Re-hashing the events of October 22, 2011 can be painful for Irish fans, but in summation:
- Notre Dame hosted an obscene number of high school prospects.
- Notre Dame debuted gaudy, I mean, shiny new gold helmets
- Notre Dame was favored by 9.5 points
- Notre Dame employed piped-in music for the first time in an effort to augment the band of the Fighting Irish
- Notre Dame hosted a night game in its Stadium for the first time in 21 years
- USC hammered Notre Dame.
Notre Dame junior running back Amir Carlisle remembers it well. His team surged thereafter.
"It was the most, I guess you could say, live environment we had that season," said Carlisle, a freshman on USC's kickoff return team at the time. "It was Notre Dame. Coach (Lane) Kiffin preached the entire week that it was a big game, it was Notre Dame. I remember the energy we had going into that game was very high. We got off the bus rockin'. It was a great experience coming here to play.
"It was a must-win game for us," he continued. "It was the moment that turned our season around that year and gave us the momentum to finish as a top 10 team."
Carlisle and USC finished 10-2, not eligible for a bowl game. Notre Dame ended 8-5, losing 18-14 to Florida State in late December. Carlisle was already Notre Dame bound at the time, though he officially enrolled weeks later for the January 2012 semester.
Notre Dame spent that calendar year undefeated while USC dropped six of 13, a development that hastened the firing of Lane Kiffin after a 3-2 start this season.
"It was unfortunate for coach Kiffin to get fired," said Carlisle. "(Interim) Coach (Ed) Orgeron is a great coach. A high-energy guy and the team has rallied around him. They played great against Arizona and we expect them to play great against us."
Carlisle hopes he has a larger part in the proceedings than the last three outings have afforded. Eight carries, 30 yards, no receptions, just two passes targeted.
"Like I always say, I play to glorify God. As a competitor, I want to play. I do," said Carlisle. "It starts on the practice field getting better every day. I'm going to continue to do what I do, give 110 percent on every play and when my number is called, do what I can and try to make a play for my team."
Asked if the uncertain, evolving rotation that is the four-player Notre Dame backfield makes it difficult, Carlisle noted, "It goes with the flow of a game to be honest. I'm happy for George (Atkinson) and Cam (McDaniel), or whoever makes a play. But every time I step out there I'm there to make a play. I'm a team guy and I want to do everything in my power to help my team win."
Carlisle's playing time over the last three contests has, perhaps not coincidentally, followed a Game Three win at *Purdue in which he started, carried 11 times, and caught three passes -- but fumbled late with the Irish protecting a 31-24 lead. The defense stiffened and Carlisle was bailed out of a running back's unconscionable mistake, but he's not enjoyed as much opportunity since (Carlisle did start two weeks later vs. Oklahoma).
"I had two hands on the ball, put one hand on the ball at the last second and the safety came and put his helmet on the ball," he said of the fumble. "It's just keeping five points of pressure on the ball when you're in traffic. It's the simplest thing for a running back."
(*Carlisle's father, Duane, is the Boilermakers director of sports performance for its 18 athletic teams.)
Mixing Business with Personal
Irish head coach Brian Kelly was asked Tuesday if he might play a hunch and afford Carlisle extra work early in Saturday's contest.
"I like hunches sometimes in a sense and feel. When you get a sense of a game, you go with it," Kelly said. "I will say this about Amir: I think the game has dictated his play and how the game has unfolded. And I think he's been ready every week.
"If we look back early in the season, he started off really well, and then we just had some other guys that have played well. So I think it's been more about multiple players playing well at that position, more so than his play has not elevated itself. I think we really just have a situation where we're just trying to get all those guys playing. But having said that...I think you can see he's pretty focused this week.
"My guess is he's going to be excited about the opportunity to play against USC. So we'll be keenly aware of his want to play very well against USC."
Carlisle didn't deny extra incentive for Saturday.
"I'm not going to lie, yeah, there's an excitement for me, personally, to be able to face my former team. But I'm not going to let that deter me from my focus on the game itself," he said. "I'm going to take my approach this game like any other game, but right now, yeah, there's extra excitement.
"For them to be here, it's going to be a weird dynamic for me, but it's exciting," Carlisle admitted. "It's an opportunity to show what I can do on the football field and to glorify God."
"I have nothing but respect for USC and the football program there. I enjoyed myself there, I enjoyed the staff and my teammates. It's a game, but it'll be all business.
Just not business as usual.