(Not So) Immediate Overreactions: Notre Dame Continues Recent Dominance Over Rival USC

Notre Dame improved to 6-1 on the season Saturday night with a 31-16 victory that simultaneously felt like it could have been a lot closer and a lot further apart. The Trojans cut a 21 point lead to seven before the Irish scored late and ultimately killed the clock on the doorsteps of the endzone. Coming out of the bye, we expected to see a lot of tweaks offensively and we were not disappointed – at least in the tweaks themselves, the execution still left something to be desired.

Kyren Williams is a damn cheat code

It can’t be overstated just how good Kyren Williams is. His stat line from last night wasn’t overly eye-popping – 25 carries, 138 yards, and 2 TDs – but it’s how he gained those 138 yards that was impressive. He just maximizes every run. There were times he looked like he’d be stuffed for a loss or no gain, and he’d turn it into a two, three, or four-yard gain. That doesn’t jump out in a boxscore, but it’s so huge in keeping Notre Dame ahead of the down/distance and preventing negative plays. As a result, USC had just one non-sack TFL last night.

Williams was a weapon in the passing game with six receptions for 42 yards, including a 17-yard pickup on 3rd and 13 that Williams willed himself through the USC defense for. Williams should have been stopped three or four yards short of the first down, but he converted.

Over the first month and a half of the season, the offensive line struggles have skewed Williams’ performance this year, but he was a beast last night. It was Williams’ first 100+ yard rushing outing of the season.

Tommy Rees’s gameplan was good but has limitations

When Brian Kelly said Jack Coan would start, we all wondered if that meant Notre Dame would run tempo offense to start the game since that’s what Coan has been the most effective with his year. Well, they did, and it worked pretty well early despite some missed opportunities.

The gameplan was sound given the personnel Notre Dame is working with, and Coan had a relatively good game. However, the trade-off was a reliance on the short passing game that requires a high level of execution to produce a lot of points. Notre Dame was moving the ball, but missed opportunities left the Irish with a 10-0 lead when they very easily could have been up 21-0 with better execution.

Rees got away from the tempo offense a little early in the second half but went right back to it when needed. The one limitation of relying on a tempo offense is when you have a significant lead in the second half, and you can’t go into a methodical offense to run out the clock.

We’ll see how sustainable this approach is over the next few weeks.

The defense did a good job replacing Kyle Hamilton

It seemed pretty clear that Kyle Hamilton was going to be a rather large part of the “slow down Drake London” project on Saturday night. Unfortunately, Hamilton was lost for the game early on, leaving Notre Dame in scramble mode to replace him and still slow down London. But, overall, they did a solid job using DJ Brown and Isaiah Pryor in a pinch. London got his with over 170 yards and 15 receptions, but Hamilton’s replacements weren’t overly victimized for big plays.

You could argue that perhaps Notre Dame should have just had Cam Hart follow London once Hamilton went down, but that could be easier said than done relative to what they had practiced all week. Still, DJ Brown and Isaiah Pryor did a fine job, all things considered.

USC watched the FSU 4th quarter game tape

When Florida State made a comeback on Notre Dame in the opener after being down 18 points, we talked on the pod about not remembering the last time an opponent made a comeback being down that much by running the ball. Well, USC clearly watched that game tape because once they fell behind 24-3, they started pounding the ball right at the Notre Dame defense, and the Irish took a while to adjust.

In this case, the offense didn’t completely go into a shell as they did in the 4th quarter against Florida State, which eventually forced USC to go back to the air. Still, Marcus Freeman has to adjust quicker to teams taking this approach since it’s happened twice now.

Lorenzo Styles needs to be more involved

The Brian Kelly doesn’t play freshman wide receivers narrative took another hit on Saturday night with Lorenzo Styles getting involved early and Deion Colzie registering a big catch later in the game. Styles looked fast and explosive on his three receptions. He looked like a player who needs to be more involved in the passing game as the season progresses.

Styles looks like he could be a future star in this offense if deployed properly. Getting him the ball quick and in space to use his speed and explosiveness is a must. Hopefully, the shorter passes that we saw last night are more prevalent over the final five games of the season,

Finally! A run for Braden Lenzy

Speaking of getting fast and explosive players the ball in space, we finally saw a jet sweep for Braden Lenzy. I still don’t know why it’s taken this long or why we only saw one designed play for Lenzy, but it resulted in 14 yards. Lenzy is one of the fastest players on the team and needs to get the ball more to utilize that speed.

Notre Dame has not been able to get its vertical passing game working well enough to use it there, so more jet sweeps, end-arounds, pop passes, etc to Lenzy just seems so apparent to me.

Brian Kelly just hardly ever loses to USC

While the season may be frustrating at times because it appears as though Notre Dame will be a team on the cusp of breaking through without actually breaking through all year, no Notre Dame fan can be upset with how frequently the Irish beat USC. Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis never beat USC. After last night, Brian Kelly is 8-3 against the Trojans, including four straight and five of six. The four straight are the most wins in a row for Notre Dame over USC since the Irish ripped off 11 straight from 1983 to 1993. Donte Williams is the fourth different USC head coach that Brian Kelly has beat in his tenure at Notre Dame – Lane Kiffin (2010, 2012), Ed Orgeron (2013), Clay Helton (2015, 2017, 2018, 2019).

A lot of what has gone wrong this year can be traced back to some miscalculations or recruiting misses by this staff in the past. Still, the patchwork job they have been able to do with the injuries and some other apparent limitations with personnel has been impressive. Notre Dame is sitting at 6-1 with a real chance to finish 11-1, while archrival is staring at a 3-4 record and gearing up for yet another college search.

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  1. Way to early to worry about a bowl game. Need to take it one game at a time try to win each game and show improvement each week. I watched Alabama and Ohio State on Saturday and like the last 4 years we are just as good if not better than them on special teams and defense but not close to them on offense. Both Alsbams and Ohio are averaging almost 50 points s game and can seemingly can score on every possession. Until Notredame can have an offense like that they will never win s national championship. Is it coaching, recruiting on the offensive side of the ball or both. Last year it was the qb and receivers. The line was outstanding. This year the skill is there but the line isn’t. I would like to see Kelly this off season bring in a great receivers coach a great line coach another coordinator. Quinn and Del are to hit and miss in recruiting and not developing coaching up the talent they have. Also I think Tommy’s done a good job planning and play calling with what he has had to work with but Kelly needs to do what Ogeron did and go out and bring in a Joe Brady and pair him up with Tommy. Should have hired Morehead.

    1. Yup, every year there’s something(s) that ND doesn’t have.
      Becasue there’s always something it does: Brian Kelly.

      So I’ve adjusted my hopes and expectations to that fact.
      I hope that ND does not once again smoke-and-mirrors its way into the playoffs, where it gets trounced. And that problem looks resolved right now.

      So I’m looking forward to possible matchups in a good, competitve bowl game.
      Try it. It’s better.

      1. That’s true David. Players change every year Kelly has had many staff changes but the results on offense are always the same. All the years with Kelly the offense has averaged between 27 and 34 points a game . Meanwhile, Alabama,Clemson, Ohio State,Oklahoma,LSU 2019 45 to 50 points a game. Last 2 years both Alabama and Lsu had 2 games each where their defenses gave up over 40 points a game and they each won all their games. Brian Kelly’s teams have never come close to doing that.

    1. Matt Corral will get a Heisman invite…maybe even win it.
      And it seems that Lane isn’t messing around anymore.

      But if you want a final verdict on Freeman, I guess that could do it.

      1. And Wake Forest hasn’t had a season like this one in forever!
        If they played ND tough in a big bowl, it would mean more for that program thanfor Ole Miss.
        And Clawson is a good coach who could really take advantage of a recruiting bump.

  2. The good news: ND is bowl eligible.
    The bad news: It’s quite likely they’ll play a real good team in the bowl game.

    FWIW, the latest bowl predictions include ND vs Pitt or Ole Miss in the Fiesta, vs. Wake Forest in the Peach, or vs. Baylor in the Cheez-It.

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