Notre Dame beat arch-rival USC for the fourth straight time over the weekend. Coming out of the bye week, Notre Dame’s changed their offense to be a quick-strike attack with positive results. That same offense was called upon to answer a late rally – something they failed to do earlier this year – and responded with the kind of drive we became accustomed to last year. Overall, there was a lot to like about Notre Dame’s latest triumph over Troy.
Kyren Williams Swagger
I wrote already about Kyren Williams’ impact on the game from a pure football standpoint with his big plays. Still, aside from that, Williams is impacting the Irish positively with his swagger. Notre Dame doesn’t have a lot of players on the 2021 roster comfortable enough to let their confidence/swagger show outwardly, but Williams is helping make up for that with his. He plays with an edge about him that other players feed off of. Notre Dame needs more of that.
USC was perhaps the cockiest 3-3 mediocre/bad football team I’ve seen come into Notre Dame Stadium in a while. From the first drive, their defensive backs were wagging their fingers and celebrating every single minor play they made – even if they didn’t do much to make it. Cornerback Chris Steele specifically was demonstrative. So when Kyren Williams ripped off a 37-yard run in the third quarter, it was great to see Williams jog past Steele after the play and trying to slap hands with him.
USC’s “swagger” morphed into stupidity later in the game with some dumb penalties, so obviously, there is a fine line to walk there. Still, Notre Dame could use more swagger from their stars. Williams has it and lets it show.
The “Lights” show after the 3rd quarter
I wrote about this already, but I loved seeing the light show that Notre Dame unveiled for this game and hope it’s a new staple of every night game. Notre Dame Stadium is not the intimidating place to play that it once was, and it seems clear that Notre Dame realizes that by introducing elements to the game day atmosphere like this.
I know that the “in my day” crowd hates things like this, but they probably hate losing and hate not getting elite recruits more. Like it or not, this stuff plays with recruits. Is any single recruit going to say, “I committed to Notre Dame because of that lights show”? No. However, the overall game day atmosphere impacts recruits’ decisions, and just having regular old traditions like the 1812 Overture doesn’t move the needle with 17 and 18 year old recruits.
There is a way to balance tradition with new, fun experiences like this, and Notre Dame is striking that balance. Night games at Notre Dame Stadium should be experiences. Notre Dame made great strides in that department this weekend.
Lorenzo Styles involvement in the passing game
It seems pretty clear that Notre Dame wanted to have a deep-shot offense this season. In the first few weeks, Tommy Rees dialed up deep shot after deep shot. Over the last few weeks, though, those plays were no longer effective. Maybe Jack Coan’s finger injury earlier this season has affected his deep ball. Perhaps those deep shots against Florida State were just an aberration. I don’t know. However, I know that the short passing game has been effective, and that is where freshman Lorenzo Styles comes in.
Styles only had three receptions on Saturday night, but they went for 57 yards. He might be Notre Dame’s best receiver at taking those quick passes and turning them into something. That is essentially all he did in high school in the offense he played in. Over the next five games, Notre Dame needs to do more to get Styles involved in the passing game, as we saw on Saturday night.
3rd down offense
Notre Dame entered the weekend as one of the worst third-down teams in the country. Against USC, they converted an impressive 8 of 12 third downs. You will win a lot of games in which you convert on 67% of your third downs.
A lot of those third downs weren’t short-yardage either. The Irish were effective in third and medium and even third and long at times. If Notre Dame is going to move towards more of a quick, short passing offense, being efficient on third downs is absolutely critical. On Saturday night, they were very good in that department.
Notre Dame’s close-out drive
USC had all of the momentum midway through the fourth quarter. Notre Dame’s 24-3 lead was down to 24-16 after back-to-back touchdowns by the Trojan offense powered by their running game. Notre Dame needed a drive. They were in a similar situation in Tallahassee in the opener and couldn’t do anything to withstand the late surge. This time was different.
With under 9:00 remaining, Notre Dame took over at their own 25-yard line and put together an 8-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that ate up almost four minutes of clock culminating in a 3-yard Tyler Buchner touchdown run. The lead was back to 15 points and forced USC to be one-dimensional again. Six plays later, USC fumbled the ball away on fourth down, and the game was over.
Against Florida State, the offense went into a shell as the Seminoles made their comeback attempt. Notre Dame’s last two drives before Florida State tied the game netted a total of 12 yards on nine plays.