It’s the 93rd meeting for the Jeweled Shillelagh

New coaches lead ancient rivals into Notre Dame-USC clash

Greg Beacham  —  L.A. (AP) — No. 5 USC’s swift transformation from a program in disarray to a revitalized powerhouse in its first season under Lincoln Riley has been one of the most impressive developments of the college football season.

Although No. 13 Notre Dame took slightly longer to get rolling under fellow first-year head coach Marcus Freeman, the Fighting Irish are back in their usual formidable form and even picking up speed.

But a big season is not complete at either school without a memorable edition of these teams’ famed intersectional rivalry.

They’ll get their moment Saturday night in the 93rd meeting for the Jeweled Shillelagh amid all the other important trappings that frequently make this matchup so special: national title implications, upset potential and elite players on both sidelines at the venerable Coliseum, which has been hosting these blue-blood programs since 1926.

“I think you have to embrace and enjoy being in this moment, enjoy competing at this level,” Riley said. “Our team gets excited to play teams like Notre Dame. There’s no question about it. It’s fun playing really good competition in cool venues with a lot of things on the line. That’s so much fun. Let’s embrace it and make sure we keep getting better. I think they have a sense for it, and we’re not going to minimize it.”

USC (10-1) has clinched a spot in the Pac-12 title game Dec. 2 after going 8-1 in conference play, but its chances of breaking into the College Football Playoff from its current No. 6 spot in the playoff rankings hinge on beating the Irish (8-3).

Notre Dame won’t be in the four-team tournament this year, but a win over the Trojans would be nearly an ideal punctuation on a regular season of remarkable growth under Freeman. After an 0-2 start, the Irish are rolling toward bowl season with five consecutive victories, nine of 10 overall, and a surging sense of their worthiness to be on college football’s biggest stages.

“There’s a different feeling about this one, and I can feel it amongst our program and our players,” Freeman said. “I knew it last year, but this year, being at the end of the year, at USC, you can really feel it.”

CALEB VS IRISH

USC quarterback Caleb Williams has leaped into the Heisman Trophy race by commanding the nation’s attention with a spectacular series of performances down the stretch, highlighted by 503 total yards and three touchdowns in the Trojans’ thrilling 48-45 victory at UCLA last week.

USC has relied on Williams’ high-powered offense to cover for its less-dominant defense, but Notre Dame’s defense has yet to allow an opponent 400 total yards this season, and only four opponents have topped 200 yards passing. The stage is set for a showdown.

The Irish’s 400-yard streak “is hard to do in college football,” Riley said. “They’ve got good players at all levels. You can tell they’ve recruited there for many years, and they’ve built a talent base, and that shows up.”

WAKE UP THE ECHOES

This rivalry is among the most compelling in college football, both for its history and its endurance. Only World War II and the COVID-19 pandemic have interrupted it, and this game will be Notre Dame’ first since 2018 at the Coliseum, where a plaque honoring Knute Rockne has hung in the Peristyle since 1955. Both teams are ranked in the matchup for the first time since 2017, and Notre Dame leads the rivalry 17-14-2 during games in which both teams are in the AP Top 25.

GROUND GAME

Notre Dame’s rushing offense is formidable, with sophomores Logan Diggs and Audric Estime leading a group that has topped 200 yards on the ground in six games this season. USC’s run defense has been better than its pass defense — no surprise in the air-oriented Pac-12 — and UCLA is the only opponent in the Trojans’ last eight games to get more than 200 yards rushing.

If the Irish can’t run the ball or fall behind, Drew Pyne will have to throw against a Trojans defense with an FBS-leading 18 interceptions and an uncanny season-long knack for timely takeaways. USC leads the FBS with a plus-20 turnover margin.

FIRST-TIMERS

Riley and Freeman are both in the rivalry for the first time as head coaches, although Freeman was an assistant last season when the Irish drilled the Trojans 31-16 in South Bend. The last time two first-year head coaches at the schools met was in 2010, when Brian Kelly’s Notre Dame beat Lane Kiffin’s Trojans 20-16 at the Coliseum in a rain-soaked game best remembered for a horrific drop by USC’s Ronald Johnson in the waning moments.

ON THE EDGE

The most fascinating matchup when Notre Dame has the ball might be USC defensive end Tuli Tuipulotu going against the Irish offensive line bookended by tackles Joe Alt and Blake Fisher. Tuipulotu is a Lombardi Award finalist and one of the nation’s top defensive players, ranking third in the FBS with 11 sacks and making countless big plays on the edge. Alt and Fisher anchor a line that has allowed just 17 sacks all season.

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Chris
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Chris(@chris)
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November 25, 2022 3:02 pm

So far the gutties are choking like dogs. Love it!

RialtoTrojan
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RialtoTrojan(@rialtotrojan)
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November 24, 2022 9:12 pm

For us it’s just a walking stick, jewelry included. The Sham-Rocknes have been able to beat us using basic football smarts, because the USC brain trust had none. But this me era is something that is evolving into a machine. If they want to beat us this year they need more than a couple of clovers and a walking stick.

HOF19
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November 24, 2022 7:53 pm

So Lane Kiffin lost 4 of his last 5 games .

Chris
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Chris(@chris)
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November 24, 2022 11:13 am

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. See you Saturday.

Jamaica
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Jamaica(@jamaica)
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November 24, 2022 9:42 am

Happy Thanksgiving to all who compose and participate in this wonderful website. I am very thankful to be able to talk about this sport, the University and its team we all love 12-months a year. It gives us the ability to do so.
We are all in heavy anticipation of LR, his staff and the team pulling off a big win Saturday. Go USC!

John Weld
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John Weld(@johnnynumbers)
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November 24, 2022 9:36 am

Thank you to the commenters, readers and to Allen my blog partner & friend for making this a fun and interesting place to spend some time each and every day!

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TrojanRJJ
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November 24, 2022 7:51 am

Happy Thanksgiving to all from Frisco, TX. I am thankful for many things this year, and among them is decision of the USC Administration to revive USC football, its hiring of and delegation of that task to an elite Athletic Director. I think SC has one of the best HCs in collegiate football, one of the best players, and one of the best ADs in the nation. Given where this program was a year ago, the change is remarkably unbelievable. Beat the Irish!

Last edited 9 days ago by TrojanRJJ
TrojanRJJ
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November 24, 2022 7:46 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Happy Thanksgiving to you and John. I am very thankful that you guys put this board together and maintain it.

Steveg
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Steveg(@steveg)
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November 24, 2022 7:17 am

May all of you have a great Thanksgiving Day. I am thankful for the two guys that put this blog together, Allen and John. Great job.

Steveg
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Steveg(@steveg)
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November 24, 2022 6:13 am

I think USC can run the ball on ND and because of that the passing game will have ND back on their heels a lot, not knowing what to expect.

Jamaica
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November 24, 2022 3:14 pm
Reply to  Steveg

I’m thinking Lincoln Riley is a little smarter than Marcus Freeman in game planning on strengths & weaknesses as well as important time management in the 4th quarter. Clemson HC Dabo Sweeney had to be guilty of taking this Irish team for granted due to its unimpressive record up when they played and got burned in not being prepared. LR won’t make that mistake. And the energy level from the fans in the coliseum will give USC the extra emotional inspiration to play hard physical football that the Irish used to dominate Clemson. Just follow the game plan and no… Read more »

Last edited 8 days ago by Jamaica