Beyond the Boxscore: Notre Dame Fails to Slow Down Caleb Williams, Falls 27-38 to USC

Irish come up short in effort to neutralize Trojan offense

In the regular season finale for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the inability to stop the prolific Southern Cal offense doomed the Irish to a 38-27 defeat on Saturday night. The defeat snapped a five-game winning streak for Marcus Freeman’s squad and now begins a guessing game about what bowl game the Irish will compete in during the postseason.

Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams entered the contest as a prime Heisman candidate and did nothing to damage his candidacy. On the evening, he proved to be almost as dangerous with his feet as with his arm, constantly escaping would-be tacklers and scoring three rushing touchdowns. For good measure, he completed 18 of his 22 passes for 232 yards and one touchdown pass.

Below are some of the key issues connected to the Irish defeat:

Early Third Down Blues

During the first half, Notre Dame had opportunities to limit the damage inflicted by Southern Cal’s potent offense. First off, narrowly missing on a number of sack attempts turned out to be an exercise in frustration for Irish defenders. That was followed by not getting enough stops on third down, something that proved to be costly, when the Trojans converted on five of seven opportunities during the opening 30 minutes.

On Southern Cal’s first drive of the game, they twice managed to get first downs in clutch situations. The first of these came on a third-and-two call when Trojans’ signal-caller Caleb Williams connected on a 31-yard pass play to keep the early momentum. USC then added a field goal after a third-down, 21-yard catch early in the drive moved the chains and later got another first down at midfield to keep a drive going that led to their second touchdown.

Running Rut

In six of Notre Dame’s eight wins on the season, the team’s running game has managed to have a huge impact on the results of the contest. In each of those matchups, the Irish broke the 200-yard rushing threshold. However, against Southern Cal, the ability to chew up yardage and the clock dried up when the Irish only managed to gain 90 yards on the evening.

Never holding the lead during the game undoubtedly affected Notre Dame’s play-calling, which forced a greater emphasis on the passing attack. After gaining just 37 yards on the ground in the first half, the Irish only slightly pushed that number up after the break. Audric Estime led all Notre Dame rushers with 43 yards on just six carries.

Trying to Keep Up with a Jones

As difficult as it was for Notre Dame to establish a running game, the inability to stop Southern Cal running back Austin Jones on defense was even more deadly. The Stanford transfer gained 154 of the 204 Trojan rushing yards for the game, averaging 6.2 yards on each of his 25 carries.

Earlier this month, Jones wasn’t even the leading Southern Cal rusher but circumstances have since made him the central back in the Trojan offense. During the Nov. 11 game against Colorado, Travis Dye was lost for the season with an elbow injury. As the Irish discovered, Jones hasn’t missed a beat after assuming his new role.

Deadly Mistakes

Trying to defeat a team like Southern Cal was going to take quite an effort, even if Notre Dame had avoided making mistakes. Unfortunately, both of the two turnovers during the game were committed by the Irish and both ended up having major consequences on the final score.

Each of these took place after the break, with a promising drive to start the second half wiped out after Drew Pyne fumbled the ball at the Trojan 26. Southern Cal followed with a touchdown to give them an imposing 24-7 advantage. Then, with just under five minutes left and Notre Dame trailing 31-21, Pyne’s pass was picked off and turned into a clinching touchdown four plays later.

Pyne Targets

Even though such errors were lethal to the Notre Dame upset hopes, Pyne otherwise delivered a solid performance. He completed 23 of 26 passes for 318 yards and three touchdowns. Not surprisingly, his favorite target, tight end Michael Mayer, was on the other end of a team-high eight receptions and two scoring tosses.

Six other receivers also caught a pass for the Irish, most notably Deion Colzie who finished with three catches for 75 yards and had the other touchdown reception. Colzie entered this matchup with just 10 career catches for the Irish, six of them coming in the previous five games.

Next Up

Now, Notre Dame and countless other teams wait to see where they land when bowl game placements are announced on Sunday, December 4. The solid 8-4 record and the cache of the Notre Dame brand will put them in a post-Christmas bowl matchup. No doubt Freeman and his players would prefer competing in a bowl game with a solid legacy, though their four losses may relegate them to a lower-level matchup.

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  1. how did notre dame have trouble establishing a running game. estime averaged over 7 yards a carry but only carried the ball 6 times. it’s still we would rather throw three incomplete passes than run for a first down attitude.

  2. Ron and David: In the end, God Almighty will pay us all what we were worth …at least if our religion has any truth in it at all! “Leave them to me, saith the Lord. I myself will pay them back.”

    BGC 77 82

    1. I’ve never watched him play.
      His big credential around here seems to be that he led the skunks over tOSU last year.
      Which is nice. But not very relevant for next year and a completely different bunch of players.

  3. ND: If we are to continue playing by IVY League rules, simply be honest men and join the IVY League. The time for pretense and “philantcizing” is over.

    BGC 77 82

    1. You’re nuts, Ivy League is bullshit and you don’t become Ivy League academically in the Mid West. Also football is what made our school famous and even attractable to many white collar talented students with a blue collar work ethic.

  4. Well LSU is getting what they paid so dearly for…..

    CBS sports is ranking LSU’s loss to sub .500 Texas A&M in College Station as, quote:
    “one of the most embarrassing upsets of the year.”

    With apologies to Dennis Green: He is who we knew he was….but LSU somehow didn’t.

    1. Indeed he can and in a town with much extreme poverty. Frankly it’s pathetic that any of these coaches and administrators make the kind of money they do.

      The state of Alabama had to go $280 million in debt and issue bonds to support just Nick Saban. Saban in retirement will collect $2 million a year. Some will say well at least he won championships. It’s a kids backyard game. Champions or no the money is obscene. University of Michigan runs its football program in debt by $40 million every year.

      1. I would argue Saban is underpaid. Just look at that campus versus 20 years ago. All a result of one man. If the state can’t manage its finances it isn’t on him.
        Saban much like all of us are paid what we’re worth.

      2. A little bit off-topic, but not that far:

        Multi-millionaire Brett Favre caught red-handed, personally involved in the intentional swindling of welfare money in Mississippi, so his pampered daughter could play volleyball in a nicer facility is pretty downright disgusting.

        But Rhonda’s beloved ‘free market’…soaked with elitist grifts, lies and con jobs… no place for poor people anyway! MAGA!

  5. You can’t turn the ball over multiple times against a good team and expect to win the game. As good as Pyne’s stats were in this game the two turnovers were a killer. Looking forward to next season and hoping someone other than Pyne is running the show. Preferably someone out of the transfer portal.

    1. They didn’t mind Pyne throwing the ball, confident that under Darrel Royal’s wisdom on what can happen when one passes the ball, they’d be better off in this one.

      But that USC’s run game was more creative than ND’s —– despite USC having a Heisman candidate they obviously intended to showcase —- is discouraging.

  6. ESPN reporting that Luke Fickell is off to Wisconsin.
    It would be a comfort to think that Swarbrick at least gave him a call last year….

  7. First off . . .Bayou Brian, for all you loyalists who still long for his toxic presence, as his current team approached a chance to be in the conversation for the playoffs, got blown out by a 4-7 team. As is predictable, whenever his teams get near championships, they’ll get blown out- as usual.
    Secondly, his lazy recruiting and inability to develop the QBs he gets results in an inability to defeat the elite. But to be fair, ND won’t allow elite transfers like the rest of college football does because . . .oh right, their classes won’t transfer to get them in line to graduate on time. And you expect them to compete with the elite who have recognized the advantage of using the transfer portal to immediately impact the quality of your team ? Freeman’s ability to recruit, as we will see, is the best option for a team that won’t join the current sweepstakes for elite transfers. So before you call for changes in the coaching staff, get the ND sports administration to join the 21st century reality of cfb so as to level the playing field.
    A better question would then be when will ND pack their team with multiple elite transfer players to
    compete with elite teams? I’ll answer that one. Never ! Too many of their transcripts won’t allow it. College football is a thriving business . Today’s winning reality allows transfers. Programs dedicated to winning (see: $C and LSU among others ) recognize that. Obviously some of our posters don’t.

    1. True to an extent. Michigan doesn’t have any transfers and not heard about much Nil money involved with them and they are 12 and 0 and just beat the snot out of a team many of the experts and pundits were picking f o win the national championship. How did they do it. Great recruiting great coaching. What did Harbaugh do he revamped his entire coaching staff. I like Freeman and most of his staff. I do question Tommy though. If Freeman could bring in a great offensive coordinator you don’t think that would make a difference?

      1. Pete
        Michigan has two elite QBs. Don’t know what Buchner can be. I appreciate Pyne’s efforts but . . . Don’t know how far an OC could take ND with a back up limited QB, especially trying to match points versus the best QB in cfb. I’ve had questions with many of Tommy’s schemes. Unfair to dismiss Rees with what was dealt him. Watching other games, all elite teams have an elite QB ( some have two) which make your OC look better. How good would SC be if Williams and backup RB from Stanford didn’t come with Riley, along with a dozen or so transfers, but with the same OC ? Modern day football calls for transfers and again ND won’t keep up with what’s happening around them. So we can choose either to be patient and give Freeman time to recruit elite players to add to a very good nucleus already there or join the Bayou Brian’s toadies and remain as Olivia Newton John sang “hopelessly devoted” to him.

      2. That is my point Michael. Tommy solely recruited Pyne and Buchner. Exactly, Riley wouldn’t do a whole lot more with Pyne or Buchner. It’s just not there. I also don’t blame Tommy for not having Ohio State level receivers. That is on Del Alexander. But He passed on JJ Mccarthy and Drew Aller both were very interested in Notredame. Lsu had a very good experienced offensive coordinator Emminger.Ogeron still brought in mastermind Joe Brady. I feel Freeman should look to do that.

      3. Pete
        Would you have decided on ND with bayou Brian still there?
        Let me shout out my reply as boisterous shouting Brian would! NO!
        I can sense he’s a pompous finger-pointing coach MIA. So would recruits.
        Missed recruiting opportunities were numerous.
        No doubt, it’s well documented what a lazy recruiter he was as well;
        he never even offered Young (AL) and Williams, and both attended Catholic high schools. But he did, as did Riley, stack his team with portal transfers this off-season. It needn’t take three years; you can do it now in three weeks. Not going to happen at ND. As for revamping his staff, Freeman’s call. He works with them every day. His ability to tirelessly recruit is his supposed strength, and his staff developing his recruits will take time, and his future at ND hangs in the balance. If he’s 8-4 in season four, he might not see season five there, but I’m not believing that will happen.

    2. Preparing his teams to be ready play is one of Kelly’s skidmarks….err, hallmarks.
      Hey, how’s that statue going? Rhonda’s leading that, no?

    3. It’s highly unlikely that anyone who follows CFB closely is unaware of the effects of the transfer portal and NIL; nor is it likely that they would be unaware that ND will not mimic other schools in those two areas. We can accept that, as long as ND maximizes efforts in other areas, specifically recruiting, coaching excellence (which must include experience and documented success), and development.

  8. USC was +2 on turnovers.
    And a limited QB with a sole ‘go-to’ receiver accomodated a very simple defensive playbook. (…which is really helpful to a team with such a soft defense).

    The final score doesn’t really reflect USC’s contol of the game, from start to finish.

    1. That game was won based on those two TOs – 14 points from two extra possessions, while precluding ND from scoring anywhere from 6-14 points; all that abetted by terrible offensive game plan follow-through, trashing the run game and going pass-happy because the OC freaked out when down 10-0. Our best back gained 43 yards on 6 carries, ONLY 6! Had Rees kept his wits about him, that could and likely would have been a very different game. But, that’s something that in 3 full years as OC he has been so far unable to do, along with his other failings.

  9. They need a taller QB with better vision and better arm strength. Pyne is a great kid as is Tyler E. But neither are elite QBs. Jack Coan might have made the difference if he’d have had 1 more year.

    Also, Caleb Williams better thank the refs in his Heisman speech. So many uncalled holds that helped spring him free.

  10. I agree, Freeman needs to do what Ed Ogeron did. Go out and bring in a proven big time offensive coordinator. Also, I am not a big fan of Jack Swarbrick. Time to bring in a new athletic director.

  11. The heading of this article “Irish come up short” couldn’t be farther from the truth. Once more ND was humiliated on the national stage especially thanks to an inept defense that forgot to tackle the runner and not the ball. Poorest showing and game for the defense all year. I have seen this movie before several times, it is never easy to watch. AL Golden is out of his league. Miserable game to watch, I knew the ending when I saw our defense go backwards on almost every run play the Trojans ran. No containment. STILL……after all these years, not ready for prime time.

    1. They had almost a zero chance to win the game.
      No QB vs., Heisman QB, top 5 head coach vs. work in process, playoff spot vs. no real stakes at all.
      Better ND teams have done far worse in SoCal.

      1. ND hasn’t won in the Coliseum as an underdog since 1986, when ND rookie head coach Lou Holtz had his own Heisman winner on our side.
        Down 17 points, Beurlein came off the bench to win 38-37 with a last second FG by John Carney. A come-from-behind happier ending than Saturday.
        No punt returns (or blocked punts ) this week. $C took NDs special teams out of the equation by having Caleb Williams quick kick, twice, his first punts of his career, negating any chance NDs special teams would make a key turning point play. Some subtle respect for Coach Mason, despite him not being among the 15 coaches nominated for assistant of the year, Riley recognized his punt blocking team’s excellence.

  12. I just want to remind everyone that this is Lincoln Riley’s first year as head coach of USC and he did not inherit a program with 5 straight 10-win seasons.

    Just want that at the front of everyone’s mind before all the excuses and justifications start to roll in.

    Freeman was an excellent defensive coordinator, but he is not ready to be a head coach. He’s been out-coached multiple times this year—opponents have consistently been better prepared and made better adjustments at halftime.

    He went 8-4 with Top 10 talent and home losses to Marshall and Stanford. His signature win is against a Clemson team that just lost at home to South Carolina.

    This is not what elite college football coaches do when they’ve just been handed the keys to a perennial top 10 program.

    Freeman can recruit, but he’ll be less successful there as the losses pile up. We can’t get so enamored with the talent he brings in that we let it blind us to the product on the field (we did that for a few years with Weiss).

    We should have done a proper coaching search. Or better yet, we should have given our all-time winningest coach the things he said he needed to get us to the next level, instead of watching him leave for a school that would make that commitment and investment

    I drank the kool-aid when Freeman was hired. It was an emotional hire and we all felt betrayed by Kelly, so we got behind the guy we really liked—our stud defensive coordinator.

    Well, that felt good but it was a bad idea. We’ve taken a dramatic step back. We need to end this experiment sooner rather than later—and I honestly think the changes need to begin at athletic director

      1. I respectfully disagree Keith. Kelly had 12 years to win a National Title and put us on an elite level. He was constantly blown out on the big stage was a lazy recruiter and did not hire an e lite staff. I don’t know if Freeman can win a National championship at Notredame but I believe he will tireless recruit and make the staff hires and fires necessary giving Notredame a chance. Also, this Notredame team he inherited was more a top 20 team than a top 10 team. Notredame is not elite at the one and most important position on a football team quarterback. If Notredame had Caleb Williams they are 11-1 maybe 12 and 0 right now.

      2. Keith
        You’re comparing apples and oranges. SC brought or bought 20 portal players with him his first year as head coach at $C, basically a whole new team with him. LSU did the same. ND would never allow that. Nor will the next AD when Swarbucks is gone. So they got an up and coming recruiter to add elite talent to an already very good team. No disrespect to Pyne, but the team with the best QB often wins. ND lost their starting QB, played without two of their three best DBs. Not excuses- “Just the facts, M’am” (Joe Friday, Dragnet). I’ll give Coach Freeman more than one season, just like we did with Holtz and BK, before I pull a Brian Kelly and “Throw him under the bus” which is what we’ve come to expect these last dozen years under Bayou ‘Follow the Money’ Brian, who again lost, and against a 4-7 team, even after stocking his new team with multiple transfers.

    1. WELL PUT KEITH & WHEN WILL ND HIRE A ” PROVEN O COORDINATOR ” ? Anybody else tired of the SAME OLD PLAYS WEEK AFTER WEAK, NO WRINKLES OR IMAGINATION! T REES has been here now 5/6 years, no 5* QB or WR in that time, kids arent commin to play for t rees. Freeman has big decisions ahead probably more than wen he took over!

    2. You do raise some points for thought and consideration Keith, though there are some I might not share the same prospective. I agree the coaching search could have occurred differently after Kelly’s departure, but it didn’t and so we have Coach Freeman. I suspected his first year would not go smoothly and he would have some highs and lows and he did. The losses to Stanford and Marshall were inexcusable. Had those games been victorious, looking at a 10-2 record would have had better optics than 8-4. I don’t think Freeman is a stupid guy and having a year’s campaign under his belt hopefully will prompt him to evaluate himself as a HC, HIS STAFF, and player personnel to improve for 2023. I think he needs to look at changing his OC and bring in a bonafide proven OC. Brent V from Okie Uni didn’t have a great 1st year as HC after being a long time, proven DC at a stellar program prior and I don’t rate him being a dumb guy either or a wrong hire for OU ( not arguing Freeman is the same but Lincoln R and Ryan D were 1st time hires after being OCs but had better talent to work with at their transitions but did show 1st year unproven head coaches can win). ND certainly had some quality players Freeman inherited but overall that talent, as of right now, doesn’t match up to the Georgia’s of the world, at least not yet so old Brian Kelly didn’t exactly leave him a ton of super stud personnel when he left. My disdain for Kelly goes back to 2012 when he had ND in the biggest game ND was going to play in for many years, against Bama. What did he do? He was sneaking around and sniffing for a possible pro job instead of focusing on preparing for the BCS championship game. To me, that was the purple faced baboon’s full showing of his character right then & there. I’m glad he left. I support Freeman as a fan of ND football and I will give it 2 more years because too me, that gives the proper time and indication of where the program is and where it may be going as to how he develops it as a HC. If things are worse off, then he needs to be let go if that happens. I see David Shaw resigned from Stanford as HC. He was a pretty good OC prior to being HC. Oh yeah, he had a game changing QB at that time. That is something ND needs and has been lacking for years. That’s on Freeman’s shoulders to recruit especially if incoming Carr or Minchy aren’t “It.” GO IRISH!

    3. Riley brought Williams with him. A Heisman QB can make a LOT of coaches look real good, real quick.
      Just as otherwise good teams without even an average QB look real bad.

      Kelly was a self-interested cancer. And now he’s LSU’s liability….both literally and effectively.

      1. Totally agree. Minus the quarterback Notredame imo is better than Usc. I also think if Usc wins against Utah and plays Georgia that Williams kid would be slowed down. Not stopped but Georgia would not let him run wild on them.

    4. That post is SO ridiculous, it is vomit inducing, on every level. There is so much wrong with it, that neither time nor space can allow adequate correction on every point. Suffice to say, ND is where it is on the CFB field now due to two abhorrent failures: #1) Jack Swarbrick; #2) the LOSINGEST coach in ND history (there, your mis-statement is corrected!). JS introduced the ND community to the phrase “be in the conversation;” an absolutely mediocre aspiration and indicative of his low-hanging fruit approach to everything he does. He is a pox on the face of Notre Dame, and a stain on its history and the legacy of its CFB program. He is the individual solely responsible for abetting that purple-faced jerk who immediately preceded Freeman; AND he is the one who hired Freeman (yet another first-timer), AFTER hiring Rees as the OC. How ludicrous is that?! Name another program that does that! In closing, Kelly is NOT the winningest coach at ND because we forfeited multiple games due to a first-ever academic scandal that took place on HIS watch, and for which he proudly proclaimed that his responsibility was “zero, zip, zilch, nada;” which was also his and Swarbrick’s response to the death of Declan Fleming. Last year ND received a heavenly and unexpected early Christmas gift when Kelly left for the bayou. This year we should pray that Swarbrick announces his departure; who knows maybe he’ll even have an epiphany of conscience and own up to his part in the coverup of the USOC women’s gymnastics team’s sexual assault fiasco.

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