Kelly hyped for No. 9 Notre Dame’s battle vs. USC

Field Level Media

October 09, 2019 at 2:44 am.

Brian Kelly is in his 10th season as head coach at Notre Dame, and he has managed to take control of the Notre Dame-USC rivalry.

No. 9 Notre Dame (4-1) will host USC (3-2) on Saturday evening in the 91st installment of the storied matchup. The Trojans have won 11 of the past 17 meetings between the programs, but the Fighting Irish are 6-3 since Kelly took over in 2010.

The rivalry with USC remains as special to him as ever. It’s easy to explain why.

“The tradition,” Kelly said to reporters this week. “Going way back, obviously this game being played for so many years as an intersectional rivalry, (and) they’re not up the street. They’re across the country. Great players have played in it. Great coaches that have coached in it. Nationally televised.

“So I just think the history, the tradition of it being played every year, it’s one of those rivalries that hasn’t gone away. It’s part of college football.”

As is often the case, the game carries high stakes along with history.

In fact, Kelly’s six wins against USC rank third all-time among Notre Dame coaches. He trails only Lou Holtz (nine) and Frank Leahy (eight).

The veteran coach knows better than to take USC lightly. The Trojans have a dynamic offense that has posted 27 points or more in four out of five contests this season. The only exception was a 28-14 loss at Washington on Sept. 28 in USC’s most recent game before a bye week last weekend.

A wave of injuries has forced USC to start three quarterbacks this season. JT Daniels suffered a torn ACL in the season opener, and freshman backup Kedon Slovis sustained a concussion, leaving the Trojans to turn to third-stringer Matt Fink.

Regardless of whether Slovis or Fink starts, USC boasts one of the top receivers in the nation. Michael Pittman Jr. has 35 receptions for 501 yards and four touchdowns through the Trojans’ first five games.

“Pittman is explosive,” Kelly said. “Gets down the field. Big-play receiver. Catches everything thrown his way.”

A nationally televised win against the Fighting Irish could go a long way toward bolstering the job security of head coach Clay Helton, who has been rumored to be on the hot seat since athletic director Lynn Swann resigned after the second week of the season.

Helton bristled at questions earlier this season about the program’s uncertain future.

“We don’t worry about noise,” he said. “We live in Los Angeles, California. There’s a ton of (darn) noise.”

The same could be said for Notre Dame Stadium, where the Fighting Irish have won 14 in a row.

Notre Dame is coming off a 52-0 win over Bowling Green last weekend in a tune-up for the Trojans. Senior quarterback Ian Book threw for five touchdowns while tallying only four incomplete passes.

On the season, Book has completed 65.5 percent of his passes for 1,254 yards, 13 touchdowns and two interceptions. He also has rushed for 160 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

The Fighting Irish have allowed only 14.8 points per game on defense this season. Julian Okwara leads the team with four sacks, and Jalen Elliott and Kyle Hamilton share the team lead with two interceptions apiece.