1. Orgeron in South Bend: This will be the first big test of Ed Orgeron’s tenure as interim coach and it’s a doozy. The game is expected to be a physical battle -- which should fit Orgeron just fine -- but there’s something about this rivalry which can bring out some interesting twists and turns. How Orgeron manages his team during those twists and turns will go a long way in the eventual outcome.
2. Momentum: Both teams come into the game looking to continue momentum. For the Irish, the majority of the momentum was built in 2012 when the team advanced to the national title game. There was a lot of excitement around the program for 2013 and you know they didn’t expect to have two losses at this point in the season. They certainly don’t want a third at the expense of the Trojans. USC, meanwhile, is riding a wave of Orgeron-inspired emotion over the last two weeks since the coaching transition. The Trojans would love to see a victory against the Irish to build on what Orgeron has already accomplished.
3. Lee and Breslin: The Trojans beat Arizona last week without arguably their best players on offense and defense. Marqise Lee (knee) and Morgan Breslin (hip) sat out the game against the Wildcats, but there is optimism both will be able to play this week. There’s no discounting how big that would be for the Trojans. Lee has yet to have a true Marqise Lee-type game this year but you know it’s due at any time. Even his simple presence on the field will help loosen the coverage on Nelson Agholor, who is also capable of big things. As for Breslin, he is the most productive pass rusher the Trojans have, and the Irish have only given up four sacks this year. That gives a clear indication of why Breslin is needed in this game.
4. Big man on Big man: Former USC assistant coach Marv Goux had a special passion for this rivalry that he described as "Big Man on Big Man Football." The matchup on Saturday should be a classic return to that style as both teams will be looking to rely on the guys up front. As mentioned above, the Irish offensive line has been outstanding this year in terms of protecting the quarterback. The USC front seven has been very good as far as sacks and tackles for loss. That’s a good “strength on strength” battle that should be fun to watch. On offense, the Trojans will be looking to establish the run with a good rotation of backs, while the Irish counter with a pair of big-time run-stuffers in the middle of their line.
5. Clay Helton: The new offensive play-caller for the Trojans is going to be critical in this game. If there is an area of concern it is with the USC secondary, which has proven to be vulnerable against the pass this year. The best way to limit the Notre Dame opportunities on offense is to control the ball when you have it. This is where Helton will need to be sharp. He will need to spread the ball around to his various weapons and get Cody Kessler in a rhythm, but first he will need to establish the run. For the Trojans to win the game they will need to be able to run the ball with consistency. Fortunately for Helton, he has the offensive line and backs to do it.