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Irish rout Trojans under the lights

| Sunday, October 24, 2021

On a brisk Saturday night in South Bend, the Fighting Irish hosted the unranked Trojans in the 92nd edition of the Notre Dame-USC rivalry. The Irish were able to get out to a fast start in the game despite not being able to draw blood on their first drive, an effort that consumed nearly 4:30 of clock and saw the Irish stomp down the field for 74 yards in 10 plays. Graduate student placekicker Jonathan Doerer would miss the 36-yard field goal. 

It was the Notre Dame defense that would really provide the spark early on as the Trojans’ first drive resulted in a quick three and out. A quick sack from senior defensive lineman Jayson Ademilola on the first play from scrimmage for the Trojans made the Irish defensive presence felt right away. Trojan junior quarterback Kedon Slovis was pressured all night as his offensive line failed to provide him adequate protection. Graduate student Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa got the hurry on third down to force the Trojan punt early. 

After driving the ball almost 75% the length of the field and coming up empty, the Irish would finally start to piece together drives that would begin to yield results. On the next drive quarterback duties would be split by graduate student quarterback Jack Coan and true freshman Tyler Buchner. Coan led the Irish into Trojan territory but it was Buchner who would maintain the moment where they had stalled on their last drive. Buchner would only sub in for two plays but his contribution would certainly not go unnoticed as he completed a pair of passes good for a combined 24 yards. Knocking on the Trojans’ door, Coan would finish the job, finding graduate student wide receiver Avery Davis in the end zone to put the Irish on the board 7-0. 

The dynamics of the game would change drastically on the next defensive possession for the Irish, though it lasted a measly 0:16. Junior star safety Kyle Hamilton would go down with a pinched fat pad after making a tackle in the red zone as the Trojans quickly forced their way downfield after a quick pass from Slovis to arguably the top wideout in the country in Drake London. But the defense would not be derailed without its star and captain. Junior vyper Isaiah Foskey would come up clutch soon after Hamilton had made his way into the medical tent as the end of the first quarter came to a close, rattling Slovis to the point that he would open the second quarter throwing a pass that would be broken up by graduate student defensive end Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa. Graduate student linebacker Bo Bauer would haul down the tipped ball and return the ball 79 yards to the edge of the Trojans’ goal line. However, the Irish offense was tragically unable to take advantage of the prime field position and was forced to settle for a field goal — Doerer was able to boot it in form 21 yards on this occasion. 

The Irish defense would use their “Bend, but don’t break” mentality as they carried a 17-3 lead into the locker room. Drake London would prove a force to be reckoned with in the day, but the real battle would be won in the trenches. London finished the day with 15 receptions on 20 targets, good for 171 yards of offense and well over half of Slovis’ 299 pass yards. 

Where the Trojans were able to find an attack in the air, the Irish were able to keep it on the ground, pounding the trenches as well as mixing in some passing to keep the defense honest. Junior wide receiver Kyren Williams finished the night with 25 carries for 138 yards. He also recorded the longest rushing attempt on the night during a 38-yard rush. He was also a threat through the air, hauling in all six of his targets for 42 yards en route to putting another shamrock on the Jeweled Shillelagh. 

The win over the Trojans improved head coach Brian Kelly’s record over USC to 8-3. It also puts him in the discussion of Notre Dame greats in another right. With the win, Kelly is the first Notre Dame head coach since Lou Holtz to win the rivalry game against USC by more than two touchdowns twice. It was also only the third time since 2000 that the Irish have defeated the Trojans by a margin of more than 14.

Although the Trojans were able to come within striking distance of the Irish as the game ticked into the final quarter, it was far too little too late. And though a late score helped pad the final outcome, the demeanor the Irish played with at home and coming off their bye week is one that has not been on display at all this season. The feel of the late-October South Bend football air was perhaps a catalyst in helping this team find their identity. 

After the game, Kelly complimented his running back who had to play without his right-hand man in sophomore Chris Tyree.

“Kyren Williams ran with an attitude,” Kelly said of his running back.

Williams was awarded the game ball for his efforts and flaunted it into his press conference, putting it on full display for all to see but quickly exclaiming that credit is owed to the offensive line who helped him downfield. For Williams, he said he realized this game was going to be a good one for the Irish right from the jump. When asked if there was a moment when he knew the running game was going to fall into place, he was quick to reply.

“From the first run,” Williams said. “Even before the game, I knew what I had to do; I knew the mindset. I just knew from that whole week of practice that this is gonna start clicking — we’re going to start moving together and as you see the game go on those 2-yard runs turn to 5, those 5 turn 10, 10 turn 12 … Now you’ve got the defense on their heels: how are they gonna stop the run, how are they going to stop the pass? It’s just playing complementary football which is huge for me.” 

And huge it was to finally silence one of the biggest critiques of the Irish this season — their lack of complimentary football — as they took down the Trojans of Southern California 31-16.

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About Jimmy Ward

Jimmy is a senior at Holy Cross College, where he studies English and sports management. He is originally from Westfield, Indiana. Currently, Jimmy serves as an associate sports editor at The Observer. You can find him at @jimmyyward on Twitter.

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