Irish dominate Trojans in complete team performance
Daniel O'Boyle | Sunday, October 22, 2017
Forty years ago, Notre Dame defeated a ranked USC team by 30 points.
Before and during Saturday’s game, Notre Dame Stadium showed clips of the 1977 blowout. It was a win iconic enough to earn a name: “The Green Jersey Game.”
In 2017, the Irish (6-1) went five points better.
It may not get a name.
The score will do fine. Notre Dame 49, the University of Southern California 14.
The first Irish possession wasn’t perfect. When junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush missed sophomore wide receiver Chase Claypool streaking deep downfield and junior running back Josh Adams dropped a screen pass that could have turned into a big play, redshirt-sophomore quarterback Sam Darold’s Trojans (6-2, 4-1 Pac-12) took over near midfield, seemingly with the upper hand. While the opening drive was not a success, Wimbush said the decision to pass the ball deep early on helped the Irish offense quickly take over the game.
“Up front, they were so physical and dominant,” Wimbush said. “But I think throwing the ball down the field kind of backed them off a little bit, took a couple of guys out of the box. Still, I have to be way more effective when it comes to the passing game, and I think that will come in these next couple of weeks here.”
The first Irish defensive possession, however, was perfect for Notre Dame. Darnold was on the field for one play. He couldn’t control the snap, and Irish junior linebacker Te’von Coney took the ball out of his hands on the way down.
Three plays later, junior receiver Equanimeous St. Brown beat Trojans sophomore cornerback Jack Jones downfield. Wimbush hit him in his stride.
Notre Dame forced a punt just over two minutes later. The Irish had little trouble running the ball toward the Trojan endzone, whether it was junior running back Josh Adams, Wimbush, sophomore running back Tony Jones Jr. or sophomore receiver Kevin Stepherson — who took a sweep play 11 yards for his first career rushing attempt — carrying the ball. Kelly said he was especially proud of the less experienced players, like Stepherson, who made a noticeable impact upon the game.
“I’m really proud of all the young players who impacted the game,” Kelly said. “I’m really proud of them, because they were part of the challenge that we had last year after the USC game when we challenged our players to come back and get our program back to where it needed to be.”
Then, the Irish went to the passing game, as Wimbush threw 29 yards downfield to Stepherson, who had the better of Trojans junior cornerback Isaiah Langley.
USC sought a foothold in the game, and got one when Wimbush was sacked by USC redshirt-senior safety Chris Hawkins on third down for a loss of 10 yards. Darnold couldn’t connect with a wide open redshirt-senior Steven Mitchell Jr. deep downfield on the first play of the drive, but hit junior receiver Deontay Burnett for a 34-yard gain to enter the Irish red zone for the first time. Kelly said he was impressed with how his defense performed against Darnold and the Trojans, but Darnold’s talent ensured he still made some important plays.
“Sam Darnold is an outstanding quarterback,” Kelly said. “They’ve got great receivers. They’re very difficult to defend. We’re swimming upstream in some situations trying to defend them. We just got into some good leverage situations in third down where you can’t make them all.”
Despite a holding penalty against sophomore safety Jalen Elliott, the Trojans couldn’t get the ball into the endzone, instead needing to attempt a field goal from 27 yards out.
It was no good.
The Irish started the following drive with promise, but couldn’t get past the USC 39-yard line. But senior punter Tyler Newsome’s punt was fumbled by junior running back Ronald Jones II, setting up Notre Dame’s offense from just nine yards out. Adams’ first run took the Irish to the three.
His next was a touchdown.
Darnold, needing a major completion, made a 17-yard pass to Burnett, but on his next attempt, senior cornerback Nick Watkins came down with the interception. Kelly said he was impressed with how opportunistic his defense had been all season, forcing sixteen turnovers, as well as with how well his offense capitalized on those turnovers.
“Obviously, the plan was in hiring [defensive coordinator] Mike Elko that he’s got a great reputation in taking the football away,” Kelly said. “Then, it was the offense was going to have to be opportunistic and cash those in. And the plan has come together nicely, quite frankly.”
A 20-yard pass to graduate student tight end Durham Smythe and a 24-yard Wimbush run put the Irish back in the redzone.
Wimbush ran it into the corner for the fourth Irish touchdown.
And it wasn’t even halftime.
Jones II started the second half with an 18-yard run. A 28-yard pass to redshirt-freshman receiver Tyler Vaughns set up first-and-goal, and Darnold hit Burnett on a third-down slant.
Until the Irish marched right back downfield. Wimbush finished this time, on an eight-yard run with the help of a block from Jones Jr.
USC’s hopes seemed lost, but Darnold quickly put together four big plays, three in the air and one on the ground, finishing with a 16-yard pass to Burnett to bring the lead back to 21.
For 19 seconds.
That’s how long it took Josh Adams to run 84 yards into the Notre Dame endzone. He glanced over his right shoulder once, and his left three times. By the last time he checked, he was one yard from the goal line, just checking to see if a Trojans player would touch him on the way in.
The Irish still weren’t done.
Leading by 28-points in the fourth quarter, the Irish showed why they had been talking about dominating opponents all season. Leading by 28 points in the fourth quarter, Notre Dame attempted a flea-flicker. It didn’t work as designed, with none of Wimbush’s receivers open. But Wimbush escaped a sack and Stepherson got himself open for a 23-yard gain. Another pass to Stepherson put the Irish into the red zone once more, where Adams scored his third touchdown of the game, bringing him to 191 yards on 19 attempts on the day, and 397 yards on 38 career carries against the Trojans.
And bringing the score to 49-14.
There were still over 13 minutes left, but Wimbush and Adams were done. So was Darnold.
That’s how the game would end.