Read Dan Weber's "Just Sayin': Rivalry Week" edition here.
There are times when it's all about history. Other times it's about the future. Or it could simply be about the here and now.
For USC's resurgent Trojans, winners of seven straight in their first Notre Dame workout Tuesday, it was about all three.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Darnold is the future as he just keeps adding to his resume week after week..
Junior wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, as he deals with the most painful injury day in his college career Saturday against UCLA, is the present -- for now. He's "50-50," he says on coming back and he is registered for class next semester so no need to answer questions about "his last game at the Coliseum," he says. No it's nothing but the Notre Dame game for him -- and how he gets his body ready for Saturday.
Then there's Clay Helton, head historian here, making sure everyone understands what's on the line this week. The Shillelagh, for one thing. Clay promised practice visitor Max Nikias that they'd get it back this week. Later Clay noted how USC already has the Victory Bell after Saturday's win over UCLA and getting the Shillelagh trophy the same year is something that's "happened maybe 20 times," Clay said, in the 83 seasons USC has played both archrivals.
And for the first time since 2008, USC would have gone unbeaten in October and November not to mention a perfect 6-0 at the Coliseum and 7-0 in LA.
"We have so much to play for in this game," Clay said. But with the College Football Playoff rankings released during practice and much of the discussion about whether an eight-win USC team that inched up one spot to No. 12, should be in the discussion with three losses.
"That's not our job," Clay said. He'll let the people whose job it is decide that one. "It's so hard to win a game at this level if there's any other noise out there," Clay said, "our job is to beat Notre Dame."
Having a healthy JuJu and a Sam slinging it like he has will make that much more doable. First, JuJu, who says that pass reception that had him landing just short of the goal line Saturday, injured him in three places -- his shoulder, his wrist and his hip -- not counting his back that's been a problem all season. "It was so much pain," he said as he also told himself as he headed to the X-ray room at the Rose Bowl that he "was definitely coming back."
And so he did, convincing the trainers he was all right and then subbing himself back into the game. How does he do that? "I just walk on the field and pull somebody out," JuJu said. Simple.
But the more it became obvious that he was dragging more than just a bit, Helton did have a third-quarter talk with JuJu reminding him "not to be selfish" after "he'd given us all he had and now it was time to trust his buddy," which he did allowing DeQuan Hampton to return to the field to complete a two-touchdown career game.
JuJu did talk about what is becoming a daily rehab regimen to get ready to play, starting as early as 7 in the morning for as much as three-and-a-half hours in the trainers room "before and after" practice, JuJu said. There's massage and core work along with hand and wrist special drills as well as an ice bath apparatus and JuJu's favorite, the underwater treadmill.
And then there was Sam, whose one special memory of this series, he says, is being there for the 2010 game at the Coliseum in a cold rain when his family was sitting next to a number of Notre Dame fans who shared their umbrellas. "They were very respectful," Sam said, as is he. "Their record doesn't show how good they are," Sam said. But the record Sam most remembers is this one: "They beat us last year," Sam says. Enough said.
But a big part of beating them back this year will be Sam being Sam. And that brings a smile to offensive coordinator Tee Martin's face as he describes that play in the UCLA game where the pocket collapsed on him twice with the nation's top sacker, Tak McKinley essentially breathing on him, and somehow, not once but twice, Sam escaped and as he did, found a target for a completion on a play that had sack written all over it.
"I have to snap back to coaching after a play like that," Tee says, as he becomes a fan first. "An amazing play . . . his brain works so fast and he processes things so quickly," Tee says wondering if Sam's other sports of basketball and baseball play into it. "He plays with such freedom . . you have to take something away from him," to keep him from using it. And then he'll still come back at you the way he did that 31-yard TD pass to Hampton that was six inches from an interception. It had to be perfect -- and it was.
"That's so unique in a freshman quarterback," Tee says. "His teammates love watching him play and they love playing with him."
They love something else, Clay said, reciting these numbers since the Utah game with Sam in control: "500 yards a game, 33,34-35 points a game."
Trojan alums showed up at practice Tuesday starting with A.D. Lynn Swann's roommate Sam Cunningham, Jim Obradovich, John Papadakis and most recently, Tony Burnett, who drove 30 hours from Winnipeg, stopping only in Salt Lake City, after Saturday's one-point loss by his Blue Bombers in the CFL playoff semifinals in order to beat the snow . . . Swann was here as well accompanying Pres. Max Nikias, to whom Helton made a promise that USC will get the Shillelagh back from the Irish . . . Clay put in a pitch for the effort Saturday led by Clay and his wife to collect 5,000 pairs of sneakers at the Coliseum for the homeless . . . For the injury report, Josh Fatu was here and did a bit of practice and looked like he'll be able to go Saturday . . . DB Jonathan Lockett worked with the defense and should be ready to go by week's end . . .nose tackle Stevie Tu'ikolovatu was in gear and ready to go but they went light on him preferring he be ready for Saturday . . . Freshman DB Pie Young is still out on concussion protocol . . . Adoree' Jackson's ankle was 100 percent . . . Chad Wheeler had his sprained wrist casted and practiced as normal . . . For more play-by-play from Tuesday's practice, go to TUESDAY NOTRE DAME WEEK GHOST NOTES.
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