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USC vs. Notre Dame: It's Still Big : The Teams Are Unranked, but the Rivalry Is Thriving

October 23, 1985|MAL FLORENCE | Times Staff Writer

Some people may say that the USC-Notre Dame game Saturday at South Bend, Ind., doesn't have the impact it had in previous years.

The game won't have a bearing on the national championship as it has so many times in the past. USC has a 3-2 record, Notre Dame is 2-3. It is only the sixth time since the inception of the Associated Press poll in 1936 that neither team is ranked in the top 20 at the time of their game.

It could also be presumed that the Trojans have other things on their minds, such as staying alive in the Pacific 10 race.

So much for speculation.

Alumni and supporters of both schools don't downgrade the significance of the traditional game that was inaugurated by USC's Howard Jones and Notre Dame's Knute Rockne in 1926.

Ted Tollner, now in his third year as USC's coach, is aware that this isn't an ordinary game, any year. Even after his Trojans were the surprise winner of the conference championship last year and beat Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, he was reminded that he has yet to beat Notre Dame and UCLA during his tenure.

Although the goals aren't always realistic, Tollner realizes that USC is expected not only to win championships, but to beat Notre Dame and UCLA in the process.

"If people are going to be critical if you don't accomplish all three of them, that's their prerogative," Tollner said Tuesday. "That's what we were striving for. We want that more than they do because it's the individual who is involved who has more at stake. And so the disappointment they have when it doesn't happen is understandable because we have it also. As for criticism, that goes along with the territory. But it isn't like we're after different goals."

Tollner said that the Notre Dame game is important for three reasons:

"We haven't beaten them in three years, it is a great, traditional rivalry, and the game has the potential to have an impact on the conference race if nonconference games become a factor."

Tollner said that as a coach he has a different perspective on an opponent than the public. He is not extolling the Irish from a won-lost standpoint but he said that from the films he has seen Notre Dame could easily have won four of its five games.

"It's a typical big, strong Notre Dame team," he said. "From an ability level, we're similar across the board."

Notre Dame is primarily a power, running team, unlike teams that USC has met this season, according to Tollner.

"We need to play a good rushing team because that's what we'll be encountering in most of our remaining conference games," he said.

The last time USC met Notre Dame in South Bend, a 27-6 loss in 1983, quarterback Sean Salisbury was benched at halftime in favor of Tim Green, a junior college transfer.

Now, Salisbury is a fifth-year senior who performed commendably in earlier games against Illinois and Baylor. He wasn't sharp, however, in a 24-0 loss to Arizona State Sept. 28, and Tollner said that Salisbury didn't have a good day (5 for 14, 92 yards) in a 30-6 win over Stanford last Saturday at the Coliseum.

Salisbury teamed with split end Hank Norman on a 63-yard pass play to set up USC's first touchdown, but Tollner said his quarterback missed on some medium-range passes and on some audible signals.

"We've got to get him playing like he was earlier," Tollner said. "We're approaching it from a positive standpoint."

Rodney Peete, an apparently skilled redshirt freshman with minimal experience, backs up Salisbury, and Tollner said it's difficult to say what circumstances would prevail that would cause him to play his No. 2 quarterback.

Salisbury was down on himself after the Stanford game, but he predicted that he would play a "hell of a" game against Notre Dame.

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