Lindsey Thiry: Ed Orgeron took over on Sep. 29 and made about every change possible to the USC program. Under Lane Kiffin, practices were closed to the media, sweets weren't allowed at training table, coaches stayed well into the early morning hours to prepare for the upcoming game. Orgeron immediately opened practices, not only returned sweets to training table but catered Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles, and coaches must be out of the office every night by 10pm.
It's too early to tell if Orgeron really is the head coach USC needs or rather an interim guy who was able to inject some energy and is propelling a wave of momentum with the midseason change. There was little doubt USC would come out with a lot of life against Arizona, their first game under Orgeron. But this weekend in South Bend should be much more telling of what their real ability under him is, since the emotional charge has clearly dissipated.
Question #2 - Even in defeat, graduated SC receiver Robert Woods killed ND during his Trojans tenure. What can Irish fans expect from sophomore Nelson Agholor and if Marqise Lee returns from injury, can he be close to his old self this week?
Lindsey Thiry: Nelson Agholor has all the tools to be the same caliber player as Robert Woods. In Lee's absence against Arizona, Agholor stepped up big for the Trojans, catching seven passes for 161 yards including a 62-yard long touchdown. Agholor cannot be ignored when defenses game plan for USC... even though on the other side of the field is 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner Marqise Lee.
Lee was forced to sit out against Arizona since suffering a knee sprain in the fourth quarter at Arizona State. He's back on the practice field this week and says he hopes to be 100% by Saturday's kickoff. Lee will most likely be back to his old self against the Irish, though his "2013" old self -- as of late -- seems to be a bit of a downgrade from his 2012 self. However, with the handcuffs off the offense, maybe Lee will go back to shining like college football fans have come to expect.
Question #3 - The Irish have scored just four offensive touchdowns over the last three games vs. USC's defense. Are the Trojans still capable of that type of effort defensively? I assume the 62 points allowed vs. Arizona State late last month had a healthy dose of quitting/quitting on Kiffin, included?
Lindsey Thiry: USC boasted a top ten defense through its first four games of the season. Then suffered major letdowns against Utah State and Arizona State. The defensive line is the real deal, anchored by sophomore Leonard Williams, but it's the Trojans secondary that is cause for major concern. Cornerback was and continues to be the position of weakness and is their most exposed.
Starting cornerback Anthony Brown went down in game one at Hawaii, he's expected to make his return this weekend which should help their cause. I don't think the 62-points allowed at ASU were a result of quitting on Kiffin; this defensive unit plays for defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast and defensive line coach Ed Orgeron (now interim head coach). Those are two staff members this team continues to praise as coaches who they believe in.
Question #4 - Are the Trojans now a run-first offense by design and/or talent base (RBs + O-Line) or is it because quarterback Cody Kessler is not yet up to speed?
Lindsey Thiry: The quarterback battle between Cody Kessler and Max Wittek started in spring, continued through fall, and even into the first two games of the season. Kessler never had chance when splitting reps to find his rhythm with this offense; this offense never had a chance to find it's identity. Since Kessler finally has a few weeks under his belt, you can see the confidence in him starting to grow. USC has a very talented group of five tailbacks.
Their best option is to establish their run game before throwing downfield to try to free up Lee and Agholor. That's what we saw against Arizona and that's what I assume will happen in South Bend. The Trojans will pound the ball on the ground with their talented backs and then fire downfield for Lee and Agholor. Kessler's arm is perfectly up to par to get them the ball.
Question #5 - USC rolled Notre Dame in a similar situation in 2011 (as a reeling road underdog in prime time on Notre Dame's biggest recruiting weekend). Is that a theme around SC's program this weekend? And that group had Matt Barkley leading the charge. Does this team have the on field leadership to come out and play its best game under the lights?
Lindsey Thiry: I don't think this team is viewing itself as an underdog, I don't think this team is thinking about how big of a weekend this is on Notre Dame's end. This team is still trying to figure who they are, focused on moving on from Kiffin, adjusting to Ed Orgeron.
The leadership situation has changed, no more Matt Barkley, but in his absence there are a number of different players who are stepping up to lead; including Penn State transfer Silas Redd. Rivalry week against Notre Dame is no doubt huge, no need to downplay that, but right now what seems bigger is what has been happening inside the walls of Troy.