Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 23, 2017

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 37 of 55

38 OCT. 23, 2017 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY LOU SOMOGYI RANK & FILE The last time Notre Dame defeated a USC team that was ranked oc‑ curred Oct. 21, 1995 — or exactly 22 years ago to the day that the Fighting Irish and Trojans square off this year. On that day, No. 17 Notre Dame crushed unbeaten and No. 5 USC 38‑10, resulting in Irish quarterback Ron Powlus — the current director of player development at his alma mater — making the cover of Sports Illustrated. The Trojans, led by wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, could not gen‑ erate much of anything on a cold, damp day in northern Indiana. Their discomfort with the weather con‑ ditions was conspicuous, but they would go on to win the Pac‑10 title and the Rose Bowl. That 1995 season also marked the last hurrah of the greatest stretch of dominance either team had in the 88‑game series. From 1983‑95, Notre Dame was 12‑0‑1 against the Trojans. Since then, it is 7‑14, and not one of the wins has come against a vaunted, vintage USC outfit. Head coach Brian Kelly is 4‑3 against Notre Dame's archrival, but both wins in the Los Angeles Coli‑ seum (2010 and 2012) were against USC teams that lost at least five games and finished unranked, and also did not have starting quarter‑ back Matt Barkley in the lineup be‑ cause of an injury (in fairness, fresh‑ man Tommy Rees was the starter for the Irish in the 2010 game at USC). Meanwhile, in the two wins by Notre Dame at home in 2013 and 2015, the USC football team was in turmoil because it had fired its head coach in midseason (Lane Kiffin in 2013 and Steve Sarkisian in 2015), leading to the hiring of interim coach Ed Orgeron in 2013 and Clay Helton in 2015. A tremendous Irish defensive per‑ formance in the second half spear‑ headed the 14‑10 victory in 2013, and a fourth‑quarter rally in 2015 resulted in a 41‑31 shootout conquest in 2015. It's been a generation since Notre Dame last defeated a ranked USC team, which brings us to … 'THE BIG ONE' Coaches generally are going to be evaluated most on how they perform against the marquee opponents on their schedule. Since 2013, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly is a disappointing 5‑11 versus teams ranked in the Associated Press top 25 poll at the time of the game — and 0‑3 against the top 10. Over that same stretch, his record is not much better versus teams that finished in the final AP top 25 poll from 2013‑16: 5‑12 versus the top 25, including 1‑6 versus the top 10. That lone victory was 17‑13 against Michi‑ gan State in 2013, when the Spartans were unranked at the time of the game but finished No. 3 in the nation with a 13‑1 record. And therein stems some of the frus‑ tration of the Kelly era — the lack of a "wow factor" victory on the résumé that Irish faithful will talk about for decades. The closest that would qual‑ ify would be the 30‑13 win at No. 8 Oklahoma in 2012 when the No. 5 Irish were underdogs. Yet even there when the Sooners finished No. 15 and were blown out in their bowl game, the win became a little diminished because it wasn't one of head coach Bob Stoops' better teams in Norman. That's not really a fair way to look at it, but from a perception stand‑ point, Notre Dame has come up short far too often the last four and a half years in the marquee games for one reason or another while being pri‑ marily an "almost" team. It almost won at No. 2 Florida State in 2014, but a controversial officiating call in the closing seconds cost them a touchdown in the 31‑27 defeat. In 2015 it almost won at Clemson and Stanford — which would finish No. 2 and No. 3 in the final rankings — but lost by two points each time, 24‑22 and 38‑36, respectively. This year it almost knocked off GAME PREVIEW: USC Top STorylineS USC head coach Clay Helton was on the proverbial hot seat after a 1-3 start his first full season in 2016, but the Trojans won their last nine games to finish No. 3 in the country. PHOTO COURTESY USC ATHLETICS

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