USC Trojans: George Atkinson III

Trojans face road test at Notre Dame

October, 15, 2013
LOS ANGELES -- A little over a week after defeating Arizona 38-31 in the team’s first game under interim coach Ed Orgeron, USC (4-2 overall, 1-2 Pac-12) will take on rival Notre Dame (4-2 overall) on Saturday in South Bend, Ind. The Trojans have shown rejuvenated life under their new leader, but they face a stiff challenge in a tough Fighting Irish team that began the season ranked No. 14 before stumbling in games against Michigan and Oklahoma. Coach Brian Kelly’s squad is coming off a bye that followed a 37-34 victory over Arizona State -- the same team that handed the Trojans a 62-41 loss on Sept. 28.

[+] EnlargeTommy Rees
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees is completing 51.7 percent of his passes and has thrown 13 touchdowns and six interceptions this season.
Scoring: 27.3 points per game (No. 80 overall)
Rushing: 137 yards per game (No. 95 overall)
Passing: 250.5 yards per game (No. 53 overall)
Total: 387.5 yards per game (No. 80 overall)

Quarterback: No. 11 Tommy Rees (6-foot-2, 215 pounds, Sr.)
Rees, who has started 24 games in his career, ranks in the top six in Notre Dame history in six different categories, including No. 3 in completion percentage (60.7) and No. 6 in passing yardage (5,907). Still, he has been up and down this season, and he has completed just 41.7 percent of his passes over his last three games, while throwing four interceptions in his last two outings.

Running Back: No. 4 George Atkinson III (6-2, 220, Jr.), No. 33 Cam McDaniel (5-10, 207, Jr.), No. 3 Amir Carlisle (5-10, 190, Jr.)
The Notre Dame ground attack has started to roll after struggling through much of the early portion of the schedule. Atkinson, who broke out against Oklahoma on Sept. 28 with a 148-yard rushing performance, is a powerful back with big-play ability. McDaniel is another sturdy ball carrier who will receive plenty of touches.

Wide Receiver: No. 7 TJ Jones (6-0, 195, Sr.), No. 10 DaVaris Daniels (6-2, 203, Jr.), No. 2 Chris Brown (6-2, 191, So.)
Jones has hauled in a team-best 33 receptions for 481 yards and four touchdowns, and he’s coming off a dominating eight-catch, 135-yard, one-touchdown outing against the Sun Devils. Both he, as well as Daniels, present a serious test for a USC secondary that has been picked apart in recent weeks.

Tight End: No. 85 Troy Niklas (6-7, 270, Jr.), No 18 Ben Koyack (6-5, 261, Jr.)
Niklas is a huge target who has developed into a sturdy receiving option, catching 14 passes for 250 yards and four touchdowns on the year.

Offensive Line: LT No. 70 Zack Martin (6-4, 308, Sr.), LG No. 66 Chris Watt (6-3, 321, Sr.), C No. 72 Nick Martin (6-5, 295, Jr.), RG No. 74 Christian Lombard (6-5, 315, Sr.), RT No. 78 Ronnie Stanley (6-6, 318, So.)
The Notre Dame offensive line has allowed a total of just four sacks through six contests (.67 average per game) -- the No. 5 mark nationally. Still, it hasn't dominated in quite the same fashion in the run-blocking department, and how it does in that regard against a stout USC defensive line could play a key role in the outcome of the contest.

Scoring: 25.5 points per game (No. 58 overall)
Rushing: 122.3 yards per game (No. 23 overall)
Passing: 252.2 yards per game (No. 87 overall)
Total: 374.5 yards per game (No. 46 overall)

Defensive Line: No. 91 Sheldon Day (6-2, 290, So.), No. 1 Louis Nix III (6-3, 357, Sr.), No. 7 Stephon Tuitt (6-7, 322, Jr.)
Tuitt and Nix are two big-time NFL prospects who lead the way up front for a defense that ranks No. 23 against the rush, but that as a whole, hasn’t quite lived up to expectations in 2013. Tuitt has racked up a team-best 4.5 tackles for loss, including three sacks. Day has been hampered by an ankle injury but is expected to play.

Linebacker: No. 55 Prince Shembo (6-2, 258, Sr.), No. 48 Dan Fox (6-3, 245, Sr.), No. 44 Carlo Calabrese (6-1, 250, Sr.), No. 9 Jaylon Smith (6-3, 230, Fr.)
Shembo, who lines up at outside linebacker in Notre Dame’s 3-4 scheme, is coming off an impressive three-sack performance against ASU. Calabrese is a force on the inside, but this unit took a big hit when Jarrett Grace -- whom Calabrese is tied with for the team-lead in tackles with 40 -- broke his fibula against the Sun Devils.

Cornerback: No. 6 KeiVarae Russell (5-11, 190, So.), No. 2 Bennett Jackson (6-0, 195, Sr.)
Jackson, a team captain, is a talented playmaker with solid cover skills who has compiled 35 tackles and one interception in 2013. Still, this duo has had their dips in production against some of the more potent passing attacks that they’ve faced, particularly when the Fighting Irish front seven has failed to establish a significant pass-rush.

Safety: No. 28 Austin Collinsworth (6-1, 205, Sr.), No. 22 Elijah Shumate (6-0, 213, So.), No. 41 Matthias Farley (5-11, 204, Jr.)
The Notre Dame safety corps is another group that hasn’t exactly performed up to par this fall, and they certainly appear to miss the steadiness provided by Zeke Motta – now with the Atlanta Falcons. Farley has been the most active member of the unit, pacing the group with 25 tackles and two interceptions.

Special Teams

Kicker/Punter: No. 27 Kyle Brindza (6-1, 236, Jr.)
Brindza has connected on 8 of 11 field goals attempts while booting 20 of his 34 kickoffs back for touchbacks. He also averages 41.5 yards per punt.

Kick Returner: No. 4 George Atkinson III (6-2, 220, Jr.), No. 33 Cam McDaniel (5-10, 207, Jr.)
Atkinson had a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against USC in 2011, and he ranks 19th in the FBS this season with an average of 28.1 yards per return.

Punt Returner: No. 7 TJ Jones (6-0, 195, Sr.)
Jones averages 10.1 yards per punt return.

Gearing up for Notre Dame week

October, 15, 2013
It’s that time of the year when there is little more bounce to the step on the USC practice field, a time of the year known as Notre Dame week.

As it turns out for the Trojans, there is already an increased level of energy thanks to the boost provided by interim head coach Ed Orgeron but Orgeron knows as well as anyone that a heightened level of spirit is only going to get you so far against the Irish.

Orgeron had the pleasure in his early days of getting to know Marv Goux -- the legendary USC D-line coach and master motivator who held a reverence for the rivalry between Notre Dame and his beloved Trojans. Goux liked to call this rivalry “big man on big man football” and Orgeron realizes that kind of game is waiting for his team on Saturday.

It doesn’t matter that both teams are 4-2 and out of the national rankings. These are still two very good programs that are meeting up for the 85th time and both teams have a lot to gain with a victory.

[+] EnlargeEd Orgeron, Cody Kessler
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsEd Orgeron and quarterback Cody Kessler hope the good times continue against Notre Dame.
Notre Dame is just a year away from a trip to the national title game and the Irish are in no hurry to disappear from the national spotlight.

Their hopes for maintaining that high level took a dip this offseason when starting quarterback Everett Golson was declared out for the season but they were fortunate to have an experienced veteran like Tommy Rees as a backup option. Rees isn’t the most talented quarterback the Trojans will face this year but he’s efficient and doesn’t make a ton of mistakes.

The Irish feature names familiar to USC fans as part of their offensive attack. Former Trojans tailback Amir Carlisle and one-time USC recruit George Atkinson III are part of the tailback group while another former recruit, Troy Niklas, is a standout at tight end.

The defensive front is the strong suit of the Irish defense, which should make for a physical test against a USC offense looking to establish the run. Notre Dame is led by the talented duo of Stephon Truitt and Louis Nix on the line along with linebacker Carlo Calabrese.

Cody backs coach
This will be the first USC/Notre Dame game for Cody Kessler as a starter but he took a big step forward in the team leadership department with his impassioned words in support of Orgeron following the victory over Arizona last Thursday.

"No disrespect to the coach who was here before and I'm not getting into that, but you want a coach that you will freaking just go to war for every time [like] this man here to my right. I don't only speak for myself. I speak for the whole team. We would go to war for this guy any day of the week. Any time he needed us we have his back 100 percent.

"When you have a coach that you can see and feel that he cares about you so much and wants you to be the best that you can be and succeed, that's love right there. I couldn't ask for a better head coach. All of us would go to war and put our lives on the line for this man any day of the week."

Talking tailbacks
When you looked at the USC roster coming into the season, the deepest and most talented position group was tailback. By the time fall camp hit the midway point, injuries had depleted the group to the point that there was often only one scholarship back available. Fast forward to this week and the tailback position is once again healthy and looking strong.

There is a little bit of uncertain status with Tre Madden, who has been the leading rusher so far this year but who suffered a hamstring issue against Arizona.

Silas Redd returned in the game against the Wildcats and showed that he is ready to resume his place in the rotation, no matter who else is available. The way Redd closed out the final drive with seven straight carries was impressive.

Justin Davis has also earned his place at the table with six touchdowns in six games while Buck Allen has done as much in his limited time as he can possibly do. Ty Isaac showed a lot of promise with his carries last week too. Don’t be surprised if the Trojans continue with the deep rotation of backs in this game to help maintain a fresh and physical presence.

Status of Lee
At the Sunday session, Marqise Lee ran wind sprints during practice with a brace on his left knee. That’s the first on-field work he’s done during a practice since suffering the injury against Arizona State. Orgeron continues to call him “questionable” for the game against Notre Dame but you know this is one that Marqise doesn’t want to miss.

Tavai taps in
Not only are the Trojans facing the possibility of playing without their biggest weapon on offense, but their top defensive sack master may miss a second straight game as well. Outside linebacker Morgan Breslin sat out the Arizona game with a sore hip and is also described as “questionable” for Notre Dame. Fortunately for the Trojans, J.R. Tavai was able to make the move from defensive end and started in place of Breslin at the stand-up OLB spot. Tavai ended up second on the team in tackles with 10 and also added 3.5 tackles for loss.

Corner concerns
For the second straight game a Pac-12 opponent was able to see good success throwing the ball against the Trojans and Orgeron admitted after the Arizona game that he would speak to Clancy Pendergast to look at options, including potential personnel moves. One bit of help could come in the form of Anthony Brown, a pre-season starter who has been out of action since the Hawaii game with an ankle issue. Brown was able to practice on Sunday and could see game action against the Irish.

First look: Notre Dame

November, 19, 2012
What: USC Trojans (7-4 overall, 5-4 in Pac-12) vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (11-0)

When: Saturday, November 24, 5 p.m. PT

Where: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

[+] EnlargeManti Te'o
Matt Cashore/US PresswireLinebacker Manti Te'o is the heart and soul of Notre Dame's dominant defense.

Radio: ESPNLA 710 (pregame show begins at 12 p.m.)

Scouting Notre Dame: As Notre Dame celebrates its 125th year of football, third-year coach Brian Kelly has his squad off to its best start (11-0) since 1993 following last Saturday’s 38-0 home victory over Wake Forest.

Sophomore QB Everett Golson (151-of-256, 59.0 percent, 1,918 yards, 11 TD, five INT in 2012, plus 80 carries, 258 yards, 3.2 per carry, five TD) has been directing the offense. Top rushers include senior RBs Theo Riddick (160 carries, 734 yards, 4.6 per carry, four TD, plus 32 rec for 331 yards, a 10.3 avg and one TD), a converted wide receiver, and Cierre Wood (102 carries for 720 yards, a 7.1 average and four TD, plus two receptions for nine yards) and sophomore RB George Atkinson III (49 carries for 346 tards, a 7.1 average and five TD, plus 15 kick returns for 307 yards, 20.5 avg). Senior TE Tyler Eifert (40 receptions, 555 yards, 13.9 avg, four TD), a 2011 All-American, and junior WR TJ Jones (40 receptions, 519 yards, 13.0 avg, four TD) lead the pass-catching corps.

The Irish sport one of the nation’s top defenses, as it ranks first nationally in scoring defense (10.1), fifth in rushing defense (92.2), sixth in total defense (287.8), 11th in pass-efficiency defense (104.6), 13th in sacks (2.8) and 24th in pass defense (195.6). ND has held five opponents to single digits and 10 to fewer than 20 points. Senior ILB Manti Te’o (98 tackles, 5.5 for loss, 1.5 sacks, six INT, two fumble recoveries) is the heart of the ND defense. Sophomore DE Stephon Tuitt (40 tackles, 13 for loss, 12 sacks, three forced fumbles) is tied for eighth nationally in sacks per game (1.0), while junior CB Bennett Jackson (55 tackles, 1.5 for loss, four INT) is tied for 19th in interceptions. -- courtesy USC sports information