Being right isn’t always fun, and this was a prime example of it. I predicted Notre Dame winning 31-27 when there were a lot of Notre Dame fans and writers predicting blowouts. I didn’t see it coming and not because of USC but because of Notre Dame. The Irish had a chance to blowout USC in the second half, but the game ended up coming down to an onside kick. Yes, USC didn’t have the ball in their hands with a chance to take the lead at any point in the second half, but this game didn’t need to be as close as it was.
It’s always a good thing to beat USC too and even better when it’s the third win a row over them and the fourth in five years. The reason some Irish fans are a bit frustrated over this one, though, is because yesterday’s performance was more of a revelation that maybe Notre Dame is just a good, solid team and not potentially the elite team we all were hoping this team would grow into.
Win casts doubts on Notre Dame’s offense
The main reason the game was closer than it needed to be was because the Notre Dame offense was not able to do much in the second half until a seven-minute, 4th quarter drive that put USC in a position where they were going to need to score and get an onside kick. Notre Dame got Jafar Armstrong back from injury, but predictably, he was not much of a factor as the staff didn’t use him much at all.
With its offense back at full strength – or close to it – they still struggled to pass the ball. Ian Book threw for just 165 yards on 17 of 32 passing. Most of those passes barely traveled past the line of scrimmage as Notre Dame continues to struggle to push the ball vertically.
After six games, it’s time to start realizing that the vertical passing game might not ever come this year. They have a bye week to keep working on the passing game, but at this point, it looks like the Irish will struggle to pass the ball against any decent defense it runs into.
To the offense’s credit, they did deliver a 7 minute, touchdown drive the last time they touched the ball (other than being in victory formation) that effectively put the game away.
Jonathan Doerer had a hell of a game
While it was disappointing to see Notre Dame continue to struggle to pass the ball, it was beyond encouraging seeing Jonathan Doerer kick the ball the way he did. Kelly sent Doerer out for three field goals yesterday, and all three were true. They weren’t chip shots either. Doerer connected on 45, 52, and 43-yard field goals. That’s big time.
Doerer had a rough start to his career by booting kickoffs out of bounds the last two years. He was shaky enough in spring that there was a competition between him and walk-on Harrison Leonard in fall. He is now 6 of 7 on the year, though, and yesterday’s performance should do wonders for his confidence moving forward.
The 52-yarder, by the way, is tied for the 3rd longest field goal in school history. It shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that Doerer was given the game ball last night.
Braden Lenzy’s speed needs to be used more
We finally got to see first hand the speed of Braden Lenzy that we’ve heard about so much for the last year or so. Lenzy’s second quarter touchdown was a thing of beauty. Lenzy turned a corner and ran by the entire USC defense. The USC defense. That wasn’t Bowling Green or New Mexico. That was a USC defense full of athletes.
BRADEN LENZY GOT WHEELS 💨 pic.twitter.com/sYYgYds90E
— Notre Dame on NBC (@NDonNBC) October 13, 2019
Notre Dame has to find a way to utilize that speed more in the 2nd half of the season. Ian Book doesn’t have the arm just to have Lenzy run a bunch of go route, so Chip Long will need to be creative like he was last night on the call that Lenzy scored on. However he does it, though, he has to get Lenzy more involved in the offense over the final six games of the year.
Michael Young’s missed return touchdown altered the game drastically
Notre Dame had a chance to jump on USC early in the 2nd half. On the opening kickoff of the third quarter, Michael Young had nothing but turf in front of him on what would have been a sure touchdown. Then he dropped the ball. It was a bizarre play because there was no contact, no turf monster that tripped him up. He just dropped the ball. Thankfully Young recovered, or it could have been disastrous, but it still altered the game.
At the time of the fumble, the score was 17-3, and Notre Dame had all the momentum in the world. A touchdown there and Notre Dame is up 24-3, and maybe the cold temps would have started to be noticed by a USC team that had already lost two games.
Instead of a touchdown there, Notre Dame did manage to get three points, but they didn’t eclipse the 24 points they would have had if Young didn’t drop the ball until Ian Book’s touchdown run with 3:33 remaining.
Clark Lea’s first-half game plan was stellar. His second half? Not so much.
Clark Lea dialed up a defensive game plan that stifled the USC offense and kept those dangerous wide receivers in check. USC had just three points at half time, and they weren’t able to take advantage of those big-time receivers. Notre Dame used a three-man front for most of the night and relied heavily on Kyle Hamilton as a third safety.
Coming into last night’s game, USC had given up just six sacks all season. Notre Dame had four last night alone, including another one from Jamir Jones who has been an animal in Daelin Hayes‘s absence.
In the second half, though, USC adjusted, and Lea didn’t have much of an answer. Towards the end of the game, Lea was content with just rushing three and making USC march down the field and eat up some clock. As a result, USC scored on every single possession in the second half. It was almost the reverse of last year’s USC game where the Trojans moved the ball up and down the field in the first half before Lea adjusted.
USC took particular advantage of Troy Pride Jr, who had a really rough night in coverage. Similarly to Donte Vaughn in the Cotton Bowl, Pride was usually in position – he was just unable to make plays on the ball and got victimized in the second half.
Overall it was a solid performance from the Notre Dame defense, but the prevent defense in the 2nd half wasn’t working. And, the way the Trojans were moving the ball, Notre Dame got lucky time ran out when it did.
We should stop scoreboard watching for a little while
Ever since the loss to Georgia, we’ve all been paying attention to the scoreboard each week in hopes that Notre Dame can get back into the conversation. With Georgia’s loss and Notre Dame not looking exactly playoff caliber right now, we might want to hold off on that for a little bit.
Notre Dame is going to have to play a lot better in the second half of the year to have a realistic chance at the playoffs. Winning by three points over a USC team that already has three losses is not going to impress anyone on the committee. The Irish need to win more convincingly each week if they have any hope to get in as a 1-loss team – you know, assuming they still only have one loss at the end of the year.