Thanksgiving has come and gone, and now USC is here for Rivalry Week. A chance to close out a perfect season beckons. The Irish, (like all of us) have likely done some scoreboard watching throughout the weekend. They should be wary of the stumbles of Washington State. They probably knew of the complete meltdown of Michigan (insert your own joke) here. Jerry Tillery said it best, “We can’t play for a National Championship. We can beat USC on Saturday. That is our focus.”
USC looks to be reeling. There was a report prior to game time that planes were flying over the Coliseum with signs that said, “Lynn Swann – Fire Clay Helton!” Additionally it appearsed CJ Pollard, USC’s starting safety was not available. Again for Notre Dame, stay in the moment, avoid turnovers, and play your game. Avoiding turnovers and jumping on the Trojans early, puts Notre Dame in their first College Football Playoff.
In a flash, USC takes the ball and moves eight plays covering 78 yards all of them with the exception of one was a passes. The drive culminates with a 14-yard touchdown run by Vavae Malepeai and a 7-0 lead for USC. Freshmen quarterback J.T. Daniels is 6-7 on the opening scoring drive. USC’s second drive also penetrated Notre Dame territory but was halted when Troy Pride Jr. forced and recovered a USC fumble at the Notre Dame 33.
Daniels finishes the quarter 16-17 passing with his lone incompletion being a throw away. USC dominating time of possession and only a turnover probably stopped them from getting more points.
First quarter analysis: USC dominating in all phases, the Irish are lucky to only be trailing 7-0.
USC opens the second quarter finishing a 13-play 50 yard scoring drive with a field goal to make it 10-0 Troy. Notre Dame closes the lead to 10-7 with 2:20 remaining in the first half on Chris Finke’s 24-yard touchdown reception from Ian Book. The 11-play 64-yard drive was highlighted by three 3rd down conversions, the most critical of which was a scramble by Book where he lowered his shoulder at the first down marker to keep the drive alive.
USC makes another deep push into Notre Dame territory on a drive that covered 6-plays and 70 yards. However, the drive ends at the Notre Dame 15 after a strip by Alohi Gilman and recovery by Drue Tranquil. Though Notre Dame would move the ball, their Hail Mary pass would be caught by Miles Boykin at the two yard line as time expires. The Trojans take a 10-7 lead into the half.
Halftime analysis: USC holds a total yardage advantage of 289-210 and a time of possession advantage by five minutes. However, USC penalties and turnovers kept the score 10-7 at the half. The Irish are lucky to get to the break only down three points.
The Irish open the second half much like the first with minimal traction on offense and exchange punts with the Trojans to start the quarter. The Irish take over and take just two plays to grab their first lead of the night 14-10. Following, a 15-yard completion to Alize Mack on first down, Dexter Williams sprints 52 yards to the end zone to put the Irish in front with 10:55 remaining in the 3rd Quarter.
USC would make another push into Irish territory on the strength of an acrobatic catch by Tyler Vaughns and the running of Aca’Cedric Ware however, stout defense and a critical USC holding penalty hands the ball back to Notre Dame with 6:59 left in the 3rd quarter.
A clutch Book pass to Dexter Williams on 4th and 2 culminates in a 46-yard Justin Yoon field goal which gives the Irish a 17-10 lead with 1:07 remaining in the 3rd quarter. The 3rd quarter closes with the Irish still holding a 17-10 lead.
3rd quarter analysis: The 3rd quarter seemed to drag on forever and despite a seemingly dominating performance by the Irish, they lead by just seven heading into the final stanza.
Following an Irish stop, the Irish take over on their own 20 with 11:40 remaining. Despite moving the ball to the Trojans 20, an Ian Book interception on 3rd down with 7:54 remaining kills the Irish drive squandering potential points and the opportunity to seize control of the game.
Two sacks by the Irish and a Trojan punt, return the ball to the Irish with 5:53 remaining. A 16-yard run on a quarterback draw by Ian Book gives the Irish a critical first down. On 3rd and 6 a 51-yard touchdown pass from Book to Tony Jones on a swing pass gives the Irish a 24-10 lead with 3:09 to go.
USC mounts a furious drive after a facemask penalty on the kickoff and pushes the ball to the Notre Dame 20 with 1:17 remaining. On 3rd and 10 a 20-yard touchdown pass by J.T. Daniels to Tyler Vaughns cuts the Notre Dame lead to 24-17.
Miles Boykin making maybe his most important catch of the night secures the onside kick with 46 seconds remaining. The Irish close out a perfect season (as predicted by my colleague George Bashura), with a 24-17 win over Troy.
Final Analysis: The Irish defense was the difference tonight. After a first half that saw the Trojans pile up 289 yards and 10 points. They were held to 154 yards in the second half. Many of which came on a desperation drive in the final minute. Were they perfect, yes for 12 straight weeks Notre Dame has been perfect. No amount of analysis by the talking heads or Notre Dame haters can refute that.
🏈🏈🏈 Tony Jones Jr. 51 yard TD reception
🏈🏈 Dexter Wiliams 16-97 yards 1 TD (52 yard run)
🏈 -Tie Jerry Tillery 1 Sack, Julian Okwara 1 Sack (critical juncture in the game)
The Defensive Line in the second half gets their own 🏈