SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly has a hunch.
He has a hunch that running back Amir Carlisle, who's only garnered eight carries in Notre Dame's last three games, will have some extra energy Saturday night against USC.
That's because Carlisle has experienced a Notre Dame-USC night game in South Bend -- although it came from the opposing sideline in 2011, when Carlisle played for Lane Kiffin's Trojans.
"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."
When asked about facing his former team -- a rarity for a college football player -- Carlisle admitted he's a little more geared up for this game. He still keeps in touch with a few guys on USC, including wide receiver Marqise Lee, but didn't travel to Los Angeles for Notre Dame's championship berth-clinching win over the Trojans last year.
So this Saturday will be the first time Carlisle will see USC from the other sideline.
"I'm not going to lie, yeah, there's an excitement for me personally to face my former team," Carlisle said. "But I'm not going to let that excitement deter me from my focus on the game itself. I'm going to approach this game like any other game, but there is some extra excitement."
If Carlisle is taking an added excitement and focus into the game this weekend, it could come at an ideal time.
Carlisle got off to a hot start this season, rushing 19 times for 132 yards against Temple and Michigan. But his late-game fumble against Purdue, coupled with the emergence of George Atkinson, has seen his carry total slashed in recent weeks.
When asked what his coaches have told him about why he hasn't played as much recently, Carlisle said "I'm not sure." He knows it's a flow thing, and Atkinson generally gets the first crack at getting into a rhythm. If Notre Dame needs to close out a game, Cam McDaniel will get the ball.
That's the explanation Kelly gave to the media on Tuesday.
"We've got some depth on that position," he said. "Cam McDaniel closed out the game for us against Arizona State. George had the big game the week before. You know what I mean? We really like Amir. It's just, we've got to get him in the flow of the game."
It's a peril of being in a crowded backfield, but the single-play explosiveness Carlisle showed early on has disappeared. He hasn't made enough of an impact as a pass-catcher, either, a role Irish coaches hoped he'd fill.
Carlisle said he feels comfortable as a pass-catcher, but hinted that lining up in the slot -- as opposed to motioning out of the backfield to help create a defensive mismatch -- hasn't been conducive for his success.
"Just putting me in positions to actually make those type of plays, that's really not up to me," Carlisle said, when asked where he can improve as a receiver. "All I can do in practice is continue to work on my routes, attack in leverage, the different, finer details of running routes. It's up to coach Kelly and (offensive coordinator Chuck Martin) to put me in those positions. What I can do is just continue to get better each and every day in practice."
Now would probably be the time for Carlisle to have a breakout game, given coaches like what they've seen out of freshman Tarean Folston while Atkinson and McDaniel have carved out roles in the offense.
While Carlisle is amped up to face his former team, he knows he can't get overexcited, since doing so could land him in the same position he's in now.
"It's weird, to be honest," Carlisle said. "But I'm excited and just have to approach it like any other game."