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Pregame Six Pack: More similar than different

Oct 18, 2013, 4:13 AM EDT

Amir Carlisle AP

As Notre Dame and USC get set to do battle for the 85th time in the greatest intersectional rivalry in college football, it’s time to acknowledge that both programs see a lot more of themselves in the other one than they care to admit. For the Trojans, that means swallowing their pride and starting over, something Pat Haden did after Lane Kiffin lost seven of his last eleven games and watched his team drive away without him after giving up 62 points. (They can certainly look to Notre Dame for advice on that, the Irish have done it four times in the last 12 years.)

For the Irish, that means acknowledging their envy of the past decade of dominance that Pete Carroll created, a head coach with the type of charisma and strategic intellect that Irish fans have yearned for since they let Lou Holtz walk. Brian Kelly may just be that man, even if he doesn’t get the media cooing like Carroll did with his care-free attitude and surfer vibe.

After breaking an eight-game losing streak, Brian Kelly is hoping to build one of his own, winning against the Trojans for the second straight year, and his third time in four attempts. And while another monster recruiting weekend and home night game have the distractions at an all-time high, Kelly stated very simply the priority of his football team.

“The atmosphere, the game, the people around will take care of the environment,” Kelly said when asked about the circus surrounding the game. “Just win the damn game.  Win the game.  That’s what you need to do.”

In a game where nearly two dozen players chose between playing football in South Los Angeles or South Bend, we’re having a special edition of the Pregame Six Pack. Instead of leftovers, tidbits and miscellaneous musings, we’re looking at six players who very easily could have been playing for the other team.

***

NELSON AGHOLOR: 

USC’s sophomore sensation was one of the Notre Dame coaching staff’s most coveted recruits. While Tony Alford spent months building a relationship with the Tampa native, and the Irish rolled out the red carpet for an official visit in October, Agholor ultimately decided to go west and join the Kiffins, where both Lane and Monte played equal roles in landing the five-star athlete.

Kelly talked about how much he liked the way Agholor played the game earlier this week.

“We love the fact that he could go all day. He’s one of those guys that just runs all day, plays fast every snap,” Kelly said. “That’s the kind of player he was.  That’s what we saw.  A guy that plays every single play.  He was a very good defensive player too in high school. So that’s the kind of player, that tenacious, every play, and elite speed and size.  So just a complete player from that standpoint.”

Agholor is coming off a career day, catching seven balls for 161 yards and a touchdown against Arizona. He’ll likely carry much of the load against the Irish as well.

***

TROY NIKLAS: 

An Orange County native, Niklas could’ve joined a large handful of Southern California natives that find it too tough to turn down a USC offer. But the 6-foot-7, 270-pound tight end will instead play against the Trojans, battling against a team that could’ve used another big body on either side of the football.

Niklas talked a little bit about the decision making process with IrishSportsDaily.com.

“In the end, it was between Notre Dame and USC,” Niklas told ISD. “They were both up there, but in the end it was a clear decision on where I was going.

“It was one of those ‘forks in the road’ that you encounter in life.”

Ultimately a late recruiting visit the weekend before Signing Day was enough to get Niklas to pick the Irish, a moment celebrated by the Irish coaching staff live during the UND.com Signing Day show, and a revealing look into how this program evaluated Niklas.

Expect a big Saturday from the Irish’s tight ends, where Ben Koyack has finally joined Niklas as a weapon.

***

MICHAEL HUTCHINGS: 

With Jarrett Grace hurt and the Irish likely depending on former walk-on Joe Schmidt to take major snaps, the Irish almost pulling Hutchings out of California and into the Midwest would’ve been huge for Bob Diaco’s troops.

Hutchings has already worked his way into the two-deep at inside linebacker, a position with a lot of talent at Southern Cal. He talked about the pull that was close to bringing him to South Bend, and also the fellow recruit that would’ve teamed with him to make one of the elite linebacking groups in the country.

“Jaylon has been in my ear a lot about Notre Dame,” Hutchings told Rivals.com back during his recruitment. “He just tells me that if I go there, the two of us won’t have to worry about playing the same position since we’re both being recruited at different linebacker spots. Notre Dame will need linebacker help after this year, and the two of us will be playing right next to each other.”

It turns out the Irish needed that help sooner than later. Missing on Hutchings hurt especially bad with the last minute defection of Alex Anzalone, who has played in four games for Florida, notching just one tackle.

***

GEORGE ATKINSON III: 

If the Irish are going to get the type of offensive balance they want, they’ll have to get a nice Saturday night out of George Atkinson. The California native had an offer in play for Southern Cal, but ultimately decided to head to South Bend, where he could play with his brother Josh.

Atkinson has seen some big moments in the rivalry, his kickoff return in ’11 ignited the crowd and helped jumpstart the Irish after they had fallen behind 17-0. That was something the Trojans’ coaching staff pitched to Atkinson when he was offered a scholarship back in August 2010.

“They want to get the ball in my hands, so that’s good,” Atkinson told USCFootball.com back during his recruitment. “They didn’t really say where they were recruiting at specifically. I said I’d like to play offense, so I think they see me as a wide out.”

Many expected Atkinson to play wideout at Notre Dame as well, but the switch to the backfield looks like the correct role for the big back with speed. He’ll reaffirm that choice with a strong second half of the season that should get started Saturday night.

***

HAYES PULLARD

The Trojans leading tackler was once one of West Coast recruiting wiz and now Nevada head coach Brian Polian’s key recruiting targets. The Irish got Pullard onto campus for an official visit during the Irish’s overtime win over Jake Locker and the Washington Huskies, but couldn’t close the deal.

The Parade All-American made a difference quickly at USC, averaging almost 90 tackles a season in his first three seasons. Charlie Weis wasn’t quite sure what they saw in Pullard, hoping he could play either linebacker or running back.

“It doesn’t matter to me,” Pullard told Irish Illustrated’s (AND live-blog contributor) Steve Hare. “They said they’d decide when I get there.”

Ultimately the Irish never got that opportunity, and instead have watched him rack up ridiculous numbers, making 13 tackles last year against Notre Dame and eight in 2011.

***

AMIR CARLISLE

Nobody can say they’ve seen both sides of this rivalry like Amir Carlisle, who chose USC narrowly over Notre Dame during the recruiting process, played one season under Lane Kiffin, then transferred to Notre Dame. After sitting out the last opportunity to play the Trojans with a broken ankle, Carlisle admitted that this was a different game than most he’ll play.

“I’m not gonna lie, yeah, there’s an excitement for me personally to be able to face my former team,” Carlisle told reporters on Wednesday. “I’m going to approach this game like any other game, but there’s a little extra there.”

Finding a job for Carlisle, who has slipped out of the primary game plan these past couple weeks, could be important. After struggling against Purdue and coughing up a late game fumble, Carlisle’s struggled to get much of anything going, something he’d desperately like to change against USC.

The Irish would embrace it as well, with many believing that Carlisle is the team’s answer at slot receiver.

Carlisle stays in touch with some Trojans from Irish Illustrated on Vimeo.

101 Comments (Feed for Comments)
  1. yllibnosredna - Oct 18, 2013 at 5:24 PM

    @nudeman,

    For the record, sorry to be pedantic. But re: “Robert Woods’” drop in the 2010 USC game in the rain. It was actually a guy named Ronald Johnson. I remember b/c I was there…It was my first visit back stateside since moving to Ireland in 2009. I got a chance to go out west with a family friend to see the game. I recall just about every detail of that game: Robert Hughes’ looking like a one-man juggernaut on the ground to get the eventual game-winning score; Michael Floyd having like 16 receptions at a clip of like 7 yards a pop b/c Rees couldn’t hit him deep; Duval Kamara’s (out of nowhere) TD catch to close out the first half, Brian Smith shockingly and finally playing with the kind of defensive tenacity (or should I say tenacious D, cue Jack Black and Kyle Gass lyrics: “That’s f…cking teamwork”) that ND saw from him when he first set foot on campus; Harrison Smith’s redeeming pick of Mustain just in front of the endzone immediately after he–in classic Harrison Smith fashion–got beat and fell down as Ronald Johnson inexplicably lost the ball in the lights and dropped what would’ve been the game-winning score to give USC 9 straight wins over us. Consequently, after that play, Harrison Smith finally shed the goat label. And yes, finally I remember Rees’ 3 picks, one of which was literally thrown at like our 4 yard-line, and the D nearly stood up USC on 4th and goal, but ultimately gave up their only TD of the game (I believe).

    After that game, each team finished with a 7-5 regular season record, yet it was pure bliss for ND fans because we had finally exorcised some real demons against SC in an ugly yet paradoxically beautiful win. Coincidentally, the last and only other time I’d ever seen a game at the Coliseum was the 2002 thrashing in Willingham’s first season–essentially handing the Heisman Trophy on a platter to Carson Palmer. Thus followed the eight year streak of utter sadness and dismal failure against Pete Carroll and co. For me, outside of seeing ND open up there 2012 season across the pond and 15 minutes from my front door, that was the best live ND game experience I’ve had. But yes, it was definitely Ronald Johnson who dropped that pass. Couldn’t believe it and will never forget the look of sheer bewilderment on the surrounding Trojan fans’ faces.

    • nudeman - Oct 18, 2013 at 6:51 PM

      You are correct sir … Ronald Johnson
      And good observation on Harrison Smith. He was also the guy who slipped and fell on the little giants play too, correct?

      • getsome99 - Oct 18, 2013 at 8:14 PM

        And the list of our “star” players not executing or making a bone head mistakes to cost us games goes on and on. Although we had enough of our own breaks go our way to win the SC game.

    • viktory2013 - Oct 18, 2013 at 9:08 PM

      I vividly recall the play. It was cold and wet and miserable. Was sitting behind Mustain and saw Johnson break open the same moment he did and gasped in horror. I remember the collective groan from 80,000 as he dropped it and sat on the grass in despair. It was a thing of beauty.

    • jimbasil - Oct 19, 2013 at 11:24 AM

      What is also forgotten at the end of that game is, just before that dropped pass, USC fumbled the ball on a reception (hit by Manti on Tyler) and ND recovered it but inexplicably the officials said no fumble – USC got the ball back and the next play, the dropped pass.

      Had the officials made the correct and obvious call Johnson wouldn’t have been the goat. Also Carswell (sp) dropped one earlier in that drive where he could have scored after Blanton over shot the play.

  2. getsome99 - Oct 18, 2013 at 5:30 PM

    ASU, BYU, MSU are not at the level of FSU and Alabama, but the point is, neither were we. We’re borderline now.

    • nudeman - Oct 18, 2013 at 6:52 PM

      No, that’s not the point. You’re redirecting.

      • getsome99 - Oct 18, 2013 at 8:10 PM

        It is point IF you put the “Tommy Rees can’t beat the elite teams” commentary in perspective.

  3. runners00 - Oct 18, 2013 at 5:34 PM

    This is it boys — this is it.

    A quick word on the Trojans. They’ve never rolled over for us like we’ve rolled over for them. Seriously. I can remember sitting through a lot of 38-3 games — the kind where we didn’t get a first down until midway through the fourth quarter.

    I don’t want to see that Saturday. Let’s go out and run the football. Atkinson has to read the blocks better than he has in some games and he’s got to embrace the contact, not fear it. Power through. Once we do that, we can get some passes to our talented receivers and we can take it from there.

    Let’s go out and kick some Trojan tail.

  4. yllibnosredna - Oct 18, 2013 at 5:35 PM

    I also remember thinking: “3 picks?” That’s a lot, but I’ll give the kid a break as he’s a true frosh starting his first game in the hostile home of our archenemy. I’m sure he’ll get better with time. Oh, how wrong I was!

  5. getsome99 - Oct 18, 2013 at 6:07 PM

    @ Nudeman,

    You got a stat line for Rees to go with that 24-20 prediction?

    • nudeman - Oct 18, 2013 at 6:56 PM

      Well how many of my aliases do I get to use on this?

      I’ll go with 16-31; 188 yards; 1TD/2INTs

      And if I’m right, that won’t get it done.

      What’s your prediction?

      • getsome99 - Oct 18, 2013 at 8:02 PM

        19-34
        230 yards
        2 TD
        1 INT

        And If I’m right, ND still wins by 10.

  6. plactslapper - Oct 18, 2013 at 6:14 PM

    My first post on the blog…. Now time for a bath….

    • nudeman - Oct 18, 2013 at 6:53 PM

      LOL

      Welcome

    • NotreDan - Oct 18, 2013 at 10:34 PM

      You don’t earn a bath until you’ve showed gitsum how to navigate the vulva.

  7. getsome99 - Oct 18, 2013 at 6:22 PM

    @ irish4006,

    You do realize that Archie Manning works as an expert analyst for CBS Sports College Football? There are many articles out there you can find like this one but you should check it out since you’re not familiar with Archie Manning’s knowledge of college football.

    http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/nfl-shutdown-corner/archie-manning-sons-nfl-heart-still-college-game-183153016–nfl.html

  8. scottatnd - Oct 18, 2013 at 6:29 PM

    I wonder why Louis Nix tweeted the word “green” a little while ago. I hope not the green jerseys.

  9. nudeman - Oct 18, 2013 at 7:20 PM

    Total change of topic. Just read this from Eric Hansen, SB Tribune:

    “Player A: 14 tackles, 3.5 tackles for losses of 9 yards, 1 sack for 3 yards, 3 QB hurries, 1 fumble recovery, 1 touchdown scored

    Player B: 13 tackles, 3 tackles for losses of 17 yards, 2 sacks for 16 yards, 4 QB hurries, 1 forced fumble.

    Player C: 18 tackles, 4.5 tackles for losses of 26 yards, 3 sacks for 20 yards, 7 QB hurries, 1 forced fumble, 1 interception, 1 pass broken up, 1 touchdown scored.

    Player C is perceived to have underachieved by some, come to camp overweight and played himself into perhaps needing to stay in school another year to still end up a first-round NFL Draft choice. Yet of the three, he clearly has the best numbers.

    He is Irish junior defensive end Stephon Tuitt, who did rate as a midseason All-American by one of NFL.com’s seven analysts who recently put together their halfway-point college All-America squads. (Irish nose tackle Louis Nix was mentioned as a first-teamer by three of the seven and was the only other ND player on any ballot).

    Who do the other two blind résumés belong to? Player A is former ND defensive end Aaron Lynch, now a junior at South Florida and a first-rounder on some 2014 NFL mock drafts. Player B in South Carolina junior Jadeveon Clowney, still considered by most as the consensus No. 1 pick next May, despite some injury/motivation questions.”

    Have any of you seen Lynch?
    Saw him about two weeks ago as USF was getting destroyed by someone.
    He’s easier to block than a sober dickasman. Looks like he weighs about 240 lbs

  10. nudeman - Oct 18, 2013 at 9:41 PM

    Getsome
    You can say what you want about the Tommy critics here
    But frankly your man crush on Rees is illogical.
    The gymnastics you do to protect your boy are just absurd and you have firmly established yourself as “the guy with no credibility” here.

    You have an agenda

    It’s clear

    Time to go away

    • NotreDan - Oct 18, 2013 at 10:24 PM

      Full Frontal.

      There are times I wish I was nudeman, or a nude man.

      “Sometimes I dream, that he is me…”

      Ok, I have a joke. Horse walks into a bar, the bartender says, Hey Buddy, why the long face?

    • getsome99 - Oct 19, 2013 at 11:32 AM

      Nudeman,

      You’re a drama queen. Rees isn’t as bad as you claim. You say your obsessive comments about him are only in response to others praise? Then why do give you Keith shit for “not” blasting Rees in every article or post?

      Give it up. You’re pretty much Tommy Rees’ b***h by now. The more you ramble on and on about him here, the more he keeps proving you wrong and making you mad.

  11. 25kgold - Oct 18, 2013 at 10:15 PM

  12. 25kgold - Oct 18, 2013 at 10:24 PM

    ND 24

    usc 17

    Book it!

    You’re welcome; I wear a medium–you don’t have to name your 2 yr old after me…Really, you don’t.

  13. NotreDan - Oct 18, 2013 at 10:39 PM

    As I have said.

    ND wins IN SPITE of TR, or despite TR’s shortcomings.

    Is he all we have? (except for BK’s GIANT clitoris [which is under the vulva] regarding Zaire and actually trying to win games instead of playing for next year) Yes. Do I like it? No.

    I am hoping for a watershed moment where Diaco figures out how to disguise a blitz and Martin figures out how to run the ball (YES, it’s the coaches fault for not getting the 4 and 5 star players we have into schemes that work) and we expose USC further than already evident… hoping,.. not expecting.

  14. NotreDan - Oct 18, 2013 at 10:46 PM

    Did everyone see KA posted an article on BLEACHER REPORT?

    It reminds me of a favorite line from a favorite comedian: “I only call ya BITCHES, cuz I dont know ya names INDIVIDUALLY!”

    Or, maybe something like… “You know what they put on french fries in holland? Mayonaise… I’ve seen it man they fuckin’ Drown em in that shit!”

  15. getsome99 - Oct 19, 2013 at 2:29 AM

    @ Nudeman,

    Ironic that you say I have a man crush on Tommy Rees when you write poems about him.

  16. dbldmr - Oct 19, 2013 at 9:28 AM

    Please. Stop. The. Tommy. Rees. Debate.

    His abilities have been catalogued and endlessly analyzed. We might see some Hendrix today, but TR is going to play at least 80% of the offensive snaps. Raining here in South Bend. Perhaps we can slog out an old-fashioned ugly win.

    My nightmare is waking up tomorrow and having to read an impassioned philippic saying”…all he does is win” or the like. Teams win. I hope TR is the quarterback on the winning team. That’s good enough for me.

    • richisirish - Oct 19, 2013 at 11:12 AM

      Have I missed any AH debates on here? IMHO I only want to see AH on the field for 4th&1 or inside the 10-yard line going uptempo.

  17. mdp44 - Oct 19, 2013 at 9:50 AM

    Tommy just called me and said he’s tired of the tommy discussions on this board. Getsome, he also told me to tell you to give him a call some time, you might get some.

  18. getsome99 - Oct 19, 2013 at 10:33 AM

    There’s no debate. The proof is in the results. Enjoy the wins.

  19. richisirish - Oct 19, 2013 at 11:08 AM

    How about a quick start today? I want to see ND put 10 on the board before USC finds the redzone. C’mon coaches, it’s time to get this team up for a BIG home game!!!

  20. yllibnosredna - Oct 19, 2013 at 2:52 PM

    Yep, Harrison Smith=same dude who did a pratfall during Little Giants’ play. Oh yeah and Carlo Calabrese got mauled to the ground as well:

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