In Notre Dame’s first six games, the naysayers pointed to a relatively weak schedule to that point and indicated that the team would be put to the test during the second half of the regular season. If the 49-14 thrashing of the 11th-ranked Southern Cal Trojans was any indication, Brian Kelly’s squad resoundingly passed their first test.
Jumping out to a 28-0 halftime lead in what was supposed to be a tightly-contested affair gave Notre Dame plenty of breathing room. As it turned out, that wasn’t needed as they ended up outscoring the Trojans 21-14 in the second half. The victory injects plenty of confidence into not only the team, but those skeptics among the fan base that were waiting for a litmus test of this sort.
Below are some key aspects of the rout:
Back in the Saddle
After sitting out the team’s win against North Carolina two weeks ago because of an injury, quarterback Brandon Wimbush came back refreshed and it showed. The sophomore had some early overthrows but managed to throw for 120 yards on his nine completions, including a pair of first quarter touchdowns and no interceptions.
However, Wimbush has made his mark this year primarily through his legs and those wheels appear to primed for a big push in the weeks ahead. He managed to break the century mark on the ground with 106 yards and four carries, reaching the end zone twice on scores in the second and third quarters, respectively.
Exploiting Opposition Errors
As has been the case all season, the Irish made the most of their opponents mistakes, in this case Southern Cal’s three errors. All three miscues were converted into touchdown, which by themselves would have won the game for Notre Dame. Instead they were the icing on the cake in the easy victory.
The Trojans’ Sam Darnold started the football follies by bobbling the shotgun snap on USC’s first play from scrimmage. That resulted in a fumble recovery for the Irish. A subsequent interception thrown by Darnold and a fumbled punt deep in Southern Cal territory accounted for the other tallies.
The Trojans long had the reputation of being Tailback U, but on Saturday night, the Irish filled that role nicely and included Wimbush’s production. Josh Adams once again chewed up large chunks of real estate and scored three times. The second of those scores served as the back-breaker for Southern Cal, with Adams breaking off an 84-yard touchdown run enroute to a 191-yard evening.
That total matched nearly half of the entire Notre Dame running output of 397 yards. Past games with similar numbers in this specific category had come against schools that lacked the defensive firepower that the Trojans brought to South Bend, which could be an important facet of the offense in the scheduling minefield that the Irish still face.
Putting the D in D
Besides an improved running game, the Notre Dame defense has been a key factor in this year’s resurgence. The ability to get more pressure on opposing passers and force turnovers are the chief calling cards, with Darnold’s fumble an example of the aggressive approach that stripped him of the ball and ended up leading to the first score of the game.
The Irish completely shut down the Southern Cal rushing game in the first quarter, with the Trojans ending up with an embarrassing minus-four yards for the period. By the time the game had ended, they still only had gained 76 yards and had no scoring runs on their side of the statistical ledger.
Something Looks Familiar
The 49 points that Notre Dame put on the scoreboard against Southern Cal had a familiar ring to those with a sense of Irish football history. That’s because that amount represents the most points scored by Notre Dame in a game since the classic 49-19 rout of against John Robinson’s Trojans squad 40 years ago.
That historic contest was the storied Green Jersey game and helped spark the team to a national championship. A number of the players who took part in that contest made the trip to South Bend to commemorate that rout and no doubt had a sense that they’d seen this situation develop before.
Payback will be on the minds of Notre Dame players next Saturday when they host the North Carolina State Wolfpack, the first time ever that their opponents have traveled to South Bend. In the teams’ first-ever regular season meeting last season, a fourth quarter blocked punt by North Carolina State proved to be the difference in the Irish’s 10-3 loss.
Besides this one being on their home field, Notre Dame also has a different mindset than last season. In 2016, inconsistent play and key mistakes in some early games ended up spinning the season out of control. This season, a 6-1 start has replaced the bad taste from last year’s 2-5 mark at this juncture.