THAT. WAS. AWESOME. Notre Dame came out last night and ran the ball down USC’s throats to the tune of 377 yards enroute to a 49-14 victory over the previously 11th ranked Trojans. In the first meeting between the programs in over a decade in which both were ranked in the top 15, Notre Dame left absolutely no doubt who the better team is. The win raises the bar for Notre Dame after passing the first major test of a second half schedule featuring four ranked opponents including the Trojans.
1. That was the best win of the Brian Kelly Era
The Brian Kelly era at Notre Dame has been phenomenally bi-polar. The same coach who has guided his team to a 12-0 record in 2012 and is credited with the only shut out of Michigan in program history while also being the owner of a 4-8 record just last year now can add the biggest blowout of USC in over 50 years to his Notre Dame resume. The last eight years have been a rollercoaster for Notre Dame under Kelly but last night was the best win of his time in South Bend.
Notre Dame still has five games left including three against ranked opponents so a lot could happen still, but last night was a total domination of the #11 team in the country who just so happens to also be Notre Dame’s arch rival. Kelly has been roasted at times in his Notre Dame career – rightfully so most of the time – but the turnaround he has engineered with this team and himself in just a year really is remarkable. Last night Notre Dame beat USC by 35 damn points. I repeat, last night Notre Dame beat USC by 35 damn points.
Whatever happens for the rest of this season, just think, Brian Kelly has now beaten both Michigan and USC worse than Lou Holtz ever did. After last night he is also now 5-3 against USC.
2. Brandon Wimbush is improving as a passer
His numbers weren’t the prettiest last night, but Brandon Wimbush was more effective throwing the ball last night than he was the last time we saw him. He ended up just 9 of 19 for 120 yards but threw for two touchdowns and didn’t turn the football over. He was also the victim of a couple big drops – most notably one on the first drive of the game by Josh Adams that could have been a huge gain and then one by Alize Mack down the sideline in the 3rd quarter. There was another one from Equanimeous St. Brown at the end of the first half too. If those three are caught we could be easily talking about a 12 of 20, 200 yard, 2 TD performance.
Even with the drops we saw Wimbush take some steps forward as a passer. His touchdown strike to St. Brown was a laser beam and right in stride. His back shoulder touchdown toss to Kevin Stepherson was one of his best throws of the season. Even the drop by Mack was a beautifully placed ball between defenders. He’s not a finished product by any means yet, but the important thing is he is improving. If we see Wimbush take similar steps forward each of the next five weeks, we are going to have one hell of a dangerous quarterback come bowl season.
Also, let’s not take for granted the job Wimbush is doing as a runner. With two more rushing touchdowns last night, he tied the Notre Dame record for rushing touchdowns in an entire season of 10 by Deshone Kizer. Wimbush has played 6 games. Everett Golson and Deshone Kizer were good runners but Wimbush is truly dynamic in the open field.
3. Welcome to the show Khalid Kareem
One of the biggest question marks heading into the season was who would rush the quarterback for Notre Dame. Khalid Kareem threw his name into the mix with the first two sack game of his career. Kareem had just one sack in his career coming in but he spent almost as much time in the USC backfield as Sam Darnold considering Darnold watched the 4th quarter from the sidelines after getting pulled.
Between Daelin Hayes, Julian Okwara and Kareem; Notre Dame has a great group trio of edge players on their hands for this year and beyond. As a team Notre Dame recorded 5 sacks last night alone and now has 18 on the season. Reminder: Notre Dame recorded just 14 sacks all of last season. Reminder #2: Kareem is just a sophomore and at one time was committed to Alabama. His future is very bright and we should expect to see much more of him as the season progresses.
4. Josh Adams did it again
I mean, what else can we say about Josh Adams at this point? Yeah, the hole on his 84 yarder was big enough to drive Charlie Weis’s old golf cart through but he still ran away from all that team speed USC supposedly has. He ran the ball just 19 times last night but those runs racked up 191 yards and 3 of them ended in the endzone. He’s got 967 yards on the season in seven games. That pace puts him at nearly 1,700 yards in the regular season alone. The Notre Dame single season record is 1,437 by Vegas Ferguson in 1979.
Josh Adams now has 2,735 yards in his career. That puts him 6th all-time at Notre Dame. It’s not out of the realm of possibility for Adams to finish 3rd overall in program history by the end of this season.
Oh by the way, have I mentioned that Adams racked up all these yards this year despite not even playing in 9 of the 28 quarters of football Notre Dame has played. So he’s got almost 1,000 yards in seven games despite spending more than 30% of the time on the sidelines. In short, can someone please get this kid’s name into the Heisman mix?
5. Kevin Stepherson adds a dynamic to the Notre Dame offense it was missing
We might not ever find out exactly why Kevin Stepherson didn’t play the first four weeks of the year. I mean he wasn’t suspended right? (eye roll). What we do know, however, is that the Notre Dame offense has an added element to it with Stepherson in the lineup. Notre Dame got him the ball a couple of different ways last night including in the running game where his speed was evident.
As Wimbush continues to evolve as a passer, having Stepherson as another weapon makes this offense even scarier for opposing defenses. Not only do they have to account for Wimbush as a runner, but now there is speed demon on the field that they have to keep in their sight at all times as well.
Last night Stepherson had 3 catches for 58 yards and a touchdown after registering just one catch for negative yardage in his first two outings of the season. As his role develops more and more this year look for things to start opening up more for Equanimeous St. Brown as well.
6. You can all safely use the “P” word in relation to Notre Dame now
It’s ok. You can say it. Playoffs. Yes, Notre Dame and playoffs are allowed to be said in the same sentence at this point. Notre Dame’s resounding win over USC has grabbed the attention of the college football world. If the Irish continue their winning ways this weekend against NC State, the playoff conjecture will heat up even more with the first official ratings coming out from the College Football Playoff Committee coming next Monday.
Last night’s win was so easy I don’t know if it is even getting all of the recognition it deserves. Notre Dame just beat the hell out of its arch rival by 35 points. Its arch rival that also happened to be ranked #11 in the country with a preseason Heisman favorite quarterbacking them. That same quarterback got the hook after Notre Dame extended its lead to 35 points.
On Saturday night, Notre Dame did what playoff teams do – they beat down a quality opponent and played a complete football game from start to finish. There is still a lot of football to be played and Notre Dame’s three upcoming games against ranked opponents loom large. That said, Notre Dame has done everything it can since its week two lose to stake its claim as the best one loss team in the country. If they continue winning, that claim will become easier and easier to back up.