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Notre Dame-USC 2016: Tall Order for Irish

Nov. 23, 2016

By John Heisler

The history book records 87 previous meetings on the football field between Notre Dame and USC-in a matchup begun by Knute Rockne and Howard Jones and one that’s billed as the greatest intersectional rivalry in the country.

And, yet with all the national championships and Heisman Trophy winners that have been a part of the Irish-Trojan scene over the years-and there have been plenty of those-this 2016 Notre Dame team has a chance to accomplish something no other Irish squad has done against USC.

Notre Dame comes into the Los Angeles Coliseum Saturday (ABC has the national telecast at 12:30 p.m. PST, 3:30 p.m. EST) with a 4-7 mark, having dropped three of its five decisions away from Notre Dame Stadium so far in 2016.

USC (8-3) is streaking-with seven straight wins bringing the Trojans to the number-12 spot in the College Football Playoff standings this week (also in the Associated Press and coaches’ polls).

So the Irish will attempt to become the first unrated Notre Dame team to defeat a USC squad ranked this highly at the Coliseum.

On three previous occasions Notre Dame came to Los Angeles outside the AP poll and knocked off a ranked Trojan team:

–1951: The 6-2-1 but unrated Irish defeated 20th-ranked and 7-2 USC 19-12.

–1984: The 6-4 unranked Notre Dame squad beat 14th-ranked and 8-2 USC 19-7 in the rain.

–1986: In the final game of Lou Holtz’s first season in South Bend, the 4-6 Irish came from behind to win 38-37 over 17th-rated and 7-3 USC. That’s the last time Notre Dame came to the Coliseum with a losing record (it also happened in 1956 and 1960).

Five other times in Los Angeles it hasn’t gone so well for unrated Irish teams versus ranked Trojan teams: a 28-20 loss in 1956 when USC was #17, a 25-0 loss in 1962 when USC was #1, a 17-13 defeat in 1982 when the Trojans were #17, a 41-10 loss in 2004 when USC was #1 and a 38-3 loss in 2008 when the Trojans stood #5.

The Irish also have prevailed twice at Notre Dame Stadium when they were unrated and facing ranked USC squads-in 1959 (the 4-5 Irish won 16-6 over #7 and 8-1 USC) and in 1963 (the 0-2 Irish won 17-14 over #7 USC).

Notre Dame has won four of the last six overall in the series, though the Trojans have won 10 of 14 overall. USC boasts a 22-19-4 mark in games played in Los Angeles. The Trojans are 12-13-1 against unrated Irish squads.

An improved Irish defense will be tested-with USC during its seven-game win streak averaging 37.4 points and 540 total yards. During that same span the Trojans have permitted only 17.4 points and 95.9 rushing yards per contest.

Meanwhile, the seven Irish defeats all have come by eight points or fewer (no other FBS team has more than five losses in that category).

With Saturday’s season finale at USC remaining, Notre Dame is averaging 418.5 total yards per game and if that holds up it would mark the sixth straight year the Irish have averaged at least 406 yards per game for the season.

If the Irish passing yards per game figure of 254.3 holds up it will be the sixth time in seven years Notre Dame has averaged at least 252 passing yards per game.

If Notre Dame’s 31.3-point scoring mark holds up it will be the third straight year the Irish have averaged at least 31 points per game.

Notre Dame’s most noteworthy current NCAA national rankings are:

–20th in kickoff returns (23.62)

–27th in fewest passing yards allowed per completion (13.78)

–29th in fewest passing yards allowed (195.6)

–Quarterback DeShone Kizer is 15th in points (186), 16th in passing TDs (24), 19th in passing yards per completion (13.87), 22nd in total offense (292.2)

USC’s most noteworthy current NCAA rankings are:

–7th in punt returns (15.7)

–8th in completion percentage (.665)

–9th in fewest sacks allowed (1.0)

–14th in third-down conversions (.477)

–20th in first downs

–24th in scoring defense (21.7)

–Quarterback Sam Darnold is 6th in completion percentage (.683),8th in passing efficiency, 16th in passing TDs (24, tied with Kizer).

–Return specialist Adoree’ Jackson is 5th in punt returns (14.8), 10th in kickoff returns (28.3)

Senior associate athletics director John Heisler has been part of the Notre Dame athletics communication team since 1978.