Notre Dame vs. USC: Trojans' powerful offense faces toughest test yet

Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE

A lot has changed since Brian Kelly took over the Notre Dame football program prior to the 2010 season, but nothing has changed more than the Irish's defense. Entering Saturday's game against USC, Notre Dame is allowing just 10.1 points per game, which is tied for the best scoring defense in the country.

While Brian Kelly was a coach known for his offensive scheme prior to coming to Notre Dame, it's a new-found emphasis on defense that has the Fighting Irish in the thick of the BCS National Championship hunt. And if the Irish are to survive at USC on Saturday night and clinch a spot in the title game, it will be because of one of college football's best defenses.

Entering Saturday's game, the Irish are tied with Alabama with the nation's No. 1 scoring defense, allowing just 10.1 points per game. The Irish are also ranked sixth nationally in total defense, giving up just 287.8 yards per contest as well. That's a far cry from the team Kelly inherited prior to the 2010 season. In Charlie Weis' final season as head coach at Notre Dame in 2009, the Irish allowed 397.8 yards per game.

And if the Irish get another strong performance from the defense Saturday night, it will be thanks to a pair of emerging stars.

We all know about Heisman Trophy contender Manti Te'o, who leads this team with 98 tackles and six interceptions. But another player who could be a big factor is defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt. The sophomore has 12 sacks on the season, two behind the school record of 14.

The Irish will put their undefeated record on the line on Saturday at 7 p.m. CT when they visit USC.

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