Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 26, 2019*

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 22 of 55 OCT. 26, 2019 23 USC RUNNING GAME VS. NOTRE DAME RUN DEFENSE The running back trio of Markese Stepp (10 carries for 82 yards and one touchdown), Vavae Malepeai (nine carries for 46 yards) and Ste- phen Carr (nine carries for 47 yards) was effective while combining for 172 yards on 27 carries for 6.4 yards per try, but the 235-pound Stepp's power and yards after contact were particularly outstand- ing. Their production forced the Irish defense to honor the run and provided better opportunities for the "Air Raid" attack. It showed by USC running the ball 35 times while also passing 35 times. Perhaps facilitating USC's running success was Notre Dame playing primarily a three-man front with six defenders on the back — includ- ing freshman safety Kyle Hamilton in center field. Overall the Irish, other than a 38-yard touchdown pass and a 25-yard run, kept the "explosives" in check with the scheme. ADVANTAGE: USC USC PASSING GAME VS. NOTRE DAME PASS DEFENSE Similar to defending the triple-option attack, it's extremely difficult for a defense to shut down all three of USC's stellar receivers — but if it can hold in check two of the three, it gives itself a strong chance to come out on top. The first goal was to limit leading receiver Mi- chael Pittman, and sophomore cornerback TaRiq Bracy had a major hand in that while helping hold him to four receptions for a meager 29 yards. Tyler Vaughns, covered mostly by senior Troy Pride Jr., did not catch a pass through the first three quarters before nabbing four for 47 yards and a score in the fourth. Thus, the go-to figure became slot receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown (eight catches for 112 yards and one score), but he had to earn every catch and yard, highlighted by his one-handed 38-yard touchdown grab to cut the deficit to 20-13 in the third quarter. Quite often, freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis had to "settle" for tight end Erik Krommenhoek (five catches for only 37 yards) on his progressions. Because USC's ground attack was productive, the relatively composed Slovis found a better rhythm in the second half. After completing 10 of 17 throws for only 74 yards in the first half, Slovis was an exceptional 14 of 18 for 181 yards and two scores in the second with some quality pocket protection as well, although Notre Dame did finish with four sacks and seven pressures. ADVANTAGE: Even NOTRE DAME RUNNING GAME VS. USC RUN DEFENSE This facet along with junior kicker Jonathan Doerer was the contest's top story (see "Stat of The Game" on page 24). Because USC's emphasis was to primarily aid the coverage and play two-deep zone, there were more openings for running lanes and senior Tony Jones Jr. maximized his opportunities with a career-best 176 yards on 25 carries. Meanwhile, offensive coordinator Chip Long stayed patient while eventu- ally getting "chunk plays" too, first on a 43-yard Jones run to set up the first touchdown, and then with creative misdirection to speedy sophomore wideout Braden Lenzy at the ideal time for a 51-yard touchdown that made it 14-3. Because of pressure from the flanks, senior quarterback Ian Book (49 rush- ing yards) was also productive on a few designed draws — highlighted by the eight-yard touchdown to make it 30-20 — while also extending plays with his scrambling skills. ADVANTAGE: Notre Dame NOTRE DAME PASSING GAME VS. USC PASS DEFENSE It wasn't the sharpest day for the Irish with Book while finishing 17-of-32 passing for only 165 yards, resulting in just 9.7 yards per completion and only 5.2 yards per attempt. However, he was outstanding on several third-down conversions that helped prove to be the difference, and it's reflected in that category. The screen game to the receivers was mostly ineffective, but junior tight end Cole Kmet (six catches for 61 yards and one touchdown) remains the ultimate security blanket for Book. ADVANTAGE: USC SPECIAL TEAMS Notre Dame held USC's return game in check overall, but Doerer's perfor- mance by converting his three field goals from 43, 52 and 45 yards proved to be a significant difference — earning him the game ball — although the Trojans converted both of their field-goal attempts as well. The Irish recovering USC's onside kick in the closing minute also merits points. ADVANTAGE: Notre Dame THIRD-DOWN CONVERSIONS Notre Dame was 9 of 17 (52.9 percent) to USC's 5 of 12 (41.7 percent), but especially crucial was the clutch gene with Book on the final touchdown drive in which he completed a nine-yard toss to Kmet on third-and-seven from his 28 and scrambled out of trouble on third-and-10 for a 17-yard gain. On the first touchdown drive, Book completed a nine-yard pass to Claypool on third-and-seven from his 6-yard line. That was a momentum-changing play. ADVANTAGE: Notre Dame TURNOVERS Both teams put the ball on the ground once that they recovered, so neither team had a turnover. In some ways this could be considered a victory for USC because it came into the game 123rd in turnover margin while Notre Dame was No. 2. But just one Notre Dame turnover at an inopportune time could have cost it the game, and to its credit it did not have any. ADVANTAGE: Even ANALYSIS USC was winning the field position battle, but back-to-back 97- and 80-yard touchdown drives by Notre Dame in the second quarter put it in control the rest of the game while leading by as much as 20-3 in the third quarter. The Trojans found their balance and spirit with three second-half touchdowns, but the deficit proved too much to make up. Even though it wasn't Book's best game statistically, the 75-yard touchdown march in the fourth quarter that milked 6:54 off the clock and made it 30-20 was executed superbly and patiently. ON PAPER REVISITED BY LOU SOMOGYI Junior tight end Cole Kmet demonstrated his reliability with six catches for 61 yards and one touchdown against the Trojans. PHOTO BY ANDRIS VISOCKIS

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