A defensive tour-de-force for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish helped bring about a 48-20 pounding of the Southern Cal Trojans on Saturday night. The Irish defenders constantly delivered the big plays that had been lacking in the team’s first seven games and helped hand the first loss of the season to the tenth-ranked Trojans.
The win was an important one for Notre Dame, which effectively shut down a Southern Cal squad that had averaged nearly 52 points in their first six games. Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams was sacked six times and the Irish collected five turnovers, the latter two fumbles late in the fourth quarter that cemented the win.
Below are some of the key aspects of the clutch victory:
Big Play Magic
Entering Saturday night’s game, Williams had thrown just one interception in six games. In just the first half of play, that statistic changed dramatically for the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. Notre Dame picked him off three times, with all of those mistakes leading to touchdowns for the Irish.
The first came on the fourth play from scrimmage when Williams’ attempted quick pass was overthrown and returned by Xavier Watts to the Trojan 12-yard-line. Then, during the latter part of the second quarter, Watts narrowly missed delivering a pick-six when he was knocked out of bounds at the Southern Cal one. On the Trojans’ next series, Benjamin Morrison snagged another errant Williams toss at midfield.
Watts Brings the Electricity
For most of this season, Watts has been under the radar when it comes to the Notre Dame secondary. During the huge victory, Watts was front and center on this unit after his two interceptions and a fumble recovery that was returned for a touchdown in the final minutes.
The aforementioned first interception delivered some badly needed momentum to the Irish and their fans by putting the ball in the Trojan Red Zone. The subsequent touchdown came just 3:30 into the game and set the tone for the game. His second pick helped lead to a score that gave Notre Dame a double-digit advantage for the remainder of the clash.
Delivering the Proper Response
Despite holding a 24-6 halftime lead, it was inevitable that a team with the Trojans’ talent would inevitably forge some sort of comeback. They did score a pair of touchdowns in the second half, but any sweaty palms for Irish fans were quickly dried when Notre Dame was able to quickly respond with counter-punches.
Midway through the third quarter, Southern Cal chopped their deficit to 11 after MarShawn Lloyd broke off a 31-yard scoring run to make it 24-13. The Irish answered back with a six-play drive that culminated with a 46-yard scoring toss to Chris Tyree. Then, the Trojans made it a 31-20 game with just over nine minutes left before then watching Jadarian Price race 99 yards on the ensuing kickoff to push the margin back up to 18 points.
An Estime Revival
Any thoughts that Audric Estime’s recent statistical dip was a hint of future performance were put to rest on Saturday night. Estime finished the game with 95 yards on 22 carries, scoring twice and catching one pass for four yards. No other Irish runner carried the ball more than three times, an indication that Estime remains the driving force of the running game.
The 95 yards were the most for Estime since his 176-yard effort against Central Michigan on September 16. The performance comes just one week after he was held to just 20 yards on 10 carries against Louisville. That effort brought about questions during head coach Marcus Freeman’s weekly press conference about Estime’s usage.
The Penalty Sequel
The nagging issue of penalties surfaced again, some of which proved to be costly to Notre Dame during the course of the game. The mistakes made resulted in 10 points for Southern Cal, with the Irish getting flagged five times for 54 yards.
Morrison figured in three of the calls, the first on a holding call on third down that extended a Trojan drive which ended with a punt. However, the next mistake, a personal foul call eventually resulted in USC’s first points on a field goal. In the third quarter, a pass interference call on first-and-25 laid the groundwork for the Trojans’ first touchdown. In addition to Morrison, defensive lineman Jaylen Sneed was also flagged for running into the punter, though that drive later ended on a clutch fourth-quarter stop.
A break in the action will take place next Saturday with Notre Dame enjoying the first of two bye weeks, the latter coming next month. When this first interlude ends, the Irish will focus on their next opponent, the Pitt Panthers on October 28. The Panthers lost four of their first five games, then thrashed the Louisville Cardinals, the team that the Irish lost to last week, on Saturday night in a 38-21 victory. Next week, they travel to Wake Forest before facing Notre Dame under the Golden Dome.