At Howard Jones Field, practice is intense. Players know what they have ahead of them. USC’s next opponent, Notre Dame, is coming out of a five-game winning streak, beating teams like then-No. 4 Clemson and winning its last game against Boston College 44-0.
But USC head coach Lincoln Riley isn’t afraid of facing capable teams like the Fighting Irish. In fact, he enjoys it.
“The team is excited,” Riley said after Tuesday’s practice. “Our team gets excited to play teams like this. It’s fun playing good competition at good venues and with a lot of things on the line. That is so much fun.”
Even though USC has had a season to remember up until this point, players realize the job is not done and that winning on Saturday will not be easy. Junior wide receiver Jordan Addison knows he has a tough matchup ahead.
“All the DB’s over there do a good job at tackling your space, so it’s going to be a good challenge,” Addison said.
Senior inside linebacker Shane Lee has a lot of respect for the Notre Dame players facing off against him as well.
“They are definitely a bigger team,” Lee said. “They have a lot of guys that are physical. We are going to need to be as physical and have to tighten the hatches and solidify the run game and things like that.”
The Trojans are keeping their heads cool. Redshirt senior offensive lineman Justin Dedich’s approach to Saturday’s game is to not be overly confident.
“We can’t come out there thinking we got it just because we won last week’s game against UCLA,” Dedich said. “We have to go out there and dominate.”
Saturday will also be Senior Day for the Trojans. Plenty of seniors such as redshirt senior defensive lineman Nick Figueroa stuck around for another year after the 4-8 season and are thankful for what this group has accomplished.
“I am so grateful for all the moments I’ve had and grateful for this year in particular,” Figueroa said. “We have a big final game of the season and I am excited to go compete in there for the last time.”
Although the season isn’t quite finished, Riley is proud of what his team has achieved. He couldn’t stop smiling throughout Tuesday’s practice.
“It is never going to be a perfect climb. There are a lot of ups and downs but I do see mental progress and I see us finding cool ways to win and beating good opponents,” Riley said. “This team is serious about getting the job done.”