Notre Dame improved to 5-1 on the season yesterday with a 30-27 win over archrival USC. The Trojans limped into town with two losses already, but that didn’t stop them from running their mouths during the week. The Irish ultimately had the last laugh in another uneven performance for the Irish offense. There’s a lot to unpack from this one so let’s dive into this week’s “5 things I liked” post.
1. Beating USC for the 3rd Year in a Row
I labeled this win as frustrating in the Overreactions column this week because even though I thought this game would ultimately be close, it was still frustrating watching Notre Dame struggle with a bad USC team. That being said, it’s impossible not to like beating USC for a third straight year, four times in the last five years, and seven out of ten tries under Brian Kelly.
Charlie Weis and Tyrone Willingham could not beat USC. Brian Kelly is 7-3 against the Trojans during his ten years on the sidelines at Notre Dame. That’s pretty great and shows just how much Kelly has improved the program. Previous coaches couldn’t beat USC. Kelly can lead the Irish to a three-point win, and the reaction at this point is “meh” because we’ve gotten used to beating USC again.
For the record, it is also possible to realize how awesome it is that we’ve gotten to a point where beating USC is normal again while also realizing that the Irish also didn’t play their best game. But there will be much more on that in tomorrow’s “5 things I didn’t like” post on this game. For now, let’s all enjoy the fact that Notre Dame’s junior class will have a chance to finish their careers next year without ever losing to USC.
2. Tony Jones Jr’s continued hard running
People tend to focus on what Tony Jones Jr is not. He is not a burner. He is not a back that’s going to see a hole and explode through it ala Dexter Williams. But you know what? It’s time to start focusing on what he is, and that is a hell of a running back.
Tony Jones Jr racked up a career-high 176 yards on 25 carries for his third straight 100-yard contest. He had 131 yards against UVA two weeks ago and 102 last week on just seven carries. Yesterday’s outburst gave him 557 yards on the season – his previous career high was 392 yards last year.
It will be interesting to see how Brian Kelly and Chip Long mix in Jafar Armstrong against Michigan since Notre Dame’s RB1 to start the season barely saw the field in his return to action against USC, given the success that Jones has had the last month.
3. Jonathan Doerer nailing three field goals all over 40 yards
Jonathan Doerer had a rough start to his career at Notre Dame and has had a lot of criticism thrown his way. On Saturday though, Doerer showed everyone who wrote him off how wrong they were. Doerer was a perfect three for three on field goal attempts from 43, 45, and 52 yards. All of them had plenty of distance on them and were right down the middle each time. It was really impressive considering the struggles Doerer had earlier in his career.
If Doerer can be counted on from those distances all year, that is a massive development for Notre Dame down the stretch since no one thought the Irish would have a kicker like that this year. The Jonathan Doerer we saw yesterday was Justin Yoon-esque.
Brian Kelly gave Doerer the game ball, and he earned it. Notre Dame needed every one of those points as the offense continued to struggle stringing drives together again this week.
4. Watching Braden Lenzy ran faster than every single USC defender on the field
For too many years, we heard that Notre Dame doesn’t have elite speed. That’s what made seeing Braden Lenzy take off and run faster than everyone else on the field on his 52-yard touchdown so exciting. Lenzy outran the entire USC defense on his way to the endzone, making it there despite a couple of Trojans having an angle on him.
Notre Dame needs to keep adding players who add that speed element to the offense, and they are doing a good job of it. In the interim, Notre Dame is going to have to find more ways to get Lenzy involved in the offense.
5. Notre Dame’s 7-Minute drive at the end of the 4th
The Notre Dame offense struggled with consistency again this weekend, but when the Irish needed a drive, the offense delivered. After USC pulled within three points with 10:27 remaining, Ian Book engineered a 14-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that ate up just under seven minutes of clock. It put Notre Dame back up 10 points with just 3:33 remaining.
Book converted two third downs on the drive: a 3rd and 7 on a pass to Kmet and a 3rd and 10 with a 17-yard scramble. He capped off the drive with an eight-yard touchdown run. Like Jones, we all tend to focus on what Book isn’t too often. On Saturday night, he was clutch when Notre Dame needed him most.