Quarterback Brady Quinn will be coming off arguably one of his best performances in an Irish uniform when he takes the field on Saturday. The sophomore quarterback says the Irish are excited to play the nation's top team.
"As you guys know, this is a big rivalry, but the fact that they are No. 1 on top of that is something that kind of pumps us up a little more," said Quinn.
Quinn's excitement might end quickly as he'll face one of the most talented defenses he's faced all season. The Trojans have recorded 42 sacks and are ranked No. 2 in the country against the run.
"The front four is very athletic, very fast, quick off the ball," said Quinn of the Trojan defense. "Their backers flow to the ball hard. They get in the passing lanes a lot. And their (defensive backs), for the most part, they've got great speed and they stick with the wide receivers. You rarely ever see a wide-out break past their coverage."
For the Irish to win, Quinn believes the key will be time of possession.
"Try to get long drives," said Quinn when asked how the Irish can win. "I think if you can move the ball, have ball possession for a long time, and not turn the ball over, that will allow us to keep their offense off the field. And at the same time, that will wear on their defense."
Just to have the ball won't be enough, however. The Irish will have to score points when they have the ball on offense.
"That's going to be vital with an offense like theirs," Quinn agreed. "You know they're going to put points on the board. We just need to make sure we do the best we can to match those points and put more on the board."
Senior running back Ryan Grant has played in a number of games against the Trojans. He knows that anything can happen when these two teams strap it up.
"You can throw out whatever record, or what's happened in the past, it doesn't make a difference," Grant said of the rivalry. "Both teams are going to fight and get after it."
"They're a good team and they've showed it," the Nyack, N.Y. native said of the Trojans. "It's not about what they do. We need to get ourselves correct and know what we want to accomplish and get after it. We know what type of atmosphere it's going to be. We need to execute on both sides of the ball."
The senior running back said he believes the Irish can win the game.
"I think we match up talent-wise," he said. "We've shown during the season, when we're consistent and when things come together, we can be very explosive. What better stage can you ask for?"
Senior offensive lineman Dan Stevenson said this is the type of game where this Irish team rises to the occasion.
"This kind of seems like the atmosphere that we play best in, whether that's a good thing or not," said Stevenson. "You only get so many opportunities in a college career to go out there play the No. 1 team. This is one of those games that you kind of live for."
The Barrington, Ill. native said the USC defense is as good as their press clippings.
"They're good," he said. "They're probably as good as any defensive front we've seen if not better. It's definitely going to be a battle for the offensive line and the offense as a whole."
Senior linebacker Mike Goolsby agreed with Stevenson and said the Irish play their best football when the chips are down.
"I guess the one thing that we can take into it is we literally have nothing to lose," said Goolsby. "In the past, this year especially, we play our best games when everybody else counts us out, when our backs are against the wall."
The Irish defense will have to find a way to stop sophomore sensation Reggie Bush on Saturday. Goolsby said the Irish can't just focus on Bush, but they'll have to account for him on every play.
"They're all great weapons for their quarterback and they all work well in their scheme," Goolsby said of the Trojan offense. "I think a guy like Bush; he's a heck of an athlete. It's hard for anybody to cover him, much less a linebacker.
"I think the one thing that we can take in the game that can kind of help us out is knowing where he's going before he gets there. He's going to beat you in a footrace."
The Irish will also have to stop Heisman Trophy candidate Matt Leinart. Leinart had a great game last year against the Irish completing 26-of-34 passes for 351 yards and four touchdowns.
"With a quarterback like that, you've kind of got to give him as many looks as possible--move around--mix up the coverages," said Goolsby when asked how to stop Trojan quarterback Matt Leinart.
Senior defensive end Kyle Budinscak also believes the Trojans will be the best team the Irish will face this season.
"Probably the biggest challenge of the year," Budinscak said. "They do so many different things on offense, and they have so many guys they can go to, between the two tailbacks they have, and they use Bush at all those different positions and how explosive he is. They can do so many things out of so many different formations. We've got to step up."
Budinscak knows that hardly anyone believes the Irish will win this game.
"I know a lot of people don't give us a chance, and to me that bothered me," he said. I just want to go out and prove otherwise.
"I think this game, what it's going to come down to is how much we care. How much we care about this University, about having pride, how much these guys really want to go out there and prove something."
The Irish will need a monumental effort on Saturday to beat the Trojans. At almost 22-point underdogs, not many believe the Irish will win this game. But as many of the Irish played noted, this is usually the stage where this team plays its best football. We shall see.