- Johnny Curren, WeAreSC, Reporter
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.