The Irish will travel to USC in two weeks to face their rival. The Trojans are flying high behind a gritty defense and a powerful offense.
The Trojans are ranked No. 2 in rushing and scoring defense in the country, and we spoke with offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick to get his thoughts on USC's impressive defense.
"They're very talented," said Diedrick of the Trojans. "They're very, very good up front. Their linebackers are talented. They've got the team speed and they're playing extremely well and very confident. Shoot, they're No. 1 in the nation and that didn't happen by accident."
Diedrick said the Trojan defense begins with stopping the run.
"You look at what they're doing against the rush, 69 yards a game, so they're doing something right," he said.""I think they're extremely well coached. I think they have very, very talented players. They really get the maximum amount of all of their players."
An important note for the Irish, the Notre Dame offense had an impressive showing in the Pittsburgh loss and Diedrick says he hopes his team can use that performance as confidence heading into the USC game.
"I think there's many things that you can build upon," Diedrick said. "I think the number of guys who stepped up and made big plays, even the couple of penalties that were called back. I think you look at six of the 12 drives where we scored, if you don't get the penalty on the one right before half, you're probably looking at seven of the 12.
"I think after Brady settled down midway through the first quarter, (he) played a good, solid game. I thought we were more consistent up front. You look at all the positives, and unfortunately it occurred in a loss so that's the huge disappointment."
Defensive coordinator Kent Baer will have the difficult task of shutting down the potent USC offense. The Trojans are ranked No. 6 in the country in scoring offense averaging a little over 37 points per game.
"The thing that is so noticeable to me is that they have no weaknesses," said Baer of the Trojan offense. "A lot of times you look at an offense and you say ‘ok, they have a couple of weak lineman, and the tight end is not a great blocker, the fullback is kind of average,' these guys are great across the board.
"They've got a lot of talent—an abundance of talent—almost league amongst themselves. It's certainly a heck of a challenge for us. But you watch the Stanford game, you watch the Cal game, and some guys have played them pretty tough, played them pretty smart, and we're going to have to play them smart."
One of the keys to stopping USC is stopping the multitalented Reggie Bush. Baer said Trojan offensive coordinator Norm Chow knows how to get the most mileage out of his star running back.
"They use him so well," Baer said of Bush. "He's a tailback, he's a fullback at times with two tailbacks in the game, he's a wide receiver at times. They motion him out of the backfield. They line him up wide. They use him smart and try to get him as many touches as they can.
"You really got to know where he's at, but I think one of the problems is you can't just pay too much attention to him because they're so talented in other spots. It really creates some match ups for you."
Also important is stopping quarterback and Heisman-hopeful, Matt Leinart. Leinart has thrown 23 touchdowns this season while only throwing five interceptions.
"He gets the ball out in a hurry," Baer said of Leinart. "You don't get a lot of hits on him. They move him out of the pocket more than they've ever moved any of their quarterbacks before. It's tough to get to him, and he's not a scrambler, he's going to get rid of the ball. We're just going to have to be sound in what we do coverage-wise."
Head coach Tyrone Willingham also met with the media on Tuesday and was asked how he's handled the two difficult losses to Boston College and Pittsburgh recently.
"We've had two out of three that have been right down to the end and just kind of yanked your heart out," Willingham said. "It takes a little while for the heart to get back up to speed. I can't stay down because if I stay down, my team stays down. I got to bounce back and be ready to go."
Willingham spent a great deal of time personally recruiting Reggie Bush when Bush was a high school senior. We asked Willingham if it were difficult to watch him playing for the opposition and now having to defend him.
"There is no question this is a very talented young man," he said of Bush. "He makes a huge difference in their team. He opens up things for other guys. Just having him on the field at certain times and handing the ball to the other guy makes them a very potent team. We don't like looking at it, but we'll have to find a way to defense him and slow him down and slow their team down."
The Irish lost 45-14 to USC last season in Notre Dame Stadium. The Trojans went on to win a share of the National Championship. We asked Willingham if this USC was as good as the team they saw last year in Notre Dame Stadium."I would probably say in many regards they're better," Willingham said. " And there are probably some areas where they're learning and growing, but overall I'd say they're a better team."
The Irish will have to rebound from their disappointing loss to Pittsburgh last week to have any chance in this game. But that's when this team seems to play their best football—when their back is against the wall. Going out and beating the No. 1 team in the country on the road might be too talk of task for this team, however.