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Lorton: What’s wrong with Notre Dame?

| Monday, December 1, 2014

LOS ANGELES — In the 2001 film “Gladiator,” there is a scene where one of the fighters is so terrified to enter the arena, he wets himself in the tunnel. Once he moves inside the ring, he has no idea to what to do and is struck down immediately.

This character was Notre Dame in its 49-14 loss to USC at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday.

The Irish looked timid, played timid and, in the end, the results showed such timidness.

In just over a six minute-stretch toward the end of first quarter, the Trojans offense crushed any hope left in the Irish defense with a 21-0 scoring fest. USC redshirt junior Cody Kessler picked apart the Irish secondary, throwing seemingly uncontested touchdowns to receivers George Farmer and Adoree’ Jackson.

In little more than three quarters, Kessler went 32-for-40 for 372 yards and six touchdowns. Luckily for Notre Dame, Kessler was pulled and Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian took it easy on the beaten-down Irish defense by running the ball for the entirety of the fourth quarter.

Notre Dame, like the nameless gladiator mentioned above, was inexperienced and it showed. The defense was a patchwork of a patchwork.

With injuries to defensive leaders senior linebacker Joe Schmidt and junior defensive lineman Sheldon Day, graduate student cornerback Cody Riggs, junior defensive lineman Jarron Jones and freshman safety Drue Tranquill, the Irish knew it was going to be an “uphill” battle coming into the game, Irish head coach Brian Kelly said. To add injury to injury, graduate student safety Austin Collinsworth went down early, re-separating his shoulder, sophomore safety Max Redfield exited with a broken rib, freshman linebacker Greer Martini limped off with a quad injury, freshman defensive lineman Jay Hayes left with an ankle injury and sophomore defensive lineman Jacob Matuska was hobbled by a stinger in his shoulder.

Notre Dame had almost no options left at defense. It is no wonder USC put up 577 yards and 49 points.

Yet, like the nameless gladiator, the Irish had a sword: their offense. But they didn’t even use it. Whether it was out of fear or apathy, Notre Dame’s offense looked like it had no idea what to do.

In the first quarter when USC amassed 209 yards and three scores, the Irish were still trying to get into Trojans territory. The Irish only were able to move the ball 35 yards in the first stanza, and they did not get out of their half of the field until the second quarter. Senior quarterback Everett Golson went 7-for-18 for 75 yards and one interception before being replaced by Malik Zaire. Yet Zaire was not much better, as the sophomore went 9-for-20 for 170 yards.

Although he has been riddled by turnovers this season, at least one of Golson’s two turnovers was not his fault. Golson hit sophomore receiver Corey Robinson downfield with a strike, but the ball went straight through Robinson’s hands and into the arms of a Trojans defender. When Golson coughed up the ball the second time, he was hit hard from behind. The Irish offensive line gave up three sacks in the first 20 minutes.

Kelly, who had praised the Irish receivers earlier in the week said he was “disappointed” in their performance. The only silver lining in the offense was sophomore running back Greg Bryant, who appeared to actually care about the season finale.

With five of its last six games resulting in losses, all signs point to something being wrong with this year’s Notre Dame team. If Kelly wants to continue to point to the team’s injuries and inexperience, it might be better if the Irish sat out the bowl game to heal up and began to prepare for next season because the injuries and inexperience are only causing more players got hurt. As it looks like the Irish sat out Saturday’s game, it should be no problem for them to sit out the bowl season.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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