No Comparison

Irish seniors reflect on their journey vs. USC, one that began with public embarrassment but has culminated (to date) with a win on the same Coliseum sod that housed their darkest hours.

50 yards rushing and 41 yards passing; four first downs including one courtesy a USC penalty.

Notre Dame's ideal drive for Saturday night's contest vs. the Trojans? Maybe, but the numbers also mark the most futile offensive effort in the history of the ND/USC series, a 38-3 Irish annihilation in 2008 to the then invincible Men of Troy.

That dark day in Los Angeles offered such consistencies as 1.9 yards per pass attempt; 1.9 yards per rush; and roughly a 1.9 percent chance the Irish would eventually score a touchdown if the teams remained on the Coliseum sod for the rest of Thanksgiving weekend. Notre Dame was out-gained on the day, 441 yards to 91.

Six current Notre Dame starters played extensive minutes in that contest with eight remaining roster members seeing playing time. They've come a long way.

"My first year there I remember their starters were not taking it seriously at all," said Ethan Johnson of the carnage. "I had like 5 tackles and a sack. The ‘sack' was a fluke. On one tackle I don't think the guard was even paying attention to me. They looked at each other (after) and were like, ‘Oh crap. Did you have him?'

"But the game was over…It was over before it started. It was terrible."

Johnson was part of a heartbreaking loss one season later in South Bend (34-27). He starred in a thrilling victory in his return to the Coliseum last fall.

"Having a real game with those guys was very different," Johnson reminisced. "It was awesome. So far, for my personal enjoyment, I enjoyed that (win) the most," he said prior to the 2011 season. "Because USC had trampled us in the past."

At one point, USC trampled most. From mid-2002 through 2005 (36-2) and then again in 2008 (12-1), the Trojans regularly employed a scorched-earth policy at both home and on the road.

A young, impressionable Trevor Robinson remembers those teams well.

"When I was in high school, USC was almost a mythical team," mused the Irish senior guard on Tuesday. "They were winning every game and they were killing teams. They came into Nebraska and I watched them play in Lincoln, and they were running the ball for 300 yards and I was like, ‘Man, whose going to beat these guys?'

"Then I get here and we go out my freshman year (2008) and don't get first down until the 4th Quarter. We weren't competitive, and as we've gone through we've gotten better and better and we've been able to compete.

"Getting that win last year gave a lot of guys confidence."

After eight consecutive losses, what does one win do for the rivalry?

"I think it changes our perspective; I can't speak for them," Robinson said. "I know one win is a lot different than eight losses in a row. The young guys can look and say this team isn't better than us like they used to be.

"At the same time, its still 0-0 when the game starts this year."

Both sentiments were echoed by safety and team captain, Harrison Smith, who started the '08 game at outside linebacker.

"There was quite a difference in those trips," he quipped of the '08 vs. '10 experiences. "Looking back to some of the great guys that have been through SC, there were a lot of them there at that time ('08).

"It's interesting to see both sides of it and some of the guys that were there for both can take those experiences into this game. Having seen both sides probably helps us in preparation this week. But USC is always a tough group with a lot of talent and they're well-coached. It's going to be a battle."


Smith sealed the 2010 Irish win with this interception

Change has come

Robinson's assimilation to the ND/USC rivalry included a humbling moment, one he's come to grips with since the 2010 Irish finished off a 3-0 November with an upset vs. the Men of Troy.

"There we were, two years later on the same field and having a close game and winning at the end," he said of the 20-16 Irish victory.

"For me that was the best game that we've had in terms of feeling (an) accomplishment. Before, I was lining up across from guys so much better than me. I wasn't going to be able to compete. I was 18 at the time and we had a double tight end package where I was lined up at tight end next to Sam (Young), and Brian Cushing came over and covered me up and I was like, ‘He is so much better than me,' Robinson said of the former USC ‘backer and current Houston Texans starter.

"That's not the case anymore."

The Irish churned out 147 rushing yards (4.6 per carry) vs. the Trojans last season, holding their hosts to just 80 on the ground (2.7 per pop), and winning despite a 4-0 turnover disadvantage. USC's four scoring drives (field goal, FG, touchdown, FG) covered a total of 38 yards on 22 snaps with each set up by a Tommy Rees turnover.

USC's lone touchdown was the result of a four-play, two-yard drive.

Notre Dame's three scoring drives (all touchdowns) covered 79, 62, and 77 yards. Two of the trio nearly as many as that '08 team managed for the entire contest two seasons prior.

"The moral of the story I guess is that's not where we are any more," Robinson concluded, "We're able to do what we need to do."

Note: The USC/Notre Dame series has been marked by extended streaks. Notre Dame has avoided losses (won or tied) vs. the Trojans in three straight; four straight; five straight; seven straight; and 13 straight contests – a series record from 1983-1995. USC won or tied in three straight (three times); five straight; six straight; and most recently, eight straight prior to last season's 20-16 defeat.

In fact, you have to go back to 1963-64-65 to see a W-L-W three-game set by either team, an occurrence the Trojans hope for with a win Saturday night.


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