The end of the first losing season for Notre Dame football since 2007 ended much the way it began, with the Irish opponent reaching the end zone with frustrating regularity. In their 45-27 loss to the USC Trojans, Notre Dame allowed a score in virtually every way possible: a field goal, a touchdown run, two scoring passes, a punt return, a pick-six and a kickoff return.
Keeping Up With Jones
Stopping the Trojans on the ground meant keeping Ronald Jones II in check. The Irish defense had brief moments of success in this category, yet watched him break off a 51-yard scamper midway through the opening period to give USC their first touchdown. Things calmed down with just 37 yards gained by Davis on nine carries over the next two quarters. That was until Jones combined on a pair of runs for 25 yards that moved Southern Cal into Notre Dame territory on their way to their final score.
Picking and Choosing
With the exception of USC’s first scoring drive of the second half, when they completed passes of 21 and the scoring toss of 52 yards, Trojan signal caller Sam Darnold preferred to pick the Irish to death. Among his 19 completions during the game, 14 of them were for less than 10 yards. Ironically, his most prolific series of the game was his first of the game, when he completed five-of-six for 45 yards, yet managed only a field goal.
While Adoree Jackson was the star of the game with scores through the air and both kick and punt returns, his appearance was a rarity for the Southern Cal cornerback. Instead, Darnold focused most of his attention on the trio of Deontay Burnett, Darreus Rogers and JuJu Smith-Schuster. They snagged 13 of his 19 completions and accounted for just over half of his passing yardage on the afternoon.
Third Down Breakdowns
On USC’s first touchdown drive, they needed 11 yards and managed to gain 12 yards on a run. Facing a third-and-five in the third quarter, the Trojans managed to pick up 21 and keep a scoring drive alive that stopped Notre Dame’s momentum. Finally, with Southern Cal facing third-and-goal from the Irish 14, Notre Dame helped them out with a pass interference call that put the ball on the two, turning into their final touchdown on the next play. All three offensive touchdowns came because a trio of third down efforts failed.
Having put an end to this disappointing campaign, Kelly now hits the recruiting trail with his staff. Looking for impact players on defense would seem to be a likely approach, considering what he watched over the past 12 games. The sad recruiting pitch will be undoubtedly be that such players may be able to start right away. Whether or not that sways any of them will mean for some bumpy starts next September, but perhaps hope for a brighter future.