SOUTH BEND – The statistics are not as gaudy as in the past for USCs passing game, but Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly and his cornerbacks understand the challenge they face tonight against Trojans receivers Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor.
USC (4-2) comes to Notre Dame (4-2) averaging 207.7 passing yards after throwing for 282.3 yards per game with Matt Barkley at quarterback last season.
The Trojans dip in passing numbers has more to with the team relying on the running game as sophomore quarterback Cody Kessler matures, but that doesnt make Lee or Agholor any less dangerous.
In Agholor and Lee on the perimeter, (USC) has two of the most exciting wide receivers in the country, Kelly said.
Lee missed USCs 38-31 win over Arizona last week with a knee injury, but he is expected to play tonight. He told reporters he expects to be at 100 percent.
Even if Lee isnt fully recovered, he is dangerous. The 6-foot, 195-pound junior won the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nations top receiver, after leading USC with 118 receptions for 1,721 yards with 14 touchdowns.
He has a team-high 30 catches for 385 yards with a touchdown this year. In two games against Notre Dame, Lee has caught seven passes for 111 yards.
Hes not even good, hes a great player, Irish cornerback Keivarae Russell said of Lee. It starts with technique, and you cant try to out-athlete this guy. Hes one of, if not, the best player in the country right now. You really just have to be technically sound the entire game.
Agholor, who Notre Dame heavily recruited before he chose USC, was overshadowed by Lee and former Trojans receiver Robert Woods as a freshman. He caught 19 passes for 340 yards with two touchdowns last season.
The 6-foot, 185-pound sophomore has proved to be a good complement to Lee this season, catching 18 passes for 353 yards with two touchdowns.
But it is not just his playmaking ability that makes Agholor dangerous, according to Kelly.
(Agholor) is one of those guys that just runs all day and plays fast every snap, Kelly said. They needed to convert some third downs running the football late (against Arizona), and hes in there blocking safeties, playing physical. Thats the kind of player he is, tenacious with elite speed and size.
Notre Dame will rely on the 5-11, 190-pound Russell and 6-foot, 195-pound Bennett Jackson to keep Lee and Agholor in check. It is a challenge the two are up for.
Its a great opportunity, Jackson said. As a cornerback, you want these matchups. Im excited for the game. Im happy I get to play them. Im 100 percent confident that if I go up against (Lee) every play that Ill win every matchup. Kei feels the same way.