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USC Football: Defense Locked and Loaded Under New Leadership

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Trojans are wrapping up final preparations this afternoon before flying out to Notre Dame for the biggest road test of the season to date, a very winnable game with huge implications for the future of this program.

While the expectations continue to rise following an emotionally draining game against Arizona, the coaching staff sounds prepared as ever for the daunting task ahead of them.

"You can feel the guys getting pumped up and ready to go," said Orgeron. "I'm proud of the way they've prepared. I thought we practiced pretty hard Monday and Tuesday and I wanted to give them a rest today. I want them to be fresh, playing with energy, and ready to play on Saturday."

In order to play fresh this weekend, Orgeron has insisted the roster will be rotating players up and down the defensive front. Due to an injury to Morgan Breslin, redshirt sophomore J.R. Tavai received a bulk of the reps last week (10 tackles, 2.5 TFL) playing near an elite level, showcasing great power and speed all over the backfield.

This week the Trojans plan to utilize not only Tavai, but also Antwaun Woods, who works quite well with George Uko in the more traditional four down-lineman look on defense, along with Anthony Sarao up the middle at the linebacker position. That being said, help is coming along the way with the return of starting cornerback Anthony Brown.

The redshirt junior says he's excited to return to the field after sitting out the past six weeks and has been told he will start in the secondary. Playing alongside Kevon Seymour and Torin Harris, with some help sprinkled in from Josh Shaw and Dion Bailey in nickel situations, this unit will be put to the test this weekend.

"It's a big game," Brown said, addressing his plans to put a huge footprint into the game plan against Notre Dame's much-improved passing game which ranks 58th in the nation, racking in just over 250 yards passing per game."I'm ready and it feels amazing to be back out here with the Trojan family. We're here to make plays and I'm excited to get out there this weekend and do that."

After giving up a season-high 363 yards passing and four touchdown passes in last week's 38-31 victory over Arizona, the Trojans and have surrendered a combined 714 yards passing and seven touchdowns in their last two games.

This following top-ten performances in almost every category through the seasons first four weeks, something that continues to motivate members of this defense to step up their game on the defensive side of the ball.

"We won't skip a beat," said middle linebacker Hayes Pullard, who expects his brothers to step up their game moving forward. "If we want to be considered a great defense then we need to bring our 'A game' to Notre Dame this weekend."

As the chips begin to fall back, their vibrant leader Coach Orgeron continues to preach the importance of taking every contest one game at a time, all in the pursuit of building back the brand of USC Football. Never fading in confidence or charisma, the Trojans interim head coach knows his players are prepared for this 85th all-time meeting.

"This is about them. They've worked very hard for this. I love their energy. They've got bright eyes right now and I love it," said Orgeron, who also announced that Morgan Breslin and Tre Madden will hopefully boost the cause this weekend.

Not only have the Trojans implemented a jolt of life back to the program, they also welcome 72-year-old mentor Pete Jenkins back to the game working with the defensive line. Working in what he calls "basketball on grass", Jenkins feels this group of players can battle any challenge in front of them.

"We have a great culture in that room, which Coach Orgeron started" newest coach Pete Jenkins said. "They give you a great effort, they give you their attention and its a really outstanding bunch of young men."

The Trojans will take the field for the final time on Thursday before flying out looking looking to carry on an impressive road winning streak that spans all the way back to the 2001 season when the Trojans last lost in South Bend 27-16.

For programs that have combined to each win 11 national championships, the current players understand whats at stake in South Bend. That being said, they also recognize that its time to avenge a recent slow streak against the Irish that includes two-straight losses at the Coliseum, including last year's 22-13 humbling defeat.