Front-Line Talent Remains

Marqise Lee is questionable with a knee injury

Irisheyes.com examines USC's front-line talent, a collection that will challenge Notre Dame on both sides of the ball Saturday night in South Bend.

Sixty-two points allowed in late September. A loss to Washington State earlier in the month. An embattled head coach fired in the airport parking lot post-game. And after an enviable run from Carlson Palmer to Matt Leinart to John David Booty (well, less so) to Mark Sanchez to Matt Barkley, there's not even a quarterback offered as a pre-season candidate for Heisman consideration.

What in the name of Malibu beach houses is going on in Southern California these days?

The post-Pete Carroll era has not been kind to USC and his replacement, the since-deposed Lane Kiffin: 8-5, 10-2, 7-6, 3-2.

15 losses in 43 games. It took Carroll 80 games to lose his 15th as the Trojans head man. After a 6-6 start to his Troy tenure, Carroll's USC teams compiled a 91-13 record (including at one point, an astonishing 46-2 run) from 2003 through his resignation following a relatively disappointing 9-4 finish in 2009.

9-4 looks pretty good right now.

From '02 through '08, no USC team lost more than twice, though NCAA-valued sins committed during the Carroll tenure saddled the program with two seasons of probation and scholarship limitations that impact the team today, long after the Seattle Seahawks current head coach jumped ship.

Kiffin's interim replacement Ed Orgeron (who like Kiffin, was also on staff during the aforementioned sins of Trojans past, it should be noted) righted the ship for one week, holding off Arizona in a 38-31 Thursday night catharsis in a contest the Trojans led 28-3 at the half and 31-10 midway through the third period.

As evidenced by the effort, front-line talent, if not an embarrassment of riches among the backup ranks, still exists.

Below are a collection of Trojans already familiar to Irish fans as well as a sampling of newcomers who'll play a key role in the 85th rendition of the greatest inter-sectional rivalry in college sports.

Trojans Defense

Much like Notre Dame, USC is able to shift from a 3-4 to 4-3 front pre-snap thanks to a defensive line that includes athletes such as 6'5" 290-pound defensive end Leonard Williams and 6'3" 275-pounder George Uko flanking 6'0" 310 Antwuan Woods in the middle.

Sophomore defensive end Leonard Williams: Has 36 stops including 7.5 for loss as a field side defensive end. As a true freshman last season, Williams registered 13.5 tackles for loss among his whopping 64 stops. The 6'5" 290-pounder finished with eight tackles, a half-sack, and a pass defended last season vs. the Irish.

Senior defensive tackle George Uko: The former Scout.com five-star prospect is tied for the team lead with four sacks, recording 4.5 tackles for loss with a forced fumble. Said Irish head coach Brian Kelly of Uko, "he and Williams are very disruptive inside."

Senior middle linebacker Hayes Pullard: Tied for the team lead in tackles with 36, Pullard has already broken up six passes and intercepted another in six games this season. His ability to cover move in short zone coverage could push the Irish passing attack -- already based outside the hash marks -- even further from the middle of the field. Pullard led all tacklers in last year's matchup between the teams with 13 while leading both squads with eight tackles in the 2011 contest.

Junior DL/OLB J.R. Tavai: In relief of outside linebacker Morgan Breslin (4 sacks, 7.5 TFL on the season), the 270-pounder posted 10 tackles including 3.5 for loss and a quarterback hurry last week vs. Arizona in his first career start. Tavai was Scout.com's No. 6 ranked fullback prospect coming out of high school in Manhattan Beach, California.

Senior defensive back Josh Shaw: The University of Florida transfer has started twice at cornerback and four games at safety this season including last week's win vs. Arizona. Shaw posted five stops and a pass breakup vs. the Irish last season.

Freshman safety Su'a Cravens: The true freshman early enrollee ranks third on the team in tackles (31) while recording two interceptions and a trio of passes defended in his first six collegiate contests. Cravens was Scout.com's No. 1 safety prospect for 2013.

Junior linebacker Lamar Dawson: The 6'2" 230-pound do-everything weak side 'backer has 29 tackles including 2.5 for loss with two passes defended, a QB hurry and a sack to his credit this fall. Dawson registered 10 tackles vs. the Irish in last year' s matchup including one for loss and another for no gain.

Senior linebacker Dion Bailey: Three-year starter has eight interceptions to his credit as a collegian including two this fall. Bailey has broken up five passes already to augment his 30 stops, 2.5 of which have been for loss. Bailey broke up two Everett Golson passes in last year' s 22-13 loss to the Irish.

5th-year senior cornerback Torin Harris: Led the team with six pass breakups in 2012 and has already matched that total through six games this fall. Harris

USC Offense

The nation's most dynamic wide receiver, Marqise Lee, is considered questionable following a September 21 knee injury that caused him to miss both of the Trojans last two games. Lee was held in check last season vs. Notre Dame, the Irish limiting him to five receptions for 75 yards including a 53-yard strike late that led to the visitor's season-defining goal line stand.

The 2012 Biletnikoff winner as the nation's top receiver, Lee posted an obscene 118 receptions for 1,721 yards and 14 scores in 2012, adding 106 yards rushing and a kickoff return touchdown. Said Lee to the Los Angeles Times Tuesday, ""I'm coming around pretty good. By Saturday, I think I'll be 100%."

Gone from the mix is wide receiver Robert Woods, who bludgeoned Notre Dame with 27 receptions, 292 yards, and three scores in his Trojans career. Woods left Troy after his junior season for the NFL.

Sophomore wide receiver Nelson Agholor: One of two healthy scholarship receivers for the Trojans to take part in last week's win over Arizona, Agholor ripped the Wildcats for 161 yards on seven catches including a 61-yard touchdown.

Redshirt-sophomore running back Tre Madden: A linebacker as a true freshman in 2011, Madden lost the 2012 campaign to a knee injury after moving to the offensive backfield. He leads the Trojans in rushing (611 yards, 5.3 per rush, 3 scores) while ranking third behind Lee and Agholor with 13 catches for 198 yards and a team-best four receiving touchdowns. His 134.8 yards from scrimmage ranks 23rd nationally though he's one of 11 among that 23 that does not have return stats figured in.

Redshirt-sophomore quarterback Cody Kessler: The 6'1" 215-pounder played well last week, hitting 15 of 30 passes for 297 yards and two long touchdowns without an interception. Kessler has tossed four picks on the year (vs. 8 scores) while hitting 60 percent of his throws. Kessler hit 15 of 17 passes for two touchdowns vs. Boston College in a 35-7 mid-September victory.

Freshman running back Justin Davis: 6'1" 200 pounder enrolled last January and his early assimilation has paid dividends, with Davis leading the squad in rushing scores (6), and yards per carry, (6.8 on 51 attempts). Davis will compliment Madden throughout Saturday night's contest in South Bend.

Redshirt-Junior tight end Xavier Grimble: A 19-game starter, the 6'5 250-pound Grimble entered the season with 44 receptions and nine touchdowns, adding another 10 grabs and a score through six games this fall.

5th-year senior running back Silas Redd: The team's leading rusher last season, Redd missed most of the 2013 spring and off-season recovering from surgery for torn knee cartilage. The former Penn State transfer totaled 77 rushing yards on 12 carries vs. Notre Dame last season but has been limited to just 19 carries and a long gain of 12 yards this fall.

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