THE STREAK IS OVER. Despite losing the turnover battle 4-1 and playing half of the game in a driving rain storm, Notre Dame ended USC’s 8 year winning streak over the Irish and capped off a roller coaster regular season on a high note.
I’ll get into my normal post game comments in a bit, but want to give everyone a second to savor this victory and appreciate just how far the Irish have come in a month. On October 30 Notre Dame lost a heart breaker Tulsa a week after being dominated by Navy. A month later Notre Dame is on a three game winning streak with victories over Utah, Army, USC.
That’s what I call a remarkable turn around.
Now, on to some observations from the game.
- Tommy Rees came back down to earth in the second half against USC after throwing 2 touchdowns in the first half to build Notre Dame’s 13-3 halftime lead. His 4 turnovers led to all 16 of USC’s points and he struggled to make any down field throws. Rees will have 15 more practices to prepare for the bowl game and he’ll need to use each one.
- What a performance by Robert Hughes. Is there a better story from tonight’s win than Hughes game? Hughes hasn’t been used much this year, but when his number was called Saturday night he ran like the big, bruising back that we’ve all been waiting to see since 2007. Without Hughes, Notre Dame simply doesn’t win this game tonight.
- USC did a great job of getting their hands up and closing the passing lanes down for Rees. Kelly is going to need to get Rees out of the pocket more for the Irish to continue this winning streak in bowl season.
- On Rees’s first interception of the second half, he had Cierre Wood wide open down the sideline for a big gain and on his last interception of the game he had Riddick one on one with a safety but threw the ball into triple coverage. He’s going to be busy in the film room over the next month but should learn a lot from this game.
- Great job by the offensive line today. They got a nice push throughout the game and kept Rees upright for most of the night. They didn’t get a single holding call against a very good defensive line either.
- Riddick and TJ Jones weren’t featured much in the offense tonight. Given their lack of practice time with Rees over the last month that isn’t too shocking, but given Rees’s limitations both will need to have a bigger role in the bowl game.
- Tyler Eifert made the heads up play of the game when he recovered Cierre Wood’s fumble on Notre Dame’s last drive. Eifert was a match-up problem for USC as well but Rees had trouble getting him the ball.
- Duval Kamara gets props for his heads up play to reach the ball out over the goal line on his second quarter touchdown. He had not secured the ball while breaking the plane until he reached the ball out before stepping out of bounds.
- With a more experienced quarterback, Michael Floyd would have had a monster game. He was the glue that kept the Irish passing game in tact throughout the game, but he could have dominated the USC secondary if given the chance. Floyd was a beast of a blocker in the run game as well.
- The offense is still very much a work in progress, and given all of the injuries it would be a tall order for it to be much more than that at this point. With Jones and Riddick healthy and able to practice for the bowl game, the Irish passing attack should be able to develop some consistency.
- USC fans will say that the only reason Notre Dame was because of Ronald Johnson’s drop on their final drive, but in reality, the only reason USC was in the game was because of Notre Dame’s turnovers. USC was given the ball inside the Notre Dame 40 four times on turnovers and could only muster three field goals and a touchdown. Even their lone touchdown came on a 4th and goal after they started the drive on the 2 yard line.
- Bottom line, the Irish defense was flat out dominant against USC. The only reason the touchdown-less streak was broken tonight was because USC started with the ball at the 2 yard line.
- USC averaged just 2.7 yards per carry and 4.8 yards per pass attempt.
- Brian Smith played the best game of his career. He was all over the field from start to finish and came up with a huge pass deflection on the USC 4th down attempt that set up Notre Dame’s last second first half touchdown. His career has been a roller coaster ride, but he’s saved his best football for the stretch run this season. Hopefully he’s got one more game like tonight left in him.
- The defensive backs did a hell of a job tackling in the first half, but missed a few tackles in the second half once the rain started coming down.
- Gary Gray, Robert Blanton, and Darrin Walls were very solid in coverage other than Blanton’s blunder on USC’s final drive that could have cost Notre Dame dearly. Blanton went for the ball but whiffed. Luckily the ball was dropped.
- Harrison Smith nearly had an interception on the first play of the game, but ended up with an important one to seal the victory. A few plays earlier Smith fell down leaving Ronald Johnson all alone with nothing but green in front of him – excellent response by Smith.
- Great job by the defensive line clogging the running lanes and stuffing the USC running game.
- It’s amazing to think that this is the same defense that got shredded by Navy just a month ago. Not sure what happened, but I certainly hope Bob Diaco, Chuck Martin, Kerry Cooks, and Mike Elston keep doing whatever it is they’re doing.
- Additional tip of the cap to Diaco for his defensive game plans the last three weeks. He took the brunt of the criticism for the loss to Navy – especially after his interviews following the loss – but he’s responded with some excellent coaching.
- Little bit on an inconsistent night from Ben Turk. He had a couple nice punts in the game but ended up averaging only 37.5 yards per punt. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kyle Brindza gave Turk some competition for the punting duties next year – especially if he ends up enrolling early.
- It was surprising to see David Ruffer miss an extra point after not missing a field goal this season. Hopefully this is just an anomaly.
- Pretty solid coverage today on kicks and punts against some dangerous returnmen.
- The Notre Dame return game, however, remains to be a disappointment. Hopefully Kelly and special teams coach Mike Elston spend some extra time with the bowl practices to work on the return game.