Duranko’s Digest: What Did We See Against USC?

Jaylon Smith - Notre Dame LB v. USC
Photo: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Somewhere, Rock and Howard Jones smiled.  This is what an epic, rivalry game look like.  Legacy fulfilled. Offense, Defense, Special Teams, thrills, agony, expected stars and surprise heroes.

Football games are compartmentalized into four clock quarters.  This one had four “emotional” quarters, measured not by Longines but by the peaks and valleys  in the psyches of the Notre Dame fan.


“Starting Fast” was a prerequisite for Irish victory. Or not.
It was Troy who started fast, a Kessler bomb to Juju the cornerstone of an effortless Trojan drive.  USC 7- ND O, only 3:07 elapsed.


Could Notre Dame answer?
Is the Dome Golden?
Is Will Fuller fast?

Fuller burned past Adoree Jackson, and Kizer dropped it in the basket.  7-7.

After an SC field goal, Prosise keyed a powerful drive and the Irish were up 14-10.


Kelly, in the offseason, hired Pryce Tracy as special Teams intern to assist Scott Booker.   On a fake field goal against Virginia for Kizer’s first and prescient TD pass, and on C.J. Sanders’ punt return against UMASS, the Irish already had two special teams touchdown.

After a quick three and out, Troy dropped back to punt.  Equanimeous St. Brown charged up the middle and then launched like a giant praying mantis, swatting the ball away, Amir Carlisle picked it up and the Irish were up 21-10.

As the second quarter began,, the Irish drove to the South End Zone. (the barren end of the stadium , as the Irish notched all 5 TDS into the waiting arms of Touchdown Jesus in the North End Zone.)

Irish bodies leaned forward, as a 28-10 lead might break USC’s will.  Torii Hunter Jr. reached for the goal line, but the talented Adoree Jackson batted it away for 11th hour clemency for the visitors.


It seemed like a bad sequel, of ’64, ’74, ’78 and ’05. It was anguishing. ANOTHER athletic, sadistic Trojan comeback.

The Irish for the 6th consecutive week had one of those two TD lapses. This one took about 3 minutes.

Helton, Kessler and Jalen Greene tricked the gullible Irish defenders  and Juju scored a 75 yard touchdown on the pass from Greene.

Helton then hid Adoree Jackson in the slot, mismatched against Joe Schmidt and Jackson easily snaked through the Irish back line for another touchdown. It was not ND 28-SC 10. Instead, it was knotted at an uncomfortable 24-24.
After the Irish sputtered in the 3rd quarter, Ronald Jones long run, again victimizing Schmidt, keyed a Trojan TD dive and the Irish trailed 31-24.


“The very moment I thought I was lost
the dungeon shook and the chains fell off
Keep your eyes on the prize
Hold on”

The Irish had shown steely mental toughness in the fourth quarters in Charlottesville and Clemson.  Could they do it in the season’s biggest game?


The mantra had been “What’s wrong with Robinson? Why is Russell struggling? Will Redfield ever “get it.”

The Irish had moved to  a nervous 31-31 tie with Prosise willing it in.

The Irish drove again, with a trick play on a pass from the absolved Torii Hunter Jr. to Alize Jones as the tipping point. Would a field goal be enough?  Kizer and Robinson didn’t think so and Kizer made a good pass to Robinson who made a better catch, and the Irish were up 38-31. Just as against Florida State, night lights and a big stage never overwhelm Robinson. Au contraire.

48 seconds later, KeiVarae Russell made one of the greatest defensive plays in the history of Notre Dame stadium, an interception as dramatic as it was athletic.

Hope, suddenly, was alive.

The redoubtable Yoon made it a ten point lead at 41-31, but trauma synapses kept firing in the wounded memories of the Irish faithful.

Russell tipped it, Redfield snagged it and with just 5 minutes left the Irish had the ball back.

Notre Dame 41-31.   Mst ND points against USC since 1977.  The Fighting Irish are now 6-1. Brian Kelly is 4-2 against USC. He has more wins against USC than the great Ara Raoul. Kelly has more wins against USC than his three predecessors COMBINED.


  • Is it not a tribute to Kizer that we measure him against the high standard of a Notre Dame quarterback rather than grading him on the curve as a raw, emergency substitute?
  • How good will our special teams be down the stretch?
  • Did light bulbs go on for Corey Robinson, KeiVarae Russell and Max Redfield?
  • Who has a better pair of kickers than Tyler Newsome and Jutin Yoon?


A Saturday without a game, and the timing is perfect. Let the Irish savor this win for more than the mandated 24 hours, go home and take a break and return the 25th ready to go.

All schedules are different, but some are more different than others. While we play one AAC team and three ACC teams for the next four opponents, those four pre-Stanford trials offer some similarities.

They play defense well, at least according to the statistics, and they do not play offense very well, according to the statistics. All four are good field, no hit.

Going into the games of 10/17 the four opponents averaged a mere 27.7 points, while allowing a startlingly low 14.7 ppg. They were gaining 344 yards per game while allowing a startlingly low 260 yards per game.

While the late Berra, paraphrased, would have contended that good offense beats good defense and vice versa, it is hard to determine how these teams will fare against the Irish and vice versa. (Thanks Yog!)

Wake Forest, for example beat BC 3-0. Eyewitnesses contend that the first football game ever played between Rutgers and Princeton on November 6, 1869 featured offenses more explosive than those of the 2015 editions of Wake and BC.

There is a simple litmus test for measuring the Irish effectiveness in the next four games. In each game the standard ought be for Notre Dame for Notre Dame to blow through the ppg and ypg allowed by each opponent and to allow fewer ppg and ypg than the opponent previously aggregated.

Personnel Adjustments

First, Avery Sebastian will return and he should bolster the safety corps. He may be needed against Stanford. Second, the second half of the year is when frosh sometimes start to figure things out and they may be aided and abetted by the week off.

Josh Adams, Alize Jones, Equanimeous St. Brown, Tevon Coney, Jerry Tillery, Justin Yoon and Nick Coleman should be more productive than they were in the first 7 games. We shall see if form holds.

And the shockingly mature Kizer should be even better.

In case you missed it NOTRE DAME 41-31. Seems that Stanford beat USC 41-31. Interesting.


As dawn broke on October 18th, the 91st anniversary of the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame there were 10 unbeaten teams in the Power Five:


Big 10-Ohio State, Michigan and Iowa

Big XII-Baylor, TCU and Ok State

Pac XII-Utah

ACC-Florida State and Clemson

There were 9 one loss teams in the Power Five

SEC-Bama, A&M Florida,

Big XII-Oklahoma

Pac XII-Stanford and Cal

ACC-Pitt, Duke and UNC

That is a total of 19. What’s intriguing is that the Irish will face 2 of those 22, Pitt and Stanford. But the list will dwindle, count on that. We will see who’s left standing when dawn breaks on Nov. 1st, All Saints Day.

Enjoy the Break.


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  1. Other things that are tough to say with a straight face:
    “Well thought out comment bj.”
    “Good prediction Dave.”
    “Seen any Taliban lately SW.”
    “You are the fastest white boy in Louisiana Toul.”

  2. We’ll need every minute!

    It will take a lot of effort and concentration for us all to be able to say “A Notre Dame victory over Temple at sold out Lincoln Finanacial is definitely a qualtity win!” with a straight face.

    Practice Practice Practice

  3. JDH. Nice linking article. I’ve felt too that what we’re seeing on the defense may be more involved than it appears. Also this is usually the time of year where players need to practice wrapping up. Schmidt is NOT the only player guilty of this recently. Thanks.

  4. Appreciate how Duranko can put things back into perspective. I try to see the broader picture, give credit it’s due. Achievement over large obstacles. I say with 5 games left to play. Talent and desire is there. Along with depth. This whole program can peak and finish strong. This team/staff still has a lot of inexperience on it. “Will” finds a way. Thanks.

  5. Serious question (though I fear we will not get all serious responses!!)

    Go back in the time machine. It is the Sunday after Thanksgiving in 2014. We just got walloped by USC.
    The game was not nearly so close as the final score indicated.

    I take out my crystal ball. I tell you I see the following:

    -we will play LSU in the Music City Bowl

    -ace recruiters Tony Alford and Kerry Cooks will leave, to Buckeye state and OU, no less
    =Cooks will take Prenticxe McKinney with him
    Bo Wallace -the DE from John Curtis, not the incompetent OLE MISS QB will decline and wind up at ASU

    Golson will leave after Spring Practice, so will Hegarty, one to FSU, one to Oregon

    Jarron Jones will be out for the year after an injury in Fall camp

    Bryant will leave to
    “pursue other opportunities”
    Shaun Crawford would be out for the year from an ACL in pre-Fall practice.

    Folston will go out for the year against Texas, Zaire against Virginia, Smythe later

    If you believe what the chrystal ball told you, what do you think ND would do in the next 8 games (LSU + 7 so far this year)?

    And what would be the biggest margin of defeat in those 8 games?

  6. Attention Ron Burgundy: Can you remind us once again what your prediction was at the beginning of the year what the result of the Notre Dame-USC game was going to be? Thanks.


  7. Mike,
    I hear what you’re saying and your points are valid, but I think comparing him to Calabrese is somewhat apples and oranges. Carlo didn’t possess the intangibles that Schmidt does. Granted, if Schmidt doesn’t step up his game and misses tackles HE SHOULD MAKE, then sure other guys should get looks. However, the eye test can be very deceiving at times. And I have to believe that the coaches feel strongly that ND is better with him on the field than not, at least at this point in time. This article does a good job of breaking down his performance vs. USC. All wasn’t what it appeared to be:


    Either way, we’ll see what happens with him and his game.

  8. JDH,

    Carlo Calabrese made a lot of “aggressive mistakes”, too. And his team suffered because of it.

    All of what you say about Schmidt (smart guy, great work ethic, emotional leader) coupled with his limited ceiling athletically explains why he should be a coach or grad assistant. Not the starting MLB for a playoff-contending team. I understand giving him the benefit of the doubt but the season is more than half over and ND has zero margin of error.

  9. Good observations Duranko. In regards to Schmidt:

    There are reasons why Joe Schmidt is the captain/playcaller and mike linebacker (he is the smartest guy on the D). He is a phenomenal emotionally leader. His fellow players and his coaches have verified that time and time again. When he went down last year with an injury, it had a nasty ripple effect on the defense, emotionally and tactically. He has without question missed some tackles this year. However, alot of the misses are “aggressive mistakes” rather than mental ones. Going by his character and supreme work ethic, I’ll err on the side of giving him the benefit of the doubt. I think his game will improve based upon who he is.

  10. What Did We See Against USC?

    How about what we didn’t see….. the coveted Jeweled Shillelagh.
    USC left it behind in California.

    My favorite play from the game… the blocked punt where former Trojan and ND transfer Amir Carlisle scooped it up and ran it in for the score.
    Ain’t Karma a bitch!

  11. Great article again, Duranko.

    You combine Grid-head level technical acuity with a touch of poetry; Grantland Rice would have been proud. I especially resonated with the 4 Q approach and the comment that KR’s interception was so athletic; been seeing those kind of plays on SEC fields only for too long. Nice to see that kind of play come to South Bend.

    Very interested in the stats you will provide. My instinct on Saturday night was that they will show we were much more effective in translating yards into points than SC. I would love to compare that with previous few years, when I feel like we were on the wrong side of the YPG-> PPG metric, and not just the SC game. Kisser seems to have upped our scoring effectiveness, and the INTs helped lower SC’s.

    Thanks again.

  12. Good article!

    The #1 question/concern I have is Joe Schmidt. He’s a great story, a great kid. But there are too many times where he’s overmatched out there. It looks like he’s regressed this year. Maybe he’s not fully recovered from last year’s injury. With that said, is he really the best option ND has at that spot? Do the coaches feel more comfortable with him than anyone else and are willing to tolerate a weakness at that position?

    The #2 question/concern I have also involves the defense. To me, the defense has enough talent to perform better than they have been doing. And the blame falls on BVG, IMO. There are too many times when the players are out of position. There are too many huge plays that they give up. It is encouraging that they are starting to make some big plays themselves in the last couple of weeks, but they need more of it. It seems like BVG prefers a high risk/high reward defensive philosophy. From what I’ve seen from his defense, there’s not reward for the risk. There’s been times when he’s lined up in a more passive formation and that has worked well. Maybe he doesn’t have the personnel to run the defense he prefers, I don’t know. Regardless, it’s the coaches job to put the players in situations that give them the best chance to succeed and IMO, he’s failed to do that too many times.

  13. I think what Herbstreets is saying is the overall defense of an Ohio State and Alabama is better than Notre Dame . Yes Notre Dame can put out comparable talent at some positions such as Sheldon Day, Jaylon Smith , Kevarie Russell, etc, but overall their other 8 guys are much better than Joe Schmidt, Okwara, Shumate, oniwalu etc..

  14. JDH, there may be another factor, regarding your response to FXM. Smith;’s biggest failing is that he is not twins. In addition to his contain duties, he is a marvelous coverage artist against the pass. Remember, in 2012 Spond was often the de facto nickel. Simith nearly had an interception when Kessler threw that pass into the East sideline. Smith reads well, drops as no Notre Dame player has ever dropped, and is competent when the ball is in the air. If Notre Dame could develop a reliable nickel (someone swifter than Farley) it might allow them to depend less on Smith in coverage, freeing him up for the blitz.

  15. @FXM: I hear what you’re saying about Jaylon not having many sacks. But I think that is partly due to scheme against running QBs. Cody Kessler is the only QB we’ve played this year that did not have the ability to beat us with his legs, his short TD run aside. I think Jaylon has often been put in a “QB contain” position, particularly when getting to the edge.

  16. By the way, on the ludicrous Herbstreit comment regarding Jaylon, the sad thing is that when we see Jaylon playing on Sunday it will be clear that there are not many like him but somehow we failed to actually maximize his potential. It is ridiculous that he doesn’t have a bunch of sacks with that size and speed with a supposed NFL type coordinator.

  17. First, for Peter Recchio. The question that you posed and on which I asked for time, if I recall Peter was something like “Is the Brian Van Gorder defense too complicated for college players to master and (I’m putting words in your mouth here, Peter) and do its risks outweigh its rewards.

    Risks would be keeping athletes off the field in deference to interpretrers.(Morgan/Schmidt) e.g.
    Risks would include vulnerability to trick plays.

    Well, Peter, we’ll keep dialoguing on that, beginning after the Pitt game, preferably in these comment sections.

    In the game articles, from here on out I’m going to insert a nerdy geekology section with some metrics on both how ND has performed against the opponents’ previous averages. I will also include some data on one of my favorite nerdy metrics., yards per point as a measurement of both offensive and defensive effectiveness. So, we’ll have some more data to, hopefully, provide a foundation for the quantitative analysis and “eye tests.” Remember eye tests are nice, eye tests are good. Even Potter Stewart of the US Supreme court remarked on obscenity, when ducking a legalistic test “I know it when I see it.”

    In a later comment in this thread I’m going to post some data about offensive explosions in last year’s key games, only one of which involved the Irish.

    Let’s just hypothesize that I might do some quantitative/qualitative analysis for a person, let’s call him the Big Sky Commisar, who is inclined to look at numbers and related info regarding college football. I’ll include an email address for anyone who wants to see the other data, It will be free, as the Big sky Commisar has already funded the “research.”

    On the BC game, let’s now go to some “Dr. Phil handicapping”

    Has Kelly out-Bostoned Boston College?

    Born there (addazio wasn’t)
    Green Uniforms
    Shamrock series
    Kelly has kissed the blarney stone and will lay it on thick.

    Has Kelly stolen BC’s Boston Irish mojo?

  18. Regardless of our history with Pitt and BC I wouldn’t have given them a second thought this year until that near debacle with Virginia. Any team can lay an egg on any given Saturday, but for some reason we remain more likely than most. I hope we can get a comfortable enough lead in some of these games that Wimbush can play and we didn’t blow his red shirt for one appearance. That would be pretty sad. I think we match up well with Stanford, no blazing speed there just a slug fest. 11-1 would be awesome as well as painful, leaving me mumbling all summer “Why did Kelly go for two to soon at Clemson?”

  19. Great article Duranko. And I agree with what Mick said above. Temple will be out for blood and has nothing to lose. Pitt gives us fits pretty much every year. These are not easy road games to get ready for Stanford. Our ugly, slow-witted younger brother, Boston College, should be genocided by this Irish team. x2 for Wake Forest.

    In regards to OSU and Bama having “11 Jaylon Smiths”. Haha, yeah ok. I understand the point Herby was trying to make and he probably didn’t mean it literally. Do those 22 starters all have “All-American, 1st round draftee” attached to their name in the future. Um, no.

  20. I to am always hesitant with Pitt and BC. Adding Temple these will be great offensive test and should bolster ND’s SOS for their offense at least. Providing ND scores and racks up yardage controlling game and clock. For now 3 of the 5 are ranked. Or close to it. I am not overly concerend with Stanford this year. I feel ND’s “D” matches up well for their offense. ND has a fast defense and Stanford is a staight froward power offense. Plus I think they match up well with the QB. Maybe I am way off. Barring unforseen personnel problems of coarse. I do sense a “want, desire, and hunger” about this team. Even more so than the ’12 team. That “D” you really sensed it. So I don’t feel a “let down” or over confidence issue. Thanks to the ST for blocking the gunners on some punts so Sanders could have a chance. I too was one to say “here it comes again.” Leaving 2 TD’s off the board. That just can’t happen against SC and not be detrimental. Thanks to team etc. for pulling out the win against (ugh) SC. I also have been perplexed for not playing more “D” lineman. Pretty deep there. Get them in rotation. Hopefully “O” lineman can see game time too. Depth there also. They are going to gel and finish strong. Hunger and desire. Thanks.

  21. Fabulous game. Recruits had to be impressed and many were there. Just have to get over blowing
    leads so quick.

  22. I don’t care who or what BC & Pitt have done before playing the Irish. These games will be the biggest ones of the season for both teams and for some reason both mediocre programs have a knack for pulling the Irish down to their level. I am honestly more afraid of these 2 games than Stanford. You know what we will see against Stanford – close game, hard hitting, whoever makes a big play late will win. And Temple all of a sudden looks like a possible hornets nest. This will be by far the biggest game in Temple history and they look frisky enough to make it a game if the Irish do not give them their full attention (which has been a weakness of the BK era). Every year under BK it seems we lose a game to a vastly inferior team for whatever reason. Having said that, if the Irish are truly on the next level (which I though they were before the Clemson debacle) they will put the wood to these teams. Like Dr Lou always says, you have a different team every week. Go Irish.

  23. Great article Duranko, and some great responses too!!! ND has the offense to compete for the playoffs, but the defense is still suspect in my thinking. A few weeks back I asked you for your opinion on the D Duranko, and your comment was that you needed till mid to end of Nov to really tell, because of the varied offenses run by opponents in the first half of the season.

    It is exciting to know the offense has been great with room to grow further with Prosise, Kizer, the o-line, et all. Great special teams have been a boon as well. ND’s overall success however, will depend on if the defense grows significantly as well.

  24. Speaking of a scout review, I happened to catch the highlights replay of last week’s PITT – Georgia Tech game.

    GT absolutely gashed PITT with their running game.
    Of the 482 yards of total offense put up by the Yellow Jackets, 376 of them were by way of the rush.
    Take away the sac yardage surrendered by GT and they would have rushed for 400 yards.
    GT ran particularly well wide and on the edges with the GT QB breaking off runs of 45 & 51 yards.
    They were ripping off running plays at a 9.4 yards per carry clip.

  25. Duranko,

    I like the article, good job on showing what’s ahead. All ND can do is take care of business after the Clemson loss and let the chips fall where they may. I did a little scout review of the teams that ND plays and besides Iowa for Pitt, I didn’t see anything in the next four teams where they played an offense like ND’s. I think the Clemson loss taught Kiser and Kelly a lot. It taught them that teams are going to try and make them one dimensional by making them throw the ball. Well Kiser has answered the bell over and over again when it comes to throwing the ball.

    The defense should be able to shut down Pitt, Temple, BC and Wakes offenses and I think ND has way more play makers than any of these teams have seen, maybe besides BC who saw FSU. I look forward to watching ND grow as a team, Kelly turn in his best coaching job year to date and hopefully finishing the year 11-1. If that happens Kelly should be coach of the year with the injuries this team has faced.

  26. Well, they do have 11 guys that, put together, are as well-rounded as one Jaylon Smith, Max Redfield or Cory Robinson.

  27. Notre Dame is very good but has to bring their A game to win out. Playoffs imo are a long shot but you never know. Looking and watching this Notre Dame team and comparing them with the elite I believe they are pretty close. If they made the playoffs, I believe they could hang with Ohio State, Alabama, Baylor, Florida State, TCU, LSU, etc. Not sure they could beat any of those teams because I don’t think Notre Dame’s defense is good enough to slow these teams down. Ps – Kelly needs to recruit better on the defensive side of the ball. Like Kirk Herbreistreet said, Alabama and Ohio State have 11 Jaylon Smith’s.

  28. Duranko and I have had our spats in the past, but darn it this is good stuff on here. Well done, sir. I commend you on your feel for this game and love of ND!

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