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Initial Impressions – Notre Dame 20, USC 16

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.

Defense

  • 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.

Special Teams

  • 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.

142 comments

  1. I think Brian Kelly is doin’ just fine. At least he won a bowl game last year, even if it wasn’t the BSC Championship, take it as a victory. Ya, Crist sucks, and Reese needs ALOT of improvement, but the program is headin’ in the right direction. We need a top QB and this train can really get rollin’. The glory days are over, but the spirit is there. GO IRISH!!

  2. Stop already with all the negativity towards BK, its his first year. Last time I checked Notre Dame wasn’t that great last year with a better QB and more threats at WR. He is making this team better, and it has already shown this season in the way the team plays the game. As far as recruits he also has shown that he doesn’t need 5 star recruits, he made many great QB’s at all his stops and I am pretty sure that none of them where 5 stars. As a matter of fact he never had a class better than 60 in the rankings, yet went undefeated. I wouldn’t worry about getting the 5 star player, I would be more interested in the RKG.
    Golsen is going to fit in perfect into Kelly’s system, he is mobile, has a cannon, and is a pass first QB.
    Crist was recruited as a pro style QB, he doesn’t fit the spread.
    Tommy Rees is a true freshman, and is already playing pretty well.
    And as far as recruiting goes it probably isn’t easy when your team hasn’t been good in many years. When he starts winning they will come. With his win loss, I would say getting Golsen and the other recruits he has is pretty impressive.

  3. crist is a bust. enough already. why can’t kelly recruit a top quarterback? golsen looks good, but if he doesn’t pan out and kelly can’t make anything out of rees, i’d have to question the guy. his recruiting already has me worried because he’s not getting top 5 stars, and he’s settling for a lot of mediocre 3 stars, and where is the speed? add all of these questions to the fact that this year we saw stupid playcalling yet again, and i’d say ‘how are we any better off than with weis?’ i’m hopeful with b.k. but if the bad losses continue on to next year, i’ll have to start yelling again for chris petterson to come to south bend. if kelly wants to avoid another bad year he needs to blitz way more often on defense and on predictable pass plays and open up the offense to get his fast players the ball in space.

  4. Power run the ball

    Hughes was always a north and south runner and this was the first time he was given an opportunity under Coach Kelly..

    Cierre could learn something from Hughes and I hope he does because of Cierre’s Potential.. RIght now cierre stops his feet to much and looks around for something else instead of just attacking… Coach Kelly doesn’t call a straight ahead running game and on a typical Kelly run play the back has to take 5 steps east and west before he can even turn up field. Coach Kelly was doing a nice job with calling runs/ playaction/ and quick looks to floyd in the first half of the usc game.. The 2nd half he got away from the run game and we got ourselves in a hole but fortunately he went back to the run game and went back with a vengence called ND o-line and Rob Hughes and we pounded the rock right down the field….

    One thing I do like about coach kelly is I feel that he doesn’t have a doghouse as weis did and he is not afraid to get multiple backs into the game which is the best way to evaluate talent which ND needs to do at the running back position because some question just weren’t answered under Weis…

    I still haven’t totally given up on Jonas but his last showing was a little unimpressive. Hughes was very impressive and I remember a big calling for him in the past when I was promoting Jonas…. SO nice job to u guys who promoted Hughes and I am sorry I don’t know who you are or were.

    Cierre does look like the most talented back on the team, but He is struggling with being a consistent back and trying to do to much on each run… He always looks better when he comes in after another running back has a nice run…. Competition appears to fuel him which is good..

    Shout Out to JDH JDH
    who i remember reading the comment on Coach Kelly saying that u thought he would change but would not own up to it publicly….

    I am happy he did…. Atleast against USC and I don’t apologize about being critical about Coach Kelly and ND because that is why I comment on this site and I believe my criticism are justified and right and when I wrong I happily acknowledge…

    ND should be minimum – 9 and 3 right now… but o well atleast we are showing positive signs…GO ND!

    • i’m not being condescending, but the last i remember of jonas was the 30 yard scamper against utah…has he seen more than 1-2 plays a game since?

      someone else might have mentioned this, but hughes would not have been in the final drive if cierre didn’t fumble…luck of the irish you might say

      • Power run the ball

        I am Jonas biggest advocate and against UTah he did have that big play but then didn’t get another chance…

        Against Army he got a few carries but didn’t look to great. Army was the game for him to shine and he didn’t make the most of his little opportunity…
        During the Bowl game I feel unless Jonas really shows something in practice u have to go with Hughes spelled by Wood due to the regular season.

    • Thanks for the shout-out PRTB. I’m glad that it appears Coach K is learning from his mistakes.

      But I won’t get too cocky, considering I thought ND would lose at least 2 out of 3 of their last games. 🙂

  5. WOW. Finally beating SCum is paying off quite nicely. So, Golson is likely to enroll early? Damn, Crist (the 5 star pro-style recruit that was this years starter), Rees (The “just win” kid that enorlled early and went undefeated in his three starts), Hendrix (the supposed epitome of a Kelly QB), Massa (a highly recruited soread style QB), and Golson. Throw in a legacy Montana. That is one hell of a stable of QBs. Sure 1 or 2 wil transfer, but if we get our pick of the best 3 or 4….Our Lady is gonna come out quite beautiful.

  6. I wonder if Kelly is going up to the NY,NJ area to talk to Ishaq Williams and Savon Huggins.I’m hoping on both, but I think we have a better chance on landing Ishaq.He has visited only ND and Syracuse this is usually a good indication of the schools that a kid will go to.I think he might be an OLB in the 3-4 and also put his hand in the dirt on passing downs, Ishaq is an amazing athlete.Imagine, the Linebacking corp of Ishaq,Teo,Carlo,and Shembo, that is as talented of a linebacking corp as anyone in the country imo.I have a feeling Savon won’t sign as his father has told him to go to a more pro-running offense.Unfortunately fathers sometimes steer their kids away from what they really want.Savon has said he feels real comfortable at ND and likes coach Kelly, but I have a feeling dad will win.Let’s hop for both.GO ND!!

  7. Also, I don’t think that Crist has that great of an understanding of coverages or defenseive schemes. Although I dont think that Kelly has made all the greatest calls, watching Crist was often frustrating. He seems to throw to his check downs to much, and then the ball wouldn’t be placed well. He also couldn’t even figure out a simple drop eight defensive scheme. As soon as the defenses realized that it rattled him more than a 300 pounder in his face, defenses started shutting him down. I think that he has all the tools, but his understanding is lacking. Also Coach Kelly did say when Rees was starting that it was nice to finally have a QB that gets it. He claimed that it wasn’t a nock on Crist, but what else could it mean.
    I really believe that Rees has a better understanding of the game. He just needs to get used to the speed. Remember he is fresh out of high school.

    • your statement is a contradiction. you said that crist both threw to the checkdown too much and didn’t know what to do when the d dropped 8. however, what is he supposed to do when the defense drops 8? throw to the checkdown!

  8. Golson looks like a QB that will fit in perfectly into Kelly’s system. Not only can he make plays with his feet; more importantly in his video, he looks very comfortable in the pocket, like he is a pass first QB. I think that had Kelly had the chance to have a kid like this run his offense in the past they would have been that much more effective.

  9. Give Kelly a few days to go and talk to recruits and see what he does, first Cam Mcdaniel, now Everett Golson.Kelly can really sell a program, I think all questions about can he recruit are being answered.

  10. I remember Kelly said he wasn’t going to sign a QB in this class unless he could get somebody special, I think he did just that.He’s been starting since his freshman year.I don’t worry about height as much with a spread qb, they stand behind the line and can scan the field and see the field easier then a pro style qb.There has been many qb’s who were short in the spread ,but very successful,Colt McCoy,Drew Brees,Chase Daniels.Watching his highlight tape he reminds me of Tyrod Taylor, but a better passer then Tyrod at the highscool level.This presents a very intresting qb competition in the spring and summer.I think somebody will transfer, it might be Dayne Crist as he might be the odd man out we shall see.This is a good problem as long as a clear starter is named before the season, you can’t have controversy in season.All these great qbs should push eachother to get better, that’s how you get to be a great team competition, competition, competition.I hope we get some more pieces to this team and build for a championship, for the first time since D.R Lou was here I can see us building towards one the right way.Welcome Everett.GO IRISH!!

  11. F**k yea!!!

    golson looks like a beast! he was planning on enrolling early at north carolina so you gotta think he will be at spring ball.

    looks like november saved/rejuvinated this recruiting class. there is still plenty of room on the band-wagon, all aboard!

  12. Scout.com Player Evaluation:
    STRENGTHS
    Arm Strength
    Release
    Running Ability / Mobility
    AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT
    Field Vision
    Size

    Golson is a quarterback that can pick defenses apart when given time and lanes to throw through. His size hurts him because he is not quite 6-feet tall, but he can make each throw top quarterbacks have to make. He has a very quick release, he throws a tight spiral, and he has excellent mobility. He can lock in on receivers at times, so he needs to work on that, but other than that and his size, he does all at a high level. – Chad Simmons – 2/3/10

  13. Everett Golson is Irish.

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