As much as Trojans -- players and fans alike -- are expected not to like Notre Dame, they have to like how they have a chance to finish strong at home against the Irish Saturday (12:30 p.m. Fox) after what happened against UCLA last week.
And as difficult as it is to have two archrivals -- something few teams other than USC and maybe Michigan (Michigan State, Ohio State) can boast -- and then getting them in back-to-back games, it does have its upside. At least it does this year.
"It's a good matchup for us -- and them," Steve Sarkisian said after Tuesday's full-pads practice. "It's two teams with their backs against the wall." Both 7-4, one coming off its fourth loss in five games, the other after losing its third straight Crosstown Rivalry.
Not that USC is "ecstatic about it," Sark said of having to come back from the one-sided UCLA loss, but the Trojans, he said, have shown "a good ability to bounce back" from losses like that.
So far this season, USC has done just that with wins after all three of its previous losses.
Is his team resilient? "All I can do is go by the last 48 hours," Sark said. So far, so good.
Tuesday's practice seemed to have the normal amount of pep and full-pads physicality. Maybe just a bit more. Now that's still probably not enough for a team conserving its numbers after playing just 38 against UCLA.
But there are the long-term benefits. "All of these things we have been through are valuable moments," Sark said, "teachable moments."
For young players needing to learn what it takes. "We had five true freshmen playing together on offense," Sark said, when WR Juju Smith, TE Bryce Dixon and offensive linemen Toa Lobendahn, Viane Talamaivao and Damien Mama were in there together.
Throw in corner Adoree Jackson, who is "playing lights out," according to Sark and "it just sets the story line for what's to come." But that is then, when it happens down the road. This week is Notre Dame and that's the here and now.
"I don't know if there could be a better game for us than Notre Dame on Senior Day," Sark said. Or a better rivalry to be a part of. "I cherished it as an assistant coach . . . and I'm humbled to be a part of it" with all the great coaches and players who have come before him."
"It's the last game for Randall and Hayes," Cody Kessler said, "we won't need anything special."
Only it is special.
"It's really cool," Cody said. "Some say it's as big as the UCLA rivalry -- and it is."
"It's a great game against a great university -- just like USC is a great university," Nelson Agholor said and he's moved on from that UCLA game as much as he wasn't pleased with his own failings at "fundamentals" against the Bruins. "It was execution . . . I didn't make plays . . . we didn't make plays."
But that page has been turned, Nelson said. "You wake up [Sunday] and it's football. I think we're going to be a very good football team this week . . . It's a great opportunity for us."
After last week, it might be more thaan that. Winning here is the one thing that will keep USC from going 0-6 against its two rivals the last three years.
But of even more matter is sending Randall, Hayes and Co. out as winners. It's all USC players were talking about.
"Those guys have been through all the tough times," said Buck Allen, a redshirt junior who came in with them.
"Those guys stuck in there when we couldn't go to a bowl game," Allen said. "We've got great leaders -- including me. We're not going to let the guys down on this game."
Focus on the future
Don't talk to Tim Drevno about his young offensive line guys getting pushed around by UCLA Saturday. "I don't agree with you that we weren't physical at the point of attack," he said.
That wasn't where the problem was. Only on that early fourth and 2 at the UCLA 5 did USC get a running back hit before he got to the line of scrimmage, Drevno noted. "That was a big emphasis."
As to being limited to 62 yards rushing (a 1.9 average on 33 carries), Drevno said that also counts the minus-42 yards on quarterback sacks. So they gained 104 in all. But did give up six sacks so . . .
"I wouldn't say we weren't physical," Drevno said, although the Trojans didn't break through to the second or third levels with either the blockers or the running backs getting there.
"But that's still not good enough although we didn't have a bad snap," he said with a big grin. As to the challenge to get this young bunch that might be starting true freshmen Lobendahn, Mama and Talamaivao against Notre Dame, "I thrive on these things," Drevno said.
And so are his young charges, even if the UCLA game didn't show it. "UCLA is a really good football team," Drevno said. "Some times you have a rough outing -- that's the way the pickle squirts.
"I don't look at them as freshmen, I look at them as competitors." Drevno said. "They're not freshmen, they're young football players, rookies -- but they're very talented."
And they'll have Mama back for full-time duty, it appears. "He appears to be healthy," Sark said of the 360-pounder who "has the mass to move people out."
But are they ready for a Notre Dame defense, down three starters to injuries, that is increasingly relying on the blitz? "It's Tuesday," Sark said. "We'll be prepared."
And it's not all on the young guys up front. "Play calling will help," Sark said. "And Cody not patting the ball back there will help," something Kessler agrees with saying when his receivers are covered the way they were against UCLA, "I have to throw more balls away."
But eventually, it comes down to this, Sark said: "We have to block 'em."
Bryce Dixon was at practice but out of pads after suffering concussion-like symptoms at the UCLA game . . . only Trojan regular in a yellow jersey was Leon McQuay III . . . Two Trojan seniors wearing their high school jerseys were TE Telfer in his Rancho Cucamonga purple and Giovanni Di Poalo in his St. Bonaventure green and gold . . . still waiting for Hayes Pullard (Crenshaw), Gerald Bowman (Phila. Imhotep), Josh Shaw (Palmdale), Anthony Neyer (Xavier College Prep), JR Tavai (Mira Costa), Aundrey Walker (Cleveland Glenville), Nathan Guertler (Norco), Teddy Baker (Loomis-Chaffee (Mass.) . . . injured Lamar Dawson (Boyle County, Ky.) and Chris Willson (St. Paul) started the year as seniors but Dawson will return and Willson would need a sixth-year medical redshirt . . . Trojans now will have one more early morning practice with Thursday's Thanksgiving workout moving up to 9:20 from 11:20 . . . Wednesday practice remains at 11:15.
For a postpractice wrapup of Tuesday's workout, check out See what USC Trojan fans are saying here