With the Irish kicking off the biggest rivalry week of their season against the USC Trojans, so much of the talk leading up to the game centered around the recent firing of USC’s head coach, Steve Sarkisian.
By games end, though, the Irish had delivered a performance that shifted the focus off of a USC program in turmoil, and back on to a Notre Dame program still in a position to make a push for a College Football Playoff spot.
When Notre Dame travelled to Los Angeles to face USC last year, their season had already been derailed by three consecutive losses. It would get worse, though, as the Irish were flat out embarrassed on the field, finishing the regular season off with a cringe-worthy 49-14 loss. It was a loss we’d all like to forget, but listening to some of the Irish players and coaches leading up to the game, it was clear that the loss was still fresh in the minds of many of them (and probably some of ours too). Add to that just the general hate for the USC football program (KeiVarae Russell may not want to use such a harsh word, but I have no such compunction) that this Fighting Irish team has, and it was clear that this was going to be a hard fought game.
And, from the outset of the game, it was also clear that this was a much different Irish team than the one that took the field against USC last season, both in focus, and attitude. Notre Dame wasn’t going to be embarrassed on their own field, they would protect the house that Rockne built and send the Trojans home empty handed, without a win, or the coveted Jeweled Shillelagh. Well, the Irish would have sent the Trojans home without the Jeweled Shillelagh, if the Trojans had actually bothered to bring it… See, hate really isn’t too strong of a word to use.
With Notre Dame’s defense looking for the all-important, but ever elusive, strong start, USC’s offense marched down the field on an 8 play 71 yard drive that culminated in a 3 yard TD run by USC QB, Cody Kessler; Kessler’s touchdown run was set up two plays earlier when he connected on a 37 yard reception to JuJu Smith-Schuster that put the ball on the Notre Dame 6 yard line. But, Notre Dame has a few weapons of their own, and it took DeShone Kizer just one play on their first possession to find his favorite, Will Fuller, for a 75 yard TD reception to tie the game at 7-7. It was an aggressive play to start the Irish drive off with, but with Fuller blowing by his defender (Adoree Jackson) like he was standing still, it paid off big for the Irish, and helped set the tone for the rest of the game.
Notre Dame would go on to score two more touchdowns in the first quarter, the first coming by way of a CJ Prosise 25 yard TD run, and the second on a blocked punt scooped up by the former Trojan, Amir Carlisle, and taken into the end zone, putting the Irish up 21-10. A this point, I have to admit, I thought the rout was on, but, turnovers have a way of shifting momentum, and in the 2nd Quarter the Irish would cough up the ball at the Trojan’s 3 yard line, killing a drive that potentially, best case scenario, could have given the Irish an 18 point lead.
USC didn’t capitalize immediately, punting on the ensuing possession, but after a Justin Yoon 32 yard FG put the Irish up 24-10, the Trojans came out swinging, and with Notre Dame’s secondary biting on yet another trick play, USC had a 75 yard TD reception of their own, this one to Smith-Schuster, and he Trojans pulled to with seven points of the Irish. And, on their very next possession, the Trojans would tie the game up when Kessler found Adoree Jackson on a short pass, and Jackson did the rest, running through poor tackling and out of position Irish defenders, on his way to an 83 yard TD reception that tied the game up at 24-24.
The 2nd Half started off much like the 1st Half ended for the Trojans, as they took their first possession of the 3d Quarter in for a touchdown, giving them back the lead 24-31. Momentum would switch back in favor of the Irish, though, and by the end of the 3rd Quarter the Irish were driving deep into Trojan territory. CJ Prosise would cap off that drive with a tough 6 yard TD run, his second of the day. The Irish would take the lead for good on their next possession, on a spectacular catch by Corey Robinson in the end zone.
As bad as the Irish defense was in the first half, giving up to 75+ yard pays for touchdowns, and 24 points all told, they played a phenomenal second half outside of giving up the touchdown to start it off. Isaac Rochell came up with a big 3rd down sack, and KeiVarae Russell would make up for his own poor early play, intercepting on Kessler pass, and breaking up a pass that Max Redfield would intercept. The Trojans would take one last crack at it late in the 4th Quarter, but after an exceptional play by Notre Dame’s Special Teams downed a Tyler Newsome punt at the USC 1 yard line, the Trojan’s offense at up the remaining three and a half minutes just to get across midfield. And with that, the Irish were victorious, knocking off the Trojans 41-31.
Key Fighting Irish Plays
1st Quarter – DeShone Kizer pass to Will Fuller for a 75 yard TD. With USC’s offense taking their opening possession 71 yards for an all too easy touchdown, Notre Dame needed to answer with a score of their own, and they got it! Fuller blew past Adoree Jackson and never looked back on his way into the end zone.
1st Quarter – CJ Prosise 25 yard TD run. Prosise showed his speed, getting to the edge quickly and taking it into the end zone untouched to give the Irish their first lead of the game.
1st Quarter – Blocked Punt by Equanimeous St. Brown, recovered by Amir Carlisle for a TD. Notre Dame’s defense came up with a big three-and-out after the Irish took the lead on their previous possession, and throwing caution to the wind Notre Dame’s special teams went all out for the punter. With five Notre Dame players bearing down on USC’s punter, St. Brown got the block, and Carlisle scooped the blocked punt up for an easy touchdown against his former school. Notre Dame extends their lead 21-10.
2nd Quarter – DeShone Kizer pass to Torii Hunter Jr. fumbled by Hunter at the USC 3. At this point Notre Dame was up 14 points and were on a roll. It looked like the Irish would extend their lead to 21, but Hunter got caught from behind as he was fighting for the end zone and had the ball punched out from behind.
2nd Quarter – Notre Dame’s defense gets burnt by the trick play, again, as Cole Luke bites on a lateral from Kessler to Jalen Greene, leaving JuJu Smith-Schuster wide open for an easy 75 yard catch and run touchdown on the first play of the possession. Notre Dame’s lead is cut to 24-17.
3rd Quarter – DeShone Kizer rush for 23 yards to the Notre Dame 38 yard line. Notre Dame’s first two drives of the second half went nowhere, and it seemed like USC had all the momentum in their favor until this gutsy run by Kizer.
4rd Quarter – CJ Prosise 6 yard touchdown run. A big run by Kizer, and Will Fuller drawing back-to-back Pass Interference calls helped set the Irish up just outside the Trojan’s 20, and four plays later Prosise takes it into the end zone for his second rushing touchdown of the game. Notre Dame ties the score 31-31.
4th Quarter – DeShone Kizer pass to Corey Robinson for a 10 yard TD. This was not an easy catch for Robinson to haul in, and after struggling with drops the last few weeks, Robinson got a bit of redemption with an amazing diving catch to haul in the touchdown. Notre Dame now leads 38-31.
4th Quarter – KeiVarae Russell intercepts a deep pass from Kessler intended for Smith-Schuster. Russell, and the Irish defense, finally get a big play from the talented Russell. Midway through the 4th quarter, it’s the beginning of the end for the Trojans.
4th Quarter – KeiVarae Russell breaks up a pass from Kessler, intended for Smith-Schuster, and Max Redfield is in the right position to grab the ball out of the air for the interception. There’s still five and a half minutes left in the game, but with Notre Dame up 41-31, and all the momentum with the Irish now, this would prove to be the final nail in the Trojans’ coffin. Final Score Notre Dame 41 – USC 31.
DeShone Kizer. In his last big game start in prime-time, against Clemson, Kizer got off to a very shaky start, and really took three quarters before finally finding his rhythm. Against USC, he had no such problem, connecting with Will Fuller for a 75 yard TD pass on the first offensive play for the Irish. The stage certainly did not look too big, or too bright, for Kizer against the Trojans, and it was his fearless run late in the 3rd Quarter that gave the Irish offense the spark they needed to rattle off 17 unanswered points in the 4th Quarter. Kizer finished the game 15-24 for 227 yards and 2 TDs.
CJ Prosise. Both of Prosise’s TD runs were key plays for the Irish; his first, gave the Irish their first lead in the game, and his second, tied the game up early in the 4th Quarter. At this point, I’m all out of superlatives to use to describe Prosise’s play, but he continues to amaze me every game. Prosise finished the game with 143 yards and 2 TDs on 19 carries.
Will Fuller. Coming into the game, most people were talking about Adoree Jackson’s speed, and how Fuller would find it tough getting separation from him. Well, Fuller proved them all wrong on his first play of the game as he burned Jackson on a 75 yard TD reception. The funny thing is, Fuller didn’t even look like he was running as fast as we’ve seen him run in the past. Fuller had just 3 receptions on the day, but he made them count for 131 yards and 1 TD.
KeiVarae Russell. Going into the game against USC everyone knew Russell would need to have a big game against the speedy Smith-Schuster. Russell got off to a shaky start, giving up a big play reception that set USC up for their first score of the game. That said, when the game was on the line, Russell came up big for the Irish, killing two Trojan drives with one interception, and another on a ball he tipped that Max Redfield came down with the interception on. It’s ok to talk a big game, just so long as you can back it up, and against USC, I’d say that Russell more than backed it up. Russell was also the second leading tackler for the Irish, finishing the game with 10 tackles (9 solo, 1 assisted).
Game Ball: Coach Kelly presented Equanimeous St. Brown with the game ball for his superb play on the blocked punt in the 1st Quarter.
Next Up: No. 11 ranked Notre Dame travels to Philadelphia to take on No. 22 ranked Temple on Halloween night! Enjoy the bye week, everyone!