NOTRE DAME — Two years, ago Amir Carlisle trotted out of the tunnel to a venomous welcome from the antagonistic crowd at Notre Dame Stadium.
Carlisle, wearing the colors of not just the enemy but the greatest enemy of all, was floored by the atmosphere under the lights.
“It was the most live environment that we had that season,” Carlisle said of the 2011 Notre Dame-USC game. “It was Notre Dame. Coach (Lane) Kiffin preached the entire week that this was a big game. The energy we had the entire week was very high. We were rocking the bus when we showed up.”
Though Carlisle didn’t see the field, the Trojans deflated the Irish 31-17 in what was USC’s fifth consecutive win in South Bend.
A year later, Carlisle traded cardinal for navy blue when his father, Duane, relocated to West Lafayette for a job with Purdue’s football team. Amir, who had chosen USC over Notre Dame to be close to his family in the first place, decided to follow and enroll in the school that had once been his biggest rival.
On Saturday, Oct. 19, Carlisle will run out of that tunnel once more when Notre Dame hosts USC. This time, his reception from the crowd will be much warmer. This time, off-field friends Marqis Lee, George Farmer and Antwaun Woods will be on-field foes.
USC interim head coach Ed Orgeron, whom Carlisle remembers as a defensive line coach with a booming, raspy voice and an amiable demeanor, will be calling the shots against the junior running back and his teammates.
“It’s going to be weird,” Carlisle said. “It’s a weird dynamic for me. It’s exciting, but it’s a new opportunity for me.”
Carlisle’s hope is to return to the do-everything hybrid back he was at the beginning of the season. He led the Irish in rushing in the first two weeks, notably breaking off a 45-yard dash on the season’s opening offensive snap against Temple.
As Cam McDaniel’s late-game presence became vital and George Atkinson began to play better-rounded football, Carlisle’s carries have dropped off. After rushing for 132 yards in the first two games, Carlisle has only 46 yards total in the last four games. He has yet to score a touchdown.
Head coach Brian Kelly points to schematics rather than a performance issue as far as Carlisle is concerned.
“I think the game has dictated his play and how the game has unfolded,” Kelly said Tuesday. “And I think he’s been ready every week. I mean, I think, if we look back early in the season, he started off really well, and then we just had some other guys that have played well. So I think it’s been more about multiple players playing well at that position, more so than his play has not elevated itself.”
Carlisle will be ready to be the go-to back this week. Like one-time USC commit and current Notre Dame safety Max Redfield, Carlisle can’t pretend that this is just another game.
“I think you can see he’s pretty focused this week,” Kelly said. “My guess is he’s going to be excited about the opportunity to play against USC. So we’ll be keenly aware of his want to play very well against USC.”