Beyond the Boxscore: Breaking Down Notre Dame’s 3rd Win in a Row Over USC

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:

Slow Start

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.

Defensive Questions

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.

Next Up

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.

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  1. ND completely left their “killer instincts” in the locker room yesterday. BK played a relatively conservative game all because the ND coaching staff was scared stiff of USC’s 3 receivers. This I can’t figure in so much as USC was beaten by (2) lesser teams than ND and yet those same (3) receivers didn’t hurt them at all. For some odd reason it didn’t seem smart to rush (3) and let SC’s backs run amuck and gash ND’s DL. I know they won the game (barely) but technically speaking that game belonged to USC.

  2. Pete Carroll bolstered his legacy at USC beating up on very badly coached ND teams in 8 straight games, 2002-2009.

    Since Carroll left for the NFL, USC has been in exactly the same coaching turmoil that ND was.
    His departure happened right when Kelly showing up at ND.

    Now, Kelly has a winning record vs. the school that is, historically, ND’s biggest rival.
    Bring on the statue!

    The reality is that he’s beaten a string of the USC versions of Willingham/Weis teams.
    And he has never delivered any of the shellackings those guys got at ND.

    Kelly is not a candidate for beatification. More for replacement.

    1. 29-5 KELLY is in the last 34 games! TWO undefeated 12-0 seasons! IRISH have played for CHAMPIONSHIP in 2012 and made the playoffs in 2018!! After saying IRISH should have hired FROSTY ( NEBRASKA SUCKS IN YEAR 2 ) and WILLIE TAGGART ( FSU IS PITIFUL ) I hope they don’t ask a dope like you who to hire!! OBTW look at the speed thats finally coming the future is only getting better only a dope couldn’t see that!!

      1. “And he has never delivered any of the shellackings those guys got at ND.” Yeah, maybe get your memory tested, if you really can’t remember beating SC 49-14, two years ago.

      1. 2007 38-0
        2008 38-3
        Those are “shellackings”. And those scores were kind.

        My point, clearly made within a context, stands.

        Not sure what yours is…that even in the darkest times, USC has fared a bit better than a completely inept ND did?
        Soooo…take that?

      2. Sounds like I struck a nerve. Don’t be so sensitive. It’s only a game. And a game that Notre Dame still leads historically against the Trojans. Who is your team?

  3. Notredame may win out but if they do it won’t be easy.Offense just not consistently good ala Ohio State LSU Oklahoma Alabama Clemson.All those teams would have put up 45 to 50 points on USC imo.

      1. ….so they had better stay FAR away from the BCS playoffs, where their chance of being the better prepared team is exactly zero.

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