It’s been 10 years since the Bush Push game and the balance of power in the Notre Dame-USC rivalry has flipped.
In 2005, USC was the defending National Champion (legitimate or not) and the Irish were surging under first-year head coach Charlie Weis. The atmosphere was electric that October night in South Bend as the Irish dug in to prove that they still belonged on the same field with the national power from Southern California. Going into the final two minutes of the game, the Irish held the lead and it appears that they were indeed back among the elite under Weis. USC faced a fourth-and-9 on its side of the field. All the Notre Dame defense had to do was hold them. Then... well, you know the rest.
As has too often been the case since Lou Holtz left, the Irish have failed to get over that hump and consistently play at a high level on the biggest stage. Brian Kelly has far outperformed his recent predecessors Weis, Tyrone Willingham and Bob Davie, but there has remained an element of suspense every time they take the field regarding which Irish team will show up that day, or even that half of the game.
While that dynamic remains for the Irish, it has become far worse for USC. It brings no joy to Irish fans to see the personal troubles that Steve Sarkisian is going through. The Irish would rather face USC at its best and beat the Trojans when they are at the top. But whatever distractions USC is experiencing, Notre Dame can’t get caught up in those this week. They have no room for error after their loss to Clemson and will need a lot of help from other teams to have a chance at the College Football Playoff.
USC is loaded with talent, having signed the top class last year. The Trojans remained at the top of the recruiting ranks even throughout the sanctions imposed because of the Reggie Bush scandal.
The Irish cannot afford a letdown and must execute their game plan with the same focus as if USC were unbeaten, rather than reeling after losing two of three. Whereas 10 years ago, USC needed a miracle 61-yard reception by Dwayne Jarret and a final push from Bush to get past the Irish under their new head coach, I suspect USC will come out to prove that their players were worthy of their high recruiting rankings, even without their fallen former coach. The Irish will need to play near peak defensively and attack the ball.
I think this game comes down to turnovers. If DeShoneKizer can hold onto the ball and make smart decisions, look for the Irish defense to step up and C.J. Prosise to have a big game.
This is a big stage and Brian Kelly’s team typically wilts under the bright lights. I think the Irish will fall behind but will get a final push from their captains Jaylon Smith and Joe Schmidt on defense and a big catch from Will Fuller to put them over the top.
Prediction: Notre Dame 28, USC 24.