Trojans seek victory against Notre Dame

USC continue a historical season besides experiences a sole loss against Utah earlier season, as they have won ten games for the first time since 2017. (Polina Past | Daily Trojan).

With the Trojans taking down their crosstown rivals after last Saturday, they’re gearing up to try and take down Notre Dame, their rival of almost 100 years.

After beating UCLA 48-45 in a thrilling matchup that earned USC a spot in the Pac-12 Championship game, the Trojans have moved up to No. 5 in the AP Poll and are very much in contention for the College Football Playoff. 

Sophomore quarterback Caleb Williams picked the perfect time to have his best game as a Trojan, having 503 all- purpose yards, the most by any Trojan quarterback in USC history. He threw for two touchdown passes and rushed for one, making his case even stronger to his already impressive Heisman Trophy resumé. He now has a chance to add on to that with this crucial regular season finale. 

“He’s been one of the best players in the country this year. He’s really played well,” Head Coach Lincoln Riley said about Williams after Saturday’s win. 

However, he wanted to emphasize that the most important thing is the team going 1-0 each and every week before anything else. 

“It’s got to stay about the ball, and that’s the most important thing,” said Riley. “I know that’s the most important thing to him and all of us. Maybe those things come to fruition, that’s great, but those are byproducts.”

Notre Dame had a terrible start to their season, with rookie Head Coach Marcus Freeman starting off 3-3 and losing to Marshall and Stanford at home. The Fighting Irish have had very inconsistent quarterback play but have been a force in the run game. In their 44-0 route of Boston College, redshirt sophomore quarterback Drew Pyne completed 13 of 25 passes for 156 yards and a touchdown. Their ground game, however, had a combined 281 yards and 4 touchdowns.

The Trojan defense has struggled against the run this season, but held a Bruin rushing attack to just over 200 yards — not bad, considering that UCLA has been one of the best rushing teams in the country over the course of this season.

“We talk all the time that a play has to be made at the end of the game to win,” said defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. “If you’re not careful, the advantage goes to the offense because they know they have to make a play. On the defensive standpoint, we have to make sure we match that mentality wise.”

Notre Dame’s defense has had a strong season, ranked as a top 20 defense in the country and giving up only 317.5 yards per game this season. This will be the best defense that Riley’s offense will face, but the high-scoring unit led by Williams could prove to be a challenge for the Fighting Irish.

True freshman cornerback Benjamin Morrison has had 5 interceptions over the last three games. Redshirt junior defensive lineman Isaiah Foskey has had 9.5 sacks this season, and looks to be a first round pick in this year’s NFL draft. 

The last time the Trojans beat Notre Dame was in 2016, a 45-27 home victory. Not only would a win make USC’s case to make the College Football Playoff a lot stronger, but it would be a huge moral victory for the team, signifying a new era in this blue blood rivalry between two historic college football programs.

For all the change the program has gone through over the past year, along with their play on the field, the tight bond in the locker room is why the team is now 10-1, and in the Pac-12 championship.

“Thinking back to when we all got here, the main thing we wanted to do was come together and have an unbreakable brotherhood,” said senior linebacker Shane Lee. “I think that’s the biggest reason why we’re here and that’s what’s going to keep getting us in these big games and keep leading us to success, is just how much we can rely on each other and just love each other, honestly.”

A win against Notre Dame, combined with a Pac-12 championship, would almost guarantee a spot in the College Football Playoff for the first time in program history.