Skip to content

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

Nov 26, 2012, 12:10 PM EDT

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.

 

Latest Posts
  1. Stream the Blue-Gold game live

    Apr 18, 2015, 10:31 AM EDT

    Everett Golson

    You’ve come to the right place if you’re looking to stream the 86th annual Blue-Gold game.

  2. Pregame Six Pack: Finishing spring practice strong

    Apr 18, 2015, 10:13 AM EDT

    William Fuller, Julian Whigham, Durell Eskridge William Fuller, Julian Whigham, Durell Eskridge

    It’s a spring game everybody can get behind, as Notre Dame’s guaranteed to end this Saturday a winner. With the Blue-Gold game taking place on the LaBar Practice Fields, let’s get ready with the Pregame Six Pack.

  3. Blue-Gold game: Stream it here live

    Apr 18, 2015, 12:38 AM EDT

    Malik Zaire

    With Notre Dame’s annual spring game kicked out of the stadium with massive renovations underway, the Irish are taking to the LaBar practice fields to play on Saturday. But NBCSN will be there to broadcast, and the livestream of the game is also available for you.

  4. Talking through the Blue-Gold game

    Apr 17, 2015, 12:55 AM EDT

    Malik Zaire Malik Zaire

    With the Blue-Gold game set for Saturday afternoon on NBCSN, spring practice comes to an end with a rare opportunity to see Notre Dame faceoff against itself in a live scrimmage. Keith & JJ talk about some of the spring game’s storylines.

  5. With roster still in flux, Kelly plans on being at 85 by Texas

    Apr 16, 2015, 11:50 AM EDT

    Rice v Notre Dame Getty Images

    For the first time in over a decade, Notre Dame has a roster crunch. As Notre Dame’s fifth-year candidates submit their applications to the university, Brian Kelly plans on moving forward and using every minute he has to figure out his roster.

  6. Blue-Gold Game: Rules and Format for 86th annual spring game

    Apr 15, 2015, 1:30 PM EDT

    Louis Nix, Steve Elmer

    Notre Dame released the official rules and format for the 86th annual Blue-Gold game. As the LaBar Practice Fields transform to house an intimate live viewing audience, an elite group of recruits and a NBCSN television production, let’s get the basics down as we begin to dig deeper into the spring finale.

  7. Quarterbacks will be live during Blue-Gold game

    Apr 15, 2015, 12:13 PM EDT

    Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl Getty Images

    With Notre Dame Stadium under construction, this was already going to be a different kind of Blue-Gold game. But when Brian Kelly announced that quarterbacks Everett Golson and Malik Zaire were going to be live for the first half, he confirmed it.

  8. Shamrock Series tickets could cost Boston College fans $25,000

    Apr 15, 2015, 10:31 AM EDT

    Steve Addazio Steve Addazio

    When Notre Dame plays Boston College this November in Fenway Park, tickets will be hard to come by. But for BC fans looking for a ticket through the Eagles’ athletic department, they better bring their savings accounts.

  9. Julian Okwara commits to Notre Dame

    Apr 14, 2015, 6:14 PM EDT

    Rivals Rivals

    2016 defensive end Julian Okwara committed to Notre Dame on Tuesday evening, following in the footsteps of his brother Romeo.

  10. Prosise emerging as playmaker at two positions

    Apr 14, 2015, 12:05 PM EDT

    C. J. Prosise C. J. Prosise

    Most thought C.J. Prosise spending spring practice working with the running backs was a contingency plan—finding a capable body to split carries with Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant. But Prosise has emerged as a true wildcard in the Irish offense, with Brian Kelly looking for new ways to get the football in the 220-pounder’s hands.

  11. Even without guarantee, Kelly expects Golson to return next season

    Apr 13, 2015, 11:49 AM EDT

    Michigan v Notre Dame Getty Images

    Brian Kelly can’t be sure that Everett Golson will be here in 2015. But after 25 years of coaching college football, Notre Dame’s head coach feels like Golson’s actions are speaking for themselves.

  12. Notre Dame mailbag: Consistency, the D and a fair QB competition

    Apr 12, 2015, 1:29 PM EDT

    Brian Van Gorder Brian Van Gorder

    With a big scrimmage on Saturday to get to and a Sunday at Augusta around the corner, let’s get to some mailbag questions.

  13. Grace opens up about the long road back

    Apr 11, 2015, 3:09 PM EDT

    Jarrett Grace Jarrett Grace

    When Jarrett Grace broke his leg in four places, the linebacker’s career nearly ended. Eighteen months later, Grace is back on the field, and back a part of the master plans for the Irish defense.

  14. Irish eye key OL recruit Liam Eichenberg this weekend

    Apr 10, 2015, 12:03 PM EDT

    247 Sports 247 Sports

    Round one of Notre Dame vs. Ohio State went to the Irish, when Ohio native and coveted 2016 OL recruit Tommy Kraemer committed to the Irish last fall. Round two appears to be coming to a close as both the Irish and Buckeyes battle for blue-chip lineman Liam Eichenberg.

  15. Jaylon Smith cross-training opens up linebacker log jam

    Apr 9, 2015, 1:35 PM EDT

    Notre Dame v Arizona State Getty Images

    As Notre Dame’s defensive coaches try to deal with their latest champagne problem, linebacker Jaylon Smith seems like a lone constant. He’s not coming off the field.

  16. Spring football mailbag: Now Open

    Apr 9, 2015, 12:01 PM EDT

    New Mailbox

    Drop your questions below or on Twitter @KeithArnold.

  17. Irish QB battle with (understandably) head into fall camp

    Apr 9, 2015, 11:19 AM EDT

    Michigan v Notre Dame Getty Images

    Wednesday, Brian Kelly confirmed what just about every Notre Dame football fan already knew: The quarterback battle between Everett Golson and Malik Zaire will head into fall camp.

  18. Turf toe surgery scheduled for DE Jonathan Bonner

    Apr 8, 2015, 7:54 PM EDT

    247Sports 247Sports

    After a promising start to spring football, defensive lineman Jonathan Bonner will need surgery. The rising sophomore will undergo a procedure for a turf toe injury, sidelining him until mid-June.

  19. Will Jerry Tillery’s spring performance carry over to the fall?

    Apr 8, 2015, 2:50 PM EDT

    Tom Loy, 247 Sports Tom Loy, 247 Sports

    To put into context what freshman Jerry Tillery is doing this spring, you have to look back at the last time Notre Dame saw a breakout freshman along the defensive line. It was Aaron Lynch. The lanky, pass-rushing defensive end set the Blue-Gold game on fire, unblockable off the edge in his first semester as an early-enrollee college student.

  20. No contingency plans at safety

    Apr 7, 2015, 12:36 PM EDT

    Notre Dame v Arizona State Getty Images

    In Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate, the Irish have their starting safeties. The success of Notre Dame’s defense will depend on if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.