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The good, the bad, the ugly: Notre Dame vs. USC

Nov 26, 2012, 12:10 PM EST

Notre Dame defensive players Tuitt, Nix III, and Te'O celebrate after breaking up a play in the fourth quarter during their win over USC in their NCAA college football game at the Coliseum in Los Angeles

With Saturday night’s victory, Notre Dame kept its stranglehold on the No. 1 spot in all the land. As expected, with just the conference title games left, the BCS rankings have the Irish atop their standings, with a No. 1 ranking in the Harris Poll, the USA Today Coaches Poll, and the top spot across all the computer rankings as well. Add in the AP Poll, and it’s official: Notre Dame is the top team in the land, and has clinched a spot in the BCS Championship, awaiting the winner of Georgia and Alabama in the SEC Championship next weekend.

While the victory may not have been pretty, Notre Dame finished the job Saturday night, beating the Trojans 22-13. It feels like just about everything that’ll be written here we’ve already covered once in the past 12 wins, so let’s take a rapid fire run through this week’s good, bad, and ugly.

THE GOOD

Theo Riddick. He deserves another mention for his outstanding play. After banging the drum in support of Cierre Wood, Notre Dame’s head coach proved that some sportswriters are better left behind the laptop.

Riddick made clutch plays receiving, with three catches including a nifty one-handed grab and a slick sideline play as well. And of course he ran like a man on fire, with a spin move that should go down in history.

Everett Golson. Remember when some moments seemed too big for the young quarterback? That certainly wasn’t the case Saturday night, as Golson came out of the gates firing, looking calm and confident running the Irish offense in a charged atmosphere.

Golson completed 15 of 26 passes for 217 yards, and while his numbers tailed off in the second half, he continued to make solid decisions with the football, not turning the ball against a defense that has forced 29 turnovers this season.

The last time Notre Dame won in the Coliseum, they did so in spite of the mistakes they made. While the offense stalled out too often in the red zone, Golson didn’t force anything, a huge factor in the Irish win.

Wide Receiver Play. This wasn’t the flashiest of games, but led by Tyler Eifert, who is bunched in this group even though he’s a tight end, Notre Dame’s pass-catchers had a great evening, making plays down the field even without DaVaris Daniels.

Eifert, TJ Jones, Robby Toma, and John Goodman only combined for 10 catches, but they made plays down the field, averaging 16.6 yards per catch as they moved the chains and beat a talented secondary.

It wasn’t too long ago that many expected the receiving corps — not known for it’s athleticism or speed — to limit what this offense can do. But guys like TJ Jones really elevated their game this season, and Robby Toma has continued to do great work in the slot.

A ton of credit should go to Mike Denbrock, who switched to working with the wide receivers this year, while Tony Alford slid to running backs and slot receivers.

Ben Turk. A funny thing happened in the Coliseum. Ben Turk had some absolutely clutch punts. I’ve been tough on Turk over the past four seasons, but when the Irish needed it, they got some great kicking from Turk, who launched a 50-yarder, and more importantly, didn’t allow Robert Woods to break any returns.

Kyle Brindza. The sophomore kicker nailed five of six field goals, a clutch performance in a game where Brindza’s right leg was the only consistent scoring option. Sure, he had another miss inside the range where he should be automatic. But his 52-yarder before the half, points that ended up being incredibly important, made up for it. Brindza also had two touchbacks, taking the ball out of Marqise Lee’s hands.

Special Teams. Facing the most dynamic set of returners in the country, Scott Booker’s special teams stepped up big on Saturday night. With both George Atkinson and Marqise Lee breaking one big return, consider the kickoffs a wash — something you didn’t think possible heading into the game (especially with ND kicking off six times). And coverage was terrific on Ben Turk’s punts, with Woods only able to gain four yards on three punt returns.

Offensive line play. It was hardly discussed, but USC had a top five pass rush in the country, entering the game with 42 sacks. But the Irish offensive line more than withstood the pressure, giving Golson plenty of time to throw and only yielding one sack on the evening.

Add in the blocking up front for Theo Riddick and company, where the Irish gained 222 yards against the Trojans, and it was a banner day for Harry Hiestand’s crew.

Kapron Lewis-Moore. What a great finish to KLM’s season, with the senior defensive end contributing a monster game that included 1.5 sacks, five tackles, and one forced fumble. With Stephon Tuitt neutralized, Lewis-Moore, or Old Man Kappy, as some of his teammates call him, picked up the slack.

Matthias Farley. If I told you at the beginning of the year Matthias Farley would lead the Irish in tackles against USC, how much would you have guessed Notre Dame lost by? Three touchdowns?

But that’s how this defense has evolved, with Farley making plays as a down-in-the-box safety while Zeke Motta captained the secondary from center field. It was a tremendous tackling evening by the entire secondary, with the Irish limiting Trojan wide receivers for little yardage after the catch, an area where USC is most dangerous.

THE BAD

Red Zone. That Notre Dame won even though they were 1 of 6 in the red zone scoring touchdowns shows you how dominant they played on Saturday night. If this were a normal week, we’d have had more opportunities to talk with the Irish head coach about the red zone inefficiency, but Everett Golson took some responsibility after the game for the team’s struggles.

Still, after a few looks at the DVR yesterday, it seemed like the Irish were their own worst enemy inside the 20, getting away from the north-south running plays that were so effective the rest of the game.

There still isn’t a consistency throwing the fade to Tyler Eifert that you’d like. And emptying out the backfield and leaving your 185-pound quarterback to run the ball isn’t the most sound of logic. But with six weeks to work on things, expect Chuck Martin and Brian Kelly to add a few new wrinkles to the red zone playbook, tweaks that they’ll need if they’re playing a defense like Alabama’s.

Outside zone running. Cierre Wood was neutralized Saturday, mostly because he was asked to run outside on most of his attempts. While Kelly has consistently talked about the need for Wood to cut the ball up field, there didn’t seem like there was any room to do it.

It was no secret that teams beat the Trojans this year running straight at them. While Oregon and Arizona, spread teams that utilized tempo to run up and down the field on the Trojans, had success stretching USC’s defense, Notre Dame just couldn’t do it Saturday night.

THE UGLY

Haters gonna hate. The SEC will have its chance to beat Notre Dame in January. Until then, do your best to tune out the noise of honks supporting a conference that has rightful reason to boast.

Notre Dame is rightfully in the national championship game. They won all twelve of their games. None played against FCS teams. Against a schedule tougher than Alabama or Georgia. Notre Dame played nine bowl teams, while the two SEC title candidates played a total of nine combined.

While guys like Clay Travis do their best Skip Bayless impression, Pat Forde picked up the torch and fought the good fight for the Irish. So did the Wall Street Journal.

We’re gearing up for six more weeks of this kind of talk. Do your best to enjoy it.

 

  1. ndirish86 - Nov 26, 2012 at 5:45 PM

    From the local Orange County CA paper after the game:

    “They let you know you’re not coming through the middle,” [Curtis] McNeal said of Notre Dame’s defense. “We were trying. It just wasn’t working. Our linemen were doing the best they could. We only had five linemen on the field. It was like they had about nine D-linemen on the field. They’re going to win that battle.”

    One more time – IT WAS LIKE THEY HAD ABOUT NINE D-LINEMEN ON THE FIELD

    Best. Quote. Ever.

    • 9irish - Nov 26, 2012 at 6:04 PM

      freaking awesome. I don’t think that we even realize how good we are, let alone others. This is going to be a long 6 weeks.

    • goirishgo - Nov 26, 2012 at 6:07 PM

      Great compliment from a damn good player. THAT is meaningful.

  2. kappy32 - Nov 26, 2012 at 6:56 PM

    Pat Forde’s article was GREAT! Notre Dame’s schedule has been ranked one of the hardest in the country all year long. Like you, I have constantly pointed to SEC v. FCS games, cakewalks, whereas ND hasn’t had a week off aside from their bye. For ND to play well enough for 12 weeks to beat 12 BCS-eligible teams was amazing. The only people who don’t think ND stands a chance are SEC lovers; they don’t think anyone outside their conference deserves the Crystal Football.

    With all that being said, I want to see ND play ‘Bama for a couple reasons. First, Bama is considered the cream of the crop in the SEC & even if UG wins on Saturday, they won’t be considered the top SEC team. Pundits will argue it wasn’t a neutral site being that the game was at the Georgia Dome, where UG plays at least 1 game each season. They will argue that Bama was depleted by the injury to their WR Bell. Therefore, I want Bama to win because I want ND to beat the best of the SEC (even though I believe Florida is the best SEC team this year). If ND is going to lose, I want it against the best the SEC has to offer. When ND wins, it’ll make the win that more special. Second, as you can see I think ND will win, and I believe that because ND matches up better against Bama than Georgia. On offense, ND has the spread system that gave Bama fits with A&M, their only loss. ND has better athletes than does A&M, not necessarily at QB, but definitely at TE, WR & RB. On defense, Bama is more of a finesse team, running outside the tackles & screen plays than is Georgia. Georgia reminds me a lot of Stanford & their power running game. Stanford wore down ND’s front 7 by the end of the game by pounding the ball between the tackles & only relented due to their lack if depth at RB. Georgia is 3-deep with talented, powerful RBs & they could wear down ND’s front 7 more than Stanford did. Additionally, Aaron Murray is a better QB than AJ McCarron, especially off the play action. If ND’s defense has a weakness, I think it’s their secondary & after pounding the ball between the tackles, Georgia can expose the secondary off the play action. ND has the speed to beat Bama’s backs to the edge & that’ll be the key to the game. Therefore, I’d rather see Bama than Georgia & I think ND will have a better shot to beat Bama than Georgia.

    • nudeman - Nov 26, 2012 at 7:26 PM

      I have seen virtually none of GA barring a few highlights, so I don’t have any informed insight (though I could make up a bunch of sh** I suppose). But I have to agree that I’d like to play Bama, as they’re considered the best the SEC has to offer.

      I also will vehemently resist any temptation to adopt a “we’re playing with house money” attitude. There is no “c’est la vie” here; ND absolutely MUST win this game. BK could do everything right the next 5 years and they could conceivably not make it back based on breaks, a loss here and there, etc.

      The Irish must win, and they must win NOW!

  3. pigfanincolorado - Nov 26, 2012 at 10:26 PM

    OK – I’m going down a different road because I’m already weary of the SEC/Hater/Should Be Number 1 / Shouldn’t Be Number 1 / our Conference is…blah blah blah —and it isn’t even December yet.

    Let’s put the NON National Championship playing schools in the rear view mirror where they belong and focus on the Irish. Tonight’s topic = Special Teams

    1.) Any thought to Davante getting a chance to return kickoffs? While GA had one good return the other night and it was important, they have been far and few between for a guy that can’t seem to deviate his running path more than about 3/4 of a yard. Love the speed, but his moves are limited. Davante looks like a rocket on the launching pad. Light the fuse!

    2.) ND’s punt return game is five shades of stupid. It is a scheme thing – meaning the punt team appears to have an unobstructed free run down the field, forcing a legitimate fair catch. I may be missing something, but it would be great to consider a change there before 1/7/13. ND is currently at the mercy of the punter, which has become beyond ridiculous with the skilled talent they could put back there. Put Shumate, Motta, Farley, and Spond on the gunners and give Neal or someone else a fighting chance.

    Yes? No? Anything but ratings, GPA, and strength of schedule talk – please and thank you.

  4. ndfaithful - Nov 26, 2012 at 11:11 PM

    Quick thought I haven’t heard brought up since the big finish in USC…

    Do ya think the ND defense remembered the kid under center (about to sneak the ball TWICE) guaranteed a victory?

    • 4horsemenrideagain - Nov 27, 2012 at 10:50 AM

      I had forgotten all about that, but I can’t imagine the lads in the trenches did. As for Wittek, I liked how he complimented himself after the game (“Outside of a few mistakes, I thought I did well in my first game,”) I hope he starts next year in South Bend, and makes a “few” more mistakes, like 2 bad INT(s) and missing two open receivers for touchdowns. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining that this guy flopped, I just don’t want to hear him patting himself on the back for playing “well.” If I were a USC fan (first I’d punch myself in the face for being a USC fan), I’d go nuts after reading Wittek’s quote.

  5. ajw21 - Nov 26, 2012 at 11:20 PM

    Pig, mid season Kelly said he didnt have the personel for punt returns and didnt want to get the starters hurt or something like that so basically he said lets just catch the ball and try to fix it next year. It hasn’t costed us a game so I really don’t care but that’s his reasoning.
    GO IRISH!

  6. 9irish - Nov 27, 2012 at 2:41 AM

    what an ass. sometimes you just have to know when to eat it and give up

    Go Irish

    http://www.rantsports.com/clubhouse/2012/11/25/notre-dame-celebration-results-with-espns-rick-reilly-polishing-helmets/

  7. norcalirish - Nov 27, 2012 at 6:34 AM

    A few thoughts:

    Good points today K. I thought many of the same things that you wrote, and even screamed some at the tv. We need to fix the red zone offense, and get to running north.

    Herbie is one of the only commentators that seems to know what he’s talking about. I think he’s fair, and unbiased.

    I totally want to play Alabama. They got exposed by two good teams this year, had their coach publicly complain about the Spread, and ate up so many cupcakes it’s like they were staring on Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. I think we’d match up well with them. The only drawback is that ND/al tickets are going to be $$$$$$$. (I still need 2).

    SEC kids on here are hilarious.

    I predicted we’d beat that school down south by 10, and we ended up winning by 9. That means that I was only one point off. So:

    NOTRE DAME 73847648449494947363653663525155353829927664

    Alabama -6

  8. norcalirish - Nov 27, 2012 at 6:38 AM

    PS: Te’o losing the Heisman would be a joke. he is HANDS DOWN the correct choice, and the award would simply confirm the FACT that he is ALREADY a legend of the game. Character counts.

  9. bernhtp - Nov 27, 2012 at 8:08 AM

    The haters will always hate despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The lack of respect fuels this team and I am glad it still continues.

    • nudeman - Nov 27, 2012 at 10:25 AM

      If I was Gottlieb I’d avoid any and all ND talk.
      Not a flattering part of his past

      • 4horsemenrideagain - Nov 27, 2012 at 11:09 AM

        You would think Gottlieb’s boss would issue a directive: “Mr. Gottlieb is forbidden from commenting on and/or discussing any issue relating to Notre Dame, its students, faculty or South Bend.”

        Permitting Gottlieb to participate in any ND-related discussion is nearly as absurd as Bill Clinton discussing marital fidelity.

      • bernhtp - Nov 27, 2012 at 11:51 AM

        It is amazing that he has the temerity to discuss Notre Dame, especially negatively, given his history.

      • 9irish - Nov 27, 2012 at 3:38 PM

        wow…that is probably the most slanted “I hate ND” newscasts yet. And that’s saying something.

    • ndgoldandblue - Nov 27, 2012 at 1:33 PM

      Who is this b!tch?

      • bernhtp - Nov 27, 2012 at 2:03 PM

        The bitch is Allie LaForce. Her qualifications for her position are being ex-Miss Teen USA. Period.

      • papadec - Nov 27, 2012 at 11:28 PM

        ndgold – typical espn pretty face – no brains – the latest Erin wannabe.

  10. c4evr - Nov 27, 2012 at 11:01 AM

    I caught so much crap from people on the plane from So Cal to Nashville wearing my ND hat. The best possible scenario for ND over the next 40 days or so is to let the SEC-ers run rough shod and make all their Cheerios bowl remarks. Lou turned SEC/Spurrier arrogance into a fire that fueled a huge upset of the Gators. I hope Kelly does the same – Irish always play better as underdogs anyway. I personally like a team coming in certain they are going to win by 14 or more – they are ripe for a takedown like in Rocky III when Clubber Lang (AKA Alabama) underestimates Rocky (Good Irish boy) and pays the ultimate price. Make no mistake, ND and Kelly will have to play their absolute best, but this thing is very doable… now let’s go out and make ‘em mad.

  11. nudeman - Nov 27, 2012 at 11:41 AM

    Been thinking about what I was writing and thinking before the yr began.
    Here’s what I recall:

    1. THEN: Still on BK’s bandwagon but confidence slightly shaken due to the sloppiness of 2011 and the QB mess.
    NOW: Wow. Fixed that. Turnover situation totally turned around and he handled the QBs PERFECTLY this year

    2. THEN: Chuck Martin is the guy to watch.
    NOW: Obviously he did a GREAT job. Although the offense wasn’t always scintillating, they took care of the ball, Golson completed nearly 60% of his passes, better than 2:1 TD/INT ratio and they actually had an occasional deep ball to Brown.

    3. THEN: Lynch would be sorely missed.
    NOW: Arguably not missed at all. KLM had a very nice year and the # of personal fouls and locker room fights was WAY down.

    4. THEN: Bashed TR with abandon and lamented BK running Dayne off.
    NOW: BK found the perfect way to use Rees and watching KU games I was shocked at how bad Dayne is. BK obviously knew what he was doing.

    5. THEN: The secondary would cost them a game or two.
    NOW: The secondary cost them NO games and was nearly a team strength. Zeke Motta was a huge surprise; K Russell too. Jackson was expected to be pretty good but was actually better than that. And Shumate was outstanding in nickel.

    6. THEN: Not sold on Diaco as he cost us 2 games with mind numbing decisions on the UM final drive and the FSU 2nd half.
    NOW: Slightly wrong there.

    7. THEN: Really thought Davonte Neal would make an impact, either in the return games or from scrimmage.
    NOW: Almost no impact and scared the sh** out of me catching punts.

    8. THEN: Overall I said they’d more likely be 10-2 than the 8-4 or 7-5 many here predicted. The games I was convinced they’d have the most trouble with were Oklahoma and MSU. There was no way I thought they’d lose to UM and Stanford at home.
    NOW: Missed by two games, and glad I did.

    My overall grade: B-. Would be even lower but I was one of the few who could see double digit wins.

    • bernhtp - Nov 27, 2012 at 11:57 AM

      Very fair assessment. Mine would be similar; maybe even a bit worse.

    • irish4006 - Nov 27, 2012 at 1:36 PM

      Very similar, Nude with only minor differences. I said 10-2 is possible IF we can find a QB. I thought we matched up pretty well vs. UM, MSU and Stanford; two biggest worries being OU and USC. Based on what we saw in the last couple of years, 10-2 would be a very good year while 9-3 would also be pretty good. Anything less would have been disappointing.

      I was not sold on TR at all and you could ruin my day just by saying “if he can develop the deep ball, ND will be okay”. But I did mention a number of times that he would be a great backup should anything happen to our starter (EG, AH, GK, nudeman whoever it was).

      As for Kelly, I was totally on the bandwagon for recruiting and the progress we saw pretty much in everything. My only comment was that a good coach should be able to “manufacture” a QB out of thin air in 3 years. If he is not able to do that, I would have to worry if he was the right guy for the job. After all, it’s not NFL and you don’t build a team for 10 years; you have to recycle any and all of your skill players every 3 to 4 years.

      Now I can just sit back, relax and enjoy the show. Oh, btw, by enjoying the show; I don’t mean watching ND playing in the NC. I was thinking about winning the whole thing. Bama/GA I don’t really care. They are not invincible if we can play a little better on offense than we did against USC (I thought we did a pretty good job of moving the ball up and down at will, we only need to learn to score TDs once we are in the red zone).

    • 9irish - Nov 27, 2012 at 3:43 PM

      I would say I was pretty similar. Although I’ve always had a sneaky optimism, just because of all the games in the past two years that they should’ve won and didn’t. They definitely fixed THAT! They weren’t as far from here as most people on the outside thought.

  12. ndgoldandblue - Nov 27, 2012 at 12:48 PM

    I think Keith hit the nail on the head with his assessment. The only thing that this Irish team needs to improve upon is offensive redzone efficiency. Earlier in the season, there were other issues that were a bit shaky, i.e. Everett’s decision-making, offensive line, special teams, etc. Now, it appears that all of those things have been improved to the point that they can be depended on as a strength.

    Several weeks back, I was unsure of what to expect, going into a game, from Golson and the offensive line. Now, I expect that both the quarterback and the O-line will play well. I’ve come to the point where I’m shocked if Golson misses a throw or the line gives up a sack. It’s nice to get to this point.

    With the special teams, they proved on Saturday that they can be great if they just play up to their potential. The jury’s still out on them, but if they can put together a game like they played on Saturday in the national championship game, then all of us will be more than happy.

    The one thing that Kelly should spend a large amount of time on is the offense in redzone situations. As Keith said, they have more than a month to improve upon it. That’s nice to know. I’m tellin’ you guys, if the Irish turn just one of those field goals into touchdowns, I think they win the game. Although, looking at last year’s national championship game, 5 field goals and a touchdown with an extra point wins the game. So, if that’s all we need, so be it. Sign me up.

    • irish4006 - Nov 27, 2012 at 1:45 PM

      Golson does have some ups and downs during the game – it’s not just one throw, he tends to go through a period every now and then when he continues to make poor throws. I am not sure what exactly the problem is, it could be that he has a little trouble moving on; if he misses a throw badly, it is usually followed by a couple more. I have seen this in a number of games to think that there is a pattern. He is still not there yet on the mental side of the game, but getting there pretty fast.

      Maybe NC game is the one where everything comes together. He already proved that he can handle the stage, it’s only a question of being there for 4 quarters.

      • nudeman - Nov 27, 2012 at 8:26 PM

        Dude,
        Since the OK game, EG has played outstanding ball
        Every QB goes through ups and downs in a game
        He’s been better than we thought

  13. goirishgo - Nov 27, 2012 at 2:50 PM

    12-0, playing for the national championship and still so much room for improvement. Six more weeks of practice will really help this team. A very dangerous Irish squad will take the field on 1/7/13.

  14. kaf39 - Nov 27, 2012 at 5:41 PM

    Irish is number 1!!!!

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