coach Ed Orgeron said. “They’re well-coached, big and they’re physical.”
Last season, the Trojans failed to score on four consecutive tries from the 1-yard line late in the fourth quarter, in large part because they failed to effectively block Nix and Tuitt.
Notre Dame is attempting to defeat the Trojans in South Bend, Ind. for the first time since 2001.
Orgeron was not willing to dwell too much on his opponent, preferring to keep the focus on his own team.
“We got to do what we can do, and the rest is out of our control,” Orgeron said. “It all depends on how we play. I know we’re playing at their place, but we’ll be ready to play.”
Though he was tight-lipped about Notre Dame’s expected strategy for Saturday’s game, Orgeron was a bit more loquacious when discussing the environment his team will be playing in. South Bend is a notoriously tough place for visiting opponents, and the energy of the home crowd will be amplified with the rival Trojans in town.
“It’s a great place to play,” Orgeron said. “You grew up watching USC-Notre Dame, and you always wanted to be a part of it. It’s a lot, but we got to focus in on us. It’s not about them. It’s about the Trojans.”
USC should be focused and motivated to play in its biggest game of the season up until this point without any added inspiration, but the players were given an extra boost on Tuesday with the presence of an unlikely visitor.
Former Baltimore Ravens star linebacker Ray Lewis asked to speak to the Trojans before Tuesday’s practice, and senior running back Silas Redd, a noted fan of Lewis’, left that talk having taken Lewis’ message to heart.
“I don’t think I blinked once while he was talking,” Redd said. “He answered my question about having mental toughness and getting out of bed and doing things that you don’t necessarily want to do. He said [for him], it’s just a choice. He didn’t have much, so he made that choice to get up every morning and do the work.”
One thing Redd was not expecting to do in last week’s 38-31 win over Arizona was lead the team in carries (19) in his first appearance of the season after recovering from a knee injury suffered in the offseason.
“My name was called in that situation, and I was able to deliver,” Redd said. “It was reassuring, a little confidence booster that I can play the game, too. It’s a stable of running backs, and we all can get the job done.”
Finding his stride
One player who is more than happy to have a surplus of weapons in the same backfield is redshirt sophomore quarterback Cody Kessler, who had one of the best games of his young collegiate career in last week’s win over the Wildcats.
Earlier in the year, amid cries for him to be benched in favor of redshirt sophomore quarterback Max Wittek, Kessler believed that he had not put his best foot forward on the field, but that certainly seems to have changed.
“Ever since that [Boston College] game, I’ve felt 100 percent in control and confident,” Kessler said. “I feel like this is my team.”
Though he was able to get the job done without standout junior wide receiver Marqise Lee last week, Lee’s absence will be felt much more against a tough Notre Dame team on Saturday.
Luckily for Kessler and Trojan fans alike, Lee was at practice today, and Orgeron said he looked “pretty good.” No official word has been given on his status yet, but having Lee participate in practices is definitely an encouraging sign.