Although Notre Dame has played seven consecutive weeks, coach Marcus Freeman insists his team isn’t tired.
It’s starting to look that way, though, as the 21st-ranked Fighting Irish have dropped two of their last three games heading into Saturday’s marquee meeting with No. 10 Southern California in South Bend, Ind.
But for Freeman, the tumultuous schedule is no excuse, and a meeting with another ranked opponent presents a perfect opportunity to get back on track.
“We’re not tired. You play Saturday night. You’ve got all day to rest. That’s what a part of being at Notre Dame is about,” Freeman said. “We’re fortunate. We get four prime-time games, and that’s how we’ve got to look at it.
“We get another prime-time game versus USC at Notre Dame Stadium. And if you don’t have the bubbles in your stomach, then you’re not the elite competitor that we need you to be.”
Notre Dame (5-2) is coming off last weekend’s 33-20 loss at then-No. 25 Louisville. Irish quarterback Sam Hartman completed 22 of 38 passes for 254 yards and two touchdowns, but he also threw his first three interceptions of the season.
The Irish went into the break tied 7-7, but their defense faltered in the second half, allowing 26 points.
Things won’t get any easier on Saturday with the Trojans (6-0) coming to town.
USC leads the FBS in average points per game (51.8) and ranks fourth in total offense (523.3 yards per game). Its success on that side of the ball has been fueled by star quarterback and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams, who already has thrown for 1,822 yards and 22 TDs against just one interception.
Williams also has rushed for six scores.
“He is very elite with arm talent, with decision-making, with the ability to extend plays. He is a well-rounded, very talented football player,” Freeman said of Williams. “Our defense will have its work cut out for it, for sure.”
The Trojans’ spirits are high after beating Arizona 43-41 in triple overtime last Saturday. USC escaped with the victory despite being outgained 506-365, and coach Lincoln Riley knows his high-octane offense will face another challenge this week against an experienced Notre Dame defense.
“They’ve obviously (been) playing at a high level defensively again, like they did last season — return a lot of familiar faces,” Riley told Trojans Live. “They’re one of the older defenses that we’ll play, seniors all over the place.”
Saturday will mark the 94th meeting between the programs, and the Irish hold a 50-38-5 advantage in the all-time series. USC won 38-27 last season in Los Angeles.
Riley wants his players to understand the history of the USC-Notre Dame rivalry, but he doesn’t want them to be consumed by it.
“We did a little bit last year before the game, we’ll do a little bit this year, just to give them a taste of the history,” Riley said. “I don’t want us to focus on that, but I don’t want us to just completely miss it and not understand it either.
“This is an important game to college football.”