Notre Dame defense hopes to prove itself against USC
One of the biggest reasons for Notre Dame's turnaround after last season has been the growth of the defense under new coordinator Mike Elko, but with a talented offense and quarterback coming to Notre Dame Stadium, they're hoping to show that the improvement hasn't been a fluke.
"To play our rival under the lights at home, it's a blessing man. Just looking forward to the opportunity," said defensive lineman Daelin Hayes.
Notre Dame vs. USC is a matchup that riles up both sides of the rivalry, whether in the stands or on the field. The Notre Dame offense has put up plenty of points this season, it's been complimented by a defense that has more than held its own in 2017.
"We have a lot of faith in our defense so I don't think that's much of a concern," said running back Josh Adams. "They play for us, and we're going to go out there and play for them. That's what makes us a great team is that we play for each other."
That trust has been fulfilled by the defense's vast improvement since last year, but against an offense that can light up the scoreboard, this game is the latest in a season full of tests.
"We plan on slowing them down the same way we slow everybody else down," said Hayes. "We focus us, we focus on our process and get prepared for the fight."
The process for Notre Dame's defense has been simple under new coordinator Mike Elko. Since making schemes less complicated, the unit has held every opponent to 20 points or fewer this season, and the Irish D is playing with a noticeable confidence.
"It's a new system, obviously a new coordinator," said linebacker Nyles Morgan. "He does things differently and let's you really just play free. A little more simplified so guys are flying around. You have one job, so do it hard, do it fast and the ball should come to you."
Despite that confidence, USC star quarterback Sam Darnold is expected to be the toughest matchup the Irish will face all season, so pressuring the sophomore QB will be a major point of emphasis."
"I think that's huge for any quarterback," said Hayes. "Getting in his face and hitting the guy makes him uncomfortable. Coach Long says the quickest way to shut down an offense is to hit the quarterback and make him uncomfortable. I think that'll be huge this week."
Regardless of the defensive performance to this point, they know it's a week-by-week process of improvement, but a rivalry game allows just a little more excitement to push that process forward.
"It does add that little bit more of an edge for guys, especially on the defense," said Morgan. "You know you have to come out and play hard because the guys in front of you are going to play just as hard."