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Irish hammered by USC in 86th meeting of rivalry

| Saturday, November 29, 2014

LOS ANGELES — In the 86th meeting between Notre Dame and Southern California, USC struck first and kept on hammering the bruised and beaten Irish, leading USC to a 49-14 victory Saturday afternoon. The beatdown saw sophomore quarterback Malik Zaire’s first career completion and touchdown after senior quarterback Everett Golson was pulled from the game, the most passing touchdowns Notre Dame (7-5) has ever surrendered to one quarterback in a single game and five more injuries to an already-depleted defense.

“We got punched in the nose today,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said. “You want to see a response too. They’re young, but I want to see some bite too. For the bowl preparation, we’re going to have to see a response. All jobs are available, and we are going to have to see something from this group.”

Trojans redshirt junior quarterback Cody Kessler exited the game two minutes into the fourth quarter with a 49-14 lead, allowing the USC running game to close it out. Kessler went 32-for-40 against the Irish defense, throwing for 372 yards and six touchdowns, five of which came in the first half. That number marks the most passing touchdowns Notre Dame has ever given up to an opposing quarterback in a single game. The Trojans (8-4) had a strong run game also, going for 225 yards and one score. The Trojans running backs were led by redshirt junior Javorius Allen and sophomore Justin Davis, who had 19 carries apiece. Allen ran for 93 yards, while Davis gained 81 yards and one touchdown.

Irish junior running back C.J. Prosise attempts to outrun USC defenders.Kevin Song | The Observer
Irish junior running back C.J. Prosise attempts to outrun USC defenders.
“Today we got our butts beat badly,” Kelly said. “It wasn’t as close as the score, but [Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian] was very generous running the football to keep the score where it was.”

USC’s offense got started with 6:50 on the clock in the first quarter, as Kessler connected on a 48-yard touchdown pass to redshirt sophomore receiver George Farmer, who got behind the Irish secondary after beating Irish sophomore cornerback Cole Luke.

“We loaded up against the run — man coverage all day,” Kelly said. “We knew it was pick your poison today, and we don’t have a lot of answers in that situation.”

On the following drive, Golson missed an opportunity on third down, overthrowing open sophomore receiver Will Fuller. Golson went 7-for-18 with 75 passing yards on the day. Notre Dame punted and the Trojans offense got the ball back at midfield.

With the ball on Notre Dame’s 16-yard line a few plays later, Trojans freshman receiver Adoree’ Jackson came out of the backfield unnoticed past Irish freshman linebacker Greer Martini and caught a pass from Kessler for an uncontested touchdown. The Trojans stretched their lead to 14-0 with 3:36 left in the first quarter.

After a three-and-out on Notre Dame’s next possession, Irish senior kicker Kyle Brindza punted the ball 31 yards to USC’s 45-yard line. The Trojans got the ball back and within five plays, scored again to make their lead 21-0. Kessler hit Farmer, who beat Irish sophomore cornerback Devin Butler for a 31-yard touchdown, his second of the game.

Irish sophomore quarterback Malik Zaire looks to pass the ball.Kevin Song | The Observer
Irish sophomore quarterback Malik Zaire looks to pass the ball.
The Irish cornerbacks were put under a lot of pressure to play precisely in man-to-man coverage, making it tough for them to stop the barrage of USC skill players, Luke said.

“[The Trojans] are good all around,” Luke said. “They have a lot of depth and great pass receivers.

“When you have one-on-one matchups, it’s really all technique. … Besides that, I really didn’t think we could do anything better. Just play our game.”

Irish sophomore linebacker Jaylon Smith attempts to prevent a touchdown.Kevin Song | The Observer
Irish sophomore linebacker Jaylon Smith attempts to prevent a touchdown.
The Trojans racked up 209 yards of offense in the first quarter, while Notre Dame’s offense amassed only 35 yards of total offense in the opening 15 minutes.

The Irish finally entered into USC territory with 12:30 left on the clock in the second quarter. After two incompletions, Golson’s pass went through sophomore receiver Corey Robinson’s hands and into the waiting arms of Trojans redshirt senior safety Gerald Bowman. USC took over at its own 49-yard line.

In only six more plays, the Trojans went up 28-0, as Kessler connected with sophomore receiver Darreus Rogers for the six-yard touchdown with 10:51 left in the first half.

Notre Dame got inside Trojans territory for the second time on the day on a six-yard carry from Irish sophomore running back Tarean Folston, but the Irish were soon knocked out of it. Golson was hit by senior linebacker J.R. Tavai as he went back to pass and the ball popped into the hands of Trojans redshirt senior linebacker Hayes Pullard. Golson was benched and did not return to the game.

Golson’s fumble was his second turnover of the day and his 22nd on the season. The Irish offensive line gave up four sacks for a total loss of 25 yards on the day.

Senior offensive lineman and captain Nick Martin said a lot of the offensive struggles began in the trenches.

“We‘ve got one play, one man to block on the offensive line, we didn’t do enough up front, and that’s what it came down to,” Martin said.

USC started with the ball with 8:13 on the clock and scored three minutes later on a 14-yard pass from Kessler to junior receiver Nelson Agholor. Agholor caught the ball on a slant at the nine-yard line, broke three arm tackles and plowed through Irish sophomore linebacker Jaylon Smith for the touchdown and the 35-0 Trojans lead. Agholor had 12 receptions for 120 yards and a touchdown in the game.

Irish sophomore quarterback Malik Zaire reaches for a touchdown.Kevin Song | The Observer
Irish sophomore quarterback Malik Zaire reaches for a touchdown.
Kelly said the lopsided defeat was due to lack of depth on defense and a lack of execution on offense.

“You know, they’re playing as hard as they can, there’s just a deficiency there personnel wise on the defensive side of the ball.” Kelly said. “We made too many mistakes on the offensive side of the ball — uncharacteristic mistakes. I was just praising our wide receivers this week and they come in and drop too many balls, one that lead to a key interception. I’m disappointed in their play today from an offensive standpoint. And we didn’t get the kind of play out of the quarterback early on that we needed on the road against a team like USC.”

The Irish got up off the mat and flashed some momentary signs of life when Zaire and sophomore offensive lineman Mike McGlinchey came into the game with 5:09 on the clock in the first half. Sophomore running back Greg Bryant rushed for four yards, Zaire completed a 49-yard pass to junior receiver Chris Brown and then ran for an 11-yard touchdown to finally put the Irish on the board. The three-play drive covered 64 yards in 58 seconds. The drive marked Zaire’s first pass attempt and completion, as well as his first rushing touchdown. The job for the offensive line was no different with the changes, and the team was never going to give up regardless of who was at quarterback, Martin said.

“That’s never an option as a football player — any athlete, really,” Martin said. “You compete until that clock hits zero.”

Notre Dame then forced the Trojans to punt on the ensuing possession and got the ball back on its own 19-yard line with 1:42 and three timeouts left. The Irish were able to get the ball to the USC 27-yard line with nine seconds left for Brindza to attempt the 44-yard field goal. Brindza’s attempt hit the left post and the ball dropped — no good. USC went into the half leading 35-7.

Martin said the Irish, as a whole, simply did not do enough.

Trojans mascot shakes hands with a fan in the LA Coliseum.Kevin Song | The Observer.
Trojans mascot shakes hands with a fan in the LA Coliseum.
“We have a lot of weapons on offense and we go into games thinking — knowing — that we are going to put a lot of points on the board,” Martin said. “That’s our goal. Today, we didn’t execute, and that’s what it came down to.”

USC opened the second half with more points. After going 66 yards on 10 plays, Kessler hooked up with redshirt senior tight end Randall Telfer from nine yards out to cap off the drive. Despite being held, Telfer split three Notre Dame defenders and came down with the ball for his first score on the day. The Trojans took the 42-7 lead.

Kelly said that the youth of Notre Dame’s defense showed Saturday.

“We knew we were shorthanded,” Kelly said. “We’ve lost a lot of players on defense these last five weeks. It’s been a very difficult run for us. Key players on defense. Having to play so many young players on defense. We just haven’t been able to stop anybody. It’s been a difficult run for us. So, we knew we that it was going to be an uphill run.”

Later in the third quarter, Davis finalized the USC scoring spree with a 16-yard touchdown run. His initial cut past sophomore defensive lineman Isaac Rochell in the backfield was good enough to also put him past two more Notre Dame defenders and into the end zone.

Bryant made the game slightly closer on the scoreboard with a one-yard run to make the score 49-14 with 2:48 left in the third quarter. Martin said the loss should provide fuel to the Notre Dame players for the bowl game and the offseason.

“There’s no doubt we got punched in the face,” Martin said. “But Kelly’s built a culture here and we just have to get back on that track. With the bowl game, everyone should have a chip on their shoulders. This team, we’re competitors and no one likes to lose.”

Kelly said the Irish should use this loss to get back to where they feel they belong.

“We can’t forget to lose sight of today,” Kelly said. “We have to remember where we are after today’s loss. It’s a red-letter day for our football players and our coaches alike. Two years ago, we were playing for a national championship.

“We have a lot of young players, and I am very confident as to where they want to go. They want to get back and expect to be back in the spot we were a couple of years ago.”

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