It’s Notre Dame – USC week. The first meeting between the two old rivals took place in Los Angeles in 1926 in early December and in the early years of the series it took place first in Chicago and then in South Bend on Thanksgiving weekend. But starting in 1961, the odd numbered year games moved to October when the Fighting Irish host the Trojans.
Marcus Freeman had his first experience with the rivalry as defensive coordinator last year and now he gets his first taste of taking the Irish to Southern California as Notre Dame’s head coach.
"It’s unique, because when you play USC during the middle of the season it’s a little bit different than going out there and playing the last game of the year,” Freeman said. "There’s a different feeling about this one. I can feel it amongst our program and our players. I knew it last year, but this year being at the end of the year at USC is....you can really feel it.”
The Fighting Irish have won four straight games in the series, but this will be the highest currently No. 5 Southern Cal has been ranked when they were also ranked No. 5 in 2008.
On Steve Angeli Not Playing vs BC
Saturday’s 44-0 win over Boston College seemed to many observers like a good opportunity to get backup quarterback Steve Angeli on the field. The freshman signal caller saw his first game action last month against UNLV and then got on the field again the next week at Syracuse.
Blowouts, especially at home, are always a good time to get reserves on the field, but Freeman says he had a bigger picture view for Angeli in mind.
"We made a decision a couple weeks ago when we played him in a second game that if we can redshirt Steve Angeli, we will,” Freeman explained. "The opportunity to not play him last game gives us two games to play him. So, we can play him in the USC game and the bowl game. So, it’s very intentional to not play him this past week.”
By NCAA rule, a player can play in up to four games in a season and still preserve his redshirt for that season.
Benjamin Morrison Keeps Shining
Benjamin Morrison’s star has been on the rise in recent weeks. He had three interceptions Saturday vs Boston College after picking off two passes against Clemson two weeks prior to that. Morrison gave up a touchdown early in the Syracuse game as well as others from time to time, but Freeman says the freshman corner rolls wit the “one play, one life” mantra of his team.
“As a corner, you have to have that mentality,” said Freeman. “Within a game, one play, one life, you know? You give up a big play or you make a big play, you’ve got to move on to the next one and some guys can’t do that. Especially at an early age. Whereas Ben Morrison showed that. Shoot, last game he had two interceptions, then they did a bomb on him. His ability to respond is, ok, next play.
“It just shows his ability to refocus,” Freeman continued. “Resiliency, the ability to just move on after something bad happens and get ready to do his job on the next play. I think that’s what you see is the reflection of how Ben Morrison is playing.”
Drew Pyne’s Preparation
Drew Pyne obviously won’t face USC’s offense head-to-head on the field, the challenge for him is still a bit different this week, considering the Trojans have the No. 3 scoring offense (42.7 points per game) in the nation. Southern Cal has scored at least 41 points in nine of their 11 games this season and they’ve hit that number in their last five games entering Saturday.
Pyne and the Irish will have to be up to the challenge to keep up their own scoring Saturday night in the Coliseum.
"He’s ready to go,” Freeman stated. "He’s excited. He’s a competitor. He is one of the most competitive kids we have. So, he wants the ball in his hands and he wants the chance to execute. We all have to make decisions that help him execute and he has to help himself execute, but I know he’s excited for this challenge.”
Notre Dame’s scoring is not as prolific as USC, but the Irish have still scored at least 35 points in five straight games and rank No. 49 in scoring offense (31 PPG) themselves. They've scored at least 41 points four times this season, including in three of their last five games.
Deion Colzie Coming On
Deion Colzie has slowly worked his way back from a PCL (knee) injury that limited him during fall training camp. He sparingly saw action throughout the first half of the season, but he has been more a fixture with the receiving corps in the last month.
Colzie has a modest six receptions for 117 yards, but the four game window in which he has made those catches tops the four receptions for 67 yards he had in four games last year. Freeman says Colzie’s biggest issue was, first and foremost, getting healthy.
"He’s finally healthy,” Freeman said of Colzie. "I think midway through the season he was probably, truly and 100 percent. But, the ability to grow and continue to improve and maybe not get the rewards of receptions and yards that you want, but to work at it tirelessly. And that’s a reflection of coaching. That’s a reflection of (wide receivers) Coach (Chansi) Stuckey and that room.
"That’s one of the most unselfish positions there are,” Freeman continued. "You can do everything right and never get rewarded with the ball. But Deion has just worked tirelessly and improved as an individual, improved in his route running, improving his ball catching. Now, when presented with the opportunity, he’s making big plays.”
College Football Playoff Home Games
With the College Football Playoff set to expand in the next few years, one decision the CFP will have to make is where to play first (and possibly second) round playoff games. Will they be played on campus site or will they be played at neutral sites? The CFP is still studying that question.
Home games on campus sites in December would mean weather similar to the snow globe Notre Dame just played in Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.
"I would love it,” Freeman proclaimed. "I would love to bring a team in South Bend, Indiana for a playoff game and would be very hopeful that the weather was like (Saturday night). That’s an advantage for us, I feel.”
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