The Trojans will try to make it 6-1 this weekend when they visit Notre Dame. Kickoff in South Bend is at 3:43 PM and NBC will have the national television coverage. USC hopes to have Johnson and linebacker Brian Cushing back in the lineup. For the Trojans, it's all about getting through this tough stretch of games and getting players healthy again.
"If you can come up and find winning ways, that's really important," Carroll said. "It isn't about style points for us, it's about getting wins right now. In that, one of the benefits of this time is that a lot of guys get to play and they have to find their level of play. That helps us.
"We have a lot of games left. There's a whole second half of the season coming up. A lot of those guys that have been are going to continue to be part of it. What that becomes is what we'll find out. I can't tell you. There's a lot of things happening for the first time."
A first time happened last weekend. With starter John David Booty out with a broken finger, Matt Sanchez stepped in at quarterback. Down 13-10 heading into the fourth quarter, the junior hit Fred Davis for a 25-yard scoring strike it give USC the lead. Another key player was Joe McKnight. The highly touted freshman had a 45-yard punt return to set up the go-ahead touchdown and a 59-yard run late in the fourth quarter to set up a field goal for the winning margin. It wasn't pretty against a heavy underdog but it kept alive any hope for a shot at a national championship.
"I think everybody felt good about the game because it was a fun finish to that football game," Carroll said. "The crowd got going and the players were excited, I think uplifted by Mark's finish to the game and Joe McKnight's play.
"I felt the same way. It was a really good fourth quarter of playing defense, and the crowd just got into it. It was really a fun event. That was it as much as anything. I don't think it mattered what the standings were or who we were playing or any of that kind of stuff."
The Trojans were the top-ranked team coming into the season. USC started off the year with three double-digit victories before a narrow three-point victory at Washington. It set up for one of the all-time upsets in college football history. Stanford, a 41-pont underdog playing without their starting quarterback, came into the Coliseum and shocked the Trojans 24-23 on a late touchdown pass.
The air of invincibility that surrounded the program for so many years seemed to disappear in a single evening. In the recent dominant stretch of seasons, USC wouldn't lose to teams like the Cardinal, especially not at home where the Trojans hadn't lost since 2001. A chance at another national title will be an uphill climb. USC is No. 14 in the first edition of the BCS rankings.
But the Trojans can work themselves back into contention because of their schedule. USC has games left at Oregon, at California and at Arizona State. All three of these teams are currently ahead of the Trojans in the standings. USC also has to be sure not to get upset again. The first test of this will be on Saturday against the Irish. Notre Dame is in a rebuilding mode and 1-6 on the season. It would make the Irish's season to pull the upset over the heated rival.
"I know the situation with Notre Dame, who has had a tough start to their season, looks like this should be an easy game for us," Carroll said. "It's not going to be. This is a good, hard playing football team right now. They're finding themselves and trying to get on track with a bunch of new starters and new guys as well. This could be just like the rest of them.
"They're like a conference team. They play us every year and they know us really well and all of that. We expect a tremendous battle and makes it exciting and interesting."