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Southern California looks to gain bowl eligibility with win over Notre Dame

| Friday, November 23, 2018

Coming off a tough 34-27 loss at the hands of local rival UCLA, USC will face its toughest opponent of to date in No. 3 Notre Dame for the last game of what has been a season underlined by struggle for the storied Trojans.

Observer File Photo
Irish senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush takes off running during Notre Dame’s 49-14 win over USC on Oct. 21, 2017 at Notre Dame Stadium.

The Trojans (5-6, 4-5 PAC 12) currently sit at fourth place in the Pac-12 conference with no hopes of a conference championship appearance. Things look quite different for the Trojans than they did last year ahead of this rivalry matchup. Last season, No. 11 USC, with now-New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold at the helm, traveled to South Bend as the favorite against No. 13 Notre Dame. The Trojans were unexpectedly blown out 49-14.

This season, the Trojans are no strangers to adversity, and through the struggles, head coach Clay Helton admires the brotherhood his players have exhibited.

“One of the things that I really appreciate is the brotherhood that they share. You know, we’re all disappointed in where we’re at right now, but one of the things that I feel from the team is that they want to be able to do something special for our seniors, our team and our university,” Helton said.

In this light, Helton has been especially impressed with the character of freshman quarterback JT Daniels, who has arguably experienced the fluctuations of the team more harshly than anyone.

“The thing that I have been so impressed with [Daniels] about has been his poise and maturity through adversity. And that’s what good quarterbacks do. They shoulder the blade. If they make a mistake, they own it. They learn from it, they fix it and they move on,” Helton said.

Amidst these struggles, the Trojans have managed to put up solid points against impressive teams. USC scored 39 points against No. 8 Washington St. and 37 against No. 14 Texas. Nevertheless, the Trojans will be facing the toughest defense they’ve squared up against to date in Notre Dame, whose defense ranks No. 11 nationally in defensive efficiency. Helton complimented the Irish front seven and acknowledged the depth of the challenge his offense will face this weekend in a press conference on Tuesday.

“Defensively, without question, I think it’s the best front seven that we have faced to date. We’ve seen [senior linebacker Jerry Tillery] for a number of years now, and he gets better and better with each year,” Helton said. “And he’s surrounded by four or five dynamic NFL football players. So the ability to run the ball and to be able to protect the quarterback in this game is going to be critical against [Notre Dame’s] defense.

“[Notre Dame’s front seven] does a tremendous job of being able to sometimes just rush four and stop the run. Everybody has struggled with that. I thought last week was a really really impressive game verse Syracuse because Syracuse is a good football team, and Syracuse even tried to spread them out, tried to open up some air, and it still wasn’t going. So, you do have to have patience. You don’t need to be hard headed. But you do have to have patience to be able to fit that ball in there when they load the box and let good runners run and take the ugly four, five or six yards that come with it. And hopefully you get to those third and managables where you can throw.”

Overall, heading into this rivalry matchup, the Trojans look forward to the opportunity to face off against Notre Dame, and despite a season filled with shortcomings, the team wants to do something special for its University, Helton said.

“We look at it as a tremendous opportunity. We can’t wait to get there. I thought the kids did a tremendous job of prepping today for it, nothing has changed for them. We treat each week like it’s a championship week, and I really have been pleased with how they’ve prepped to date,” he said.

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