Despite multiple nervous moments along the way, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish held off the competitive Southern Cal Trojans to raise their record to 5-1 with a 30-27 victory. The Irish entered the game as double-digit favorites. However, they were unable to salt the win away until the final minute when an onside kick that was recovered by reserve tight end Brock Wright.
Notre Dame appeared to be in control at halftime, holding a 17-3 lead, but that changed after being stopped on downs with four minutes left in the third quarter. For the remainder of the game, Southern Cal fought back and got within the final three-point margin with 1:04 left to play.
Below are some of the significant aspects of the Irish victory:
After coasting to their easy 52-0 rout over Bowling Green, the Irish came out flat during the first 15 minutes of the game against the Trojans. They came up with nothing on their three first-quarter drives that gained a total of 78 yards, one-third of that amount coming on a single play, That was a 26-yard toss to Chase Claypool, but that drive would soon quickly peter out, as did the next two series.
Southern Cal also had their issues during the opening period, though they did outgain Notre Dame on the yardage front and picked up six first downs. The problem for both teams was that they struggled on third down. While the Irish pass rush looked strong during the quarter, when it ended, it was the Trojans who held a 3-0 advantage.
A Needed Dose of Momentum
After one quarter of stagnation, the Irish awakened and notched 17 second-quarter points to take a 17-3 lead into intermission, scoring on each of their last three drives of the period. The first began on the Notre Dame four, and with the Irish facing a third-and-seven, Ian Book connected with Claypool for a first down. Tony Jones Jr. then followed up a 12-yard run with a 43-yard scamper. Four plays later, Book found Cole Kmet for a 10-yard score that gave Notre Dame the lead for good.
The Irish only needed four plays on their next drive to go 80 yards and take a 14-3 lead, with Braden Lenzy‘s 51-yard dash off a pitch from Book the capper. In the final minutes before the break, Notre Dame managed to tack on three more points, thanks to a 45-yard field goal from Jonathan Doerer. During this surge, Jones served as the central component of the offense by gaining 95 yards on just seven carries.
While Notre Dame was undoubtedly happy to pick up the win, some concern exists after the Irish defense ended up allowing 426 yards to the Southern Cal offense. That unit was being led by true freshman Kedon Slovis, who hadn’t played since sustaining a concussion on the second play of the Trojans’ September 20 against Utah. Despite having acquired some rust during that time, he ended the game completing 24 of 35 for 255 yards and two touchdowns.
The Southern Cal running game also picked up 171 yards on the night, with Markese Stepp leading the way with 82 yards on 10 carries. The Indianapolis native proved to be especially challenging to bring down on two occasions, the last of those coming on the final Trojan touchdown of the night.
A Rush to Victory
Jones finished his busy night by gaining 176 yards on 25 carries, though he wasn’t able to reach the end zone. For the night, the Irish tore apart the Southern Cal run defense by gaining a season-high 311 yards on the evening and averaging nearly seven yards per carry. The Trojans had been giving up an average of 175 yards on the ground this year, which put them in a tie for 89th place in that category, a flaw Notre Dame exploited to the fullest.
The 51-yard score by Lenzy was his only run of the night, but Book contributed three critical runs on the final scoring drive. The first was only for four yards but had a 15-yard personal foul on the Trojans added. Then, facing a third-and-10, he took off for 17 yards before running for an eight-yard score two plays later.
The Irish are off next week, giving them two full weeks worth of preparation for what figures to be a challenge on the road against the Michigan Wolverines on October 26. Notre Dame is seeking their third straight win in the series, though this contest takes place in Ann Arbor, where they’ve been winless since 2005. In 2013, the Irish’s last trip to face the Wolverines ended in a wild 41-30 defeat before a massive crowd of 115,109.