After a year-long, COVID-induced hiatus, one of college football’s most storied rivalries and the battle for the Jeweled Shillelagh will be renewed on Saturday night when Notre Dame hosts USC under the lights inside Notre Dame Stadium.
Last season was the first time since World War II that the Fighting Irish and Trojans didn’t meet on the gridiron in a rivalry that dates all the way back to 1926. This season, both teams enter the matchup fresh off of a bye week, but under different circumstances. Though nothing has come easy, the Irish are 5-1 and still within reach of a New Year’s Six bowl appearance. Meanwhile, the 3-3 Trojans have struggled through a season in which their head coach was fired after week two.
Regardless of the position either team finds themselves in at the halfway point of this season, the Notre Dame players know full well the magnitude of what it means to be able to once again compete against their archrival.
“We’re definitely blessed to be able to play USC again, it’s one of the biggest, if not the biggest college football rivalries in the country,” Irish junior All-American safety Kyle Hamilton said. “I think it will be really good for everybody, the guys last year who haven’t been able to experience the rivalry and the guys this year who have been looking forward to it. That’s the reason they came here is to play in big games like this.
No matter what the two teams are ranked, or what everybody on the outside is saying we know it’s going to be a good game because it always is. They’re going to bring their A-game and we are too so it should be a really good game and I think it’ll be a really cool experience for everybody on the team,” Hamilton continued.
Hamilton and the Irish defense will have a busy night defending USC star receiver Drake London, who has already accumulated 64 receptions in just six games played, good enough for second nationally. As a whole, the Trojans have been able to amass 448 yards of offense per game for the season. But, the Atlanta native and midseason first-team All-American selection is aware of the assignment.
Speaking about London, Hamilton noted, “he’s really athletic, he can high point balls, he’s a good route-runner. He doesn’t really have any weaknesses, they love getting the ball to him, I think he has like 60-something catches in six games so he’s a really good receiver, he’s a problem and hopefully we can solve it.”
Our game plan is definitely centered around him and if we can stop him we can stop their offense.”
Hamilton also compared London to former Trojan receiver and current Indianapolis Colt Michael Pittman Jr. as well as Los Angeles Chargers receiver Keenan Allen in terms of hands, route-running ability and reliability.
For senior tight end George Takacs, this is a moment he’s been waiting for most of his life.
“USC is a big rival, probably our biggest rival, and for me growing up a Notre Dame fan I’d always grow up watching the USC games. So, for me to know I’m going to go in and play pretty significant snaps against them, it’s a dream come true really. And I’m a senior but I’ve never actually had a snap in a USC game before, so it’s a really exciting opportunity for me,” Takacs said.
Takacs is far from alone in his eagerness to get on the field.
“Yeah, we’re excited. It’s a rivalry game, it’s a historic game we’ve been playing for I don’t know how many years, many decades,” Irish fifth-year receiver and team captain Avery Davis said.
“I’m super excited, I think the energy is through the roof, we’re all ready to go.”
Though the team’s excitement will be difficult to contain, Notre Dame junior nose guard Howard Cross III knows the team will need to be able to control their emotions to find success in what will undoubtedly be a boisterous environment.
“Obviously, a rivalry game is a new atmosphere, it’s bigger, everybody’s excited, fans and players included but just the biggest thing is to calm down, do what you’ve been doing for however many games you’ve been playing,” Cross III remarked.
“It’s not different, do what you’ve been taught, do what you know you can do and just go get production.”
As always, that’s easier said than done. Nevertheless, on Saturday, Notre Dame will be in search of the team’s fourth straight victory over the Trojans and fifth-straight inside Notre Dame Stadium. The Irish lead the all-time series 47-36-5.
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