A fast start is something Notre Dame has not had the luxury of having much this season. Since a 14-0 first quarter against Temple to open the season, the Fighting Irish have been outscored 31-17 in the first quarter over the past five games.
"It's one of our core principles relative to winning football games," Kelly said of fast starts after Thursday's practice. "It's start fast, attention to detail, effort and enthusiasm and finish strong. It's in our locker room. It's what we talk about every day. It's part of how we train. It's part of how we practice. I can't understate it enough how important it is."
First quarter performance has had a pretty direct correlation to wins and losses against USC in Kelly's three previous meetings since he has been at Notre Dame. The Irish got out to a 10-0 first quarter last year at the L.A. Coliseum and went on to a 22-13 win, they trailed 14-0 at the end of the first in 2011 and eventually lost 31-17 and they were down 3-0 (before a 13-0 second quarter) en-route to a 20-16 win over the Trojans in 2010.
Rees In the Rivalry
For all of Tommy Rees's struggles, he still has something neither of his two most recent high-profile predecessors, Brady Quinn and Jimmy Clausen, never had: a win over USC. Rees is 23-for-69 for 339 yards in his two career games against the Trojans.
The senior has completed 105-of-203 passes (51-percent) this season. His completion percentage has taken a bigger hit over the last three games, going a combined 40-for-96 (42-percent) in games against Michigan State, Oklahoma and Arizona State. Part of the reason for the lower completion percentage is the Irish trying to push the ball downfield more. The other is opposing defensive schemes over the last three games.
"Less zone coverage (and) much more man-to-man coverage," Kelly said of the schemes Rees has faced in the past month. "The breakdown when we did it in our self-scout is almost two-thirds higher relative to man coverage over zone."
The increased man-to-man looks mean even more (gasp) fades to receivers. It also means Rees has to be more accurate with the back shoulder passes he must throw to receivers who are being blanketed by opposing defensive backs.
"We've always talked about putting the ball up there where only our guys can get it," Rees said this week. "It goes along with putting the ball in a safe spot high and away from where the defense is and see if our guys can go up there and make a play."
"Obviously, those aren't the highest completion percentage passes," Rees continued. "But the guys we have we believe in them that they can go up there and make plays. To be honest, I don't think too much of my completion percentage all that much."
Southern Cal has surrendered a total of 714 passing yards in its last two games to Arizona State and Arizona.
Amir Part II
Fighting Irish running back Amir Carlisle had his second shot of the season being the human interest story of the minute. His first shot came a month ago when Notre Dame played Purdue - the school where his dad, Duane Carlisle, works as the athletic department's director of athletic performance.
Carlisle is connected to USC for a more obvious reason: he transferred to Notre Dame from Troy after his freshman season there.
"It is a big game for me going and playing against my old team," Carlisle said this week. "It's weird to be honest, but I'm excited and I just have to approach it like any other game. It's a must-win for us."
Carlisle rushed for 118 yards and caught seven passes for 41 yards and a touchdown as a freshman at USC in 2011. He played only sparingly against Notre Dame at Notre Dame Stadium that season. He was signed to USC by now former head coach Lane Kiffin.
"I have the utmost respect for coach Kiffin," said Carlisle. "When I was at USC he treated me well. It's sad to see someone get out of a job. My prayers are with him and his family. He's a great coach, in my opinion, and he'll find work."
Current USC interim head coach Ed Orgeron was the defensive line coach when Carlisle was still a Trojan, but he was also the recruiting coordinator.
"Coach 'O' is a guy who makes contact with everybody, especially in the recruiting process," Carlisle said of Orgeron. "So, I had quite a bit of contact with him in the recruiting process and when I was there."
"(He) is just a high-energy guy," Carlisle continued. "He gives his all on everything. He (has) that raspy voice and you'll hear it from every corner of the field. He's just a real high-energy, good coach."
Marqise Lee, George Farmer, Antaun Woods and Soma Vainuku are the USC players whom Carlisle says he still remains in touch with the most. He and those four current Trojans were all freshmen together in 2011, but he has not had had any contact with them this week.
"(I am) just focusing on the work we have to do here," Carlisle said. "Off the field it's fun and games. Those are my guys (but) on the field it's all business and this week is a business week. We've gotta get prepared for this game."
- Notre Dame's last win over USC at Notre Dame Stadium came in 2001. That was current Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll's first season at USC. Like this season, the Trojans came to South Bend with two losses that year. That was the last two-loss USC team to visit Notre Dame. A USC team with at least two losses has visited Notre Dame 17 times in the 84 previous meetings between the two rivals and the Trojans have prevailed just twice on such occasions - the most recent being 1997.
- Notre Dame and USC share a rivalry that dates back to 1926, but the two old rivals have something else in common. The Irish and Trojans are joined by UCLA as the only three FBS (Division One) football schools that have never played a game against an FCS (I-AA) opponent.
- USC has a current school record stretch of 200 consecutive games without being shutout. The program's previous school record was 186 games from 1967 to 1983. The last time the Trojans were held scoreless was a 27-0 loss to Washington in 1997.