If you’re already in the Christmas spirit — and I know some people already are because, well, I don’t know — play the jingle, “It’s the mooooost wonderfulllll tiiiiime of the yearrrrrr” because it is.
It’s officially USC Week for the ninth-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish, who ride into Saturday night’s showdown with the USC Trojans off a 52-0 smackdown of former Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder and Bowling Green this past weekend.
The only real adversity for the Irish outside of trailing after a half against Virginia two weeks ago has been the injury bug has bitten Notre Dame fairly hard in recent weeks.
In most instances, you can throw the records out the window when it comes to the Trojans and Irish. It’s one of college football’s oldest and most unique rivalries, along with being a key matchup for potential recruiting victories down the line for both programs.
Having said that, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly kicked off the big week ahead for the Irish with his weekly half-hour press conference and discussed a plethora of topics as usual.
Here’s a list/breakdown of those talking points from Kelly:
Simply put, USC is better than Bowling Green offensively (and probably everywhere else, too)
USC is "very, very deadly on offense. They can make you pay if you're not prepared every single play," Kelly says— Mike Berardino (@MikeBerardino) October 7, 2019
Despite losing quarterback JT Daniels to a season-ending knee injury in the season opener against Fresno State, the Trojans have had their lows offensively, but some quality highs, including in a 30-23 win over a top-15 Utah team back on Sept. 20.
One or the other ... or both?
Kelly expects QB Kedon Slovis to start: for USC "Very good arm talent .. can throw the ball all over the field ... extremely accurate. ... We'll be prepared for both (Slovis and Fink)."— Mike Berardino (@MikeBerardino) October 7, 2019
Along with calling USC wide receiver corps the best group of wideouts the Irish will see all season, Kelly noted that the Trojans have two talented quarterbacks, specifically Kedon Slovis, who is likely to start on Saturday night for the visitors.
Slovis hasn’t played since that Sept. 20 win over the Utes due to a concussion that he’s been medically cleared from and a bye week after the Trojans’ 28-14 loss to Washington on Sept. 28, but has completed 77.9 percent of his 77 total passes so far this season.
Updates! Updates! Updates!
Last week marked the fifth game of the season for the Irish, which means it’s right around that time for the Notre Dame staff to discuss potential redshirting scenarios.
One of the names that came up was 2018 Indiana Mr. Football winner Jack Kiser.
Kelly won't give away anything on LB Jack Kiser's redshirt prospects. He's already at the 4-game max. Says there will be no surprises but would like to avoid burning a year on any player limited to one or two special teams units. #NotreDame— Mike Berardino (@MikeBerardino) October 7, 2019
If you were hoping to see or were just curious about the status of wideout Kevin Austin, Kelly provided an update for him. It’s not looking likely that he’s going to play this season, but Kelly has yet to rule him out just yet.
Kevin Austin is still practicing.— Pete Sampson (@PeteSampson_) October 7, 2019
Brian Kelly asked if he might play this fall.
“We’ll see. It’s a week-to-week situation."
For weeks now, the targeted date for the return of Jafar Armstrong, who got dinged up all the way back in the opener against Louisville, has been the USC contest.
Kelly didn’t sound like a guy that was certain Armstrong would suit up and give it a go on Saturday, but he didn’t rule him out either. In fact, he’s hoping Armstrong will be able to produce in some sort of capacity for the Irish backfield.
On how much running back Jafar Armstrong will contribute this weekend coming off of an abdominal injury:— BlueandGold.com (@BGInews) October 7, 2019
"There's going to be a process of coming back, especially at the running back position."
"If we could get 20 plays out of him, that would be terrific."
Houston, you don’t have a problem because you’re (a) safe(ty)
Kelly said they'd rather not use Houston Griffith at corner. He says they'd be doing him a disservice to move him back this season.— BlueandGold.com (@BGInews) October 7, 2019
"Right now, our focus is working him inside [at safety]."
Injuries have hit the Irish secondary and the staff has had to do some juggling, but Kelly said on Monday that there won’t be a move that sees Houston Griffith moving from safety to corner. That’s locked in, at least for the remainder of this campaign.
Also, Kelly provided what the depth chart could be like at corner on Saturday:
Brian Kelly asked about cornerback depth. He said Donte Vaughn is the first man in for USC. “From there, it gets interesting.”— Pete Sampson (@PeteSampson_) October 7, 2019
Cam Hart and K.J. Wallace might be the next guys.
Don’t count out SC’s ability to win on Saturday
BK went into some solid detail about the SC offense with the wide splits and their ability to throw the football down the field.— Michael Whitlow (@couldbelikemike) October 7, 2019
"It's a big-play offense," Kelly said.
Former Texas Tech star quarterback Graham Harrell and the Trojans aren’t shy on playmakers, as if most SC’s offenses are. They’re not the “Thunder and Lightning” threat that LenDale White and Reggie Bush were back when SC haunted the Irish for years, but they have some guys like Michael Pittman Jr. that can take any play to the house.
The rivalry itself
BK on the ND-USC rivalry: "The tradition. It goes way back. The game goes way back as a intersectional rivalry. There's been some great players that have played in it and great coaches that have coached in it."— Michael Whitlow (@couldbelikemike) October 7, 2019
The Notre Dame-USC rivalry dates back all the way to 1926 — a 13-12 victory for the Irish — and Saturday will mark the 91st meeting between the two schools. Notre Dame holds 46-36-5 edge overall against the Trojans and have technically won six of the last nine meetings ... if you count two matchups that were later vacated.
It may not have the status of Auburn-Alabama or Ohio State-Michigan, but the Notre Dame-USC rivalry is arguably the biggest one of the Irish because either a misstep or a big boost on the recruiting trail out in California and because nobody has forgotten that The Bush Push should’ve been flagged and the Irish should’ve ended the one of the longest winning streaks in NCAA history 14 years ago.
You can watch Kelly’s press conference in its entirety from Monday here: