Blue and Gold Illustrated

December 2022

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

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26 DECEMBER 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED 1. Couldn't Control The Clock Notre Dame saw Southern Cal execute its clock- control and run-first game plan better than its own offense did. The result was the Irish trailing for the first time since losing to Stanford Oct. 15 and an opening quarter that proved costly. Southern Cal led 10-0 after 15 minutes. From there, the Trojans outscored Notre Dame by only a point, and that was because of a failed two-point attempt by the Irish. Notre Dame ended the game with 106 yards rushing on 24 non-sack carries. The Trojans pos- sessed the ball for more than 35 minutes and ran for 204 yards. Southern Cal running back Austin Jones had 25 carries for 154 yards. Those were all numbers Notre Dame probably needed to hit collectively or from an individual if it wanted to outduel Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams. The first half felt like a redux of the first two quarters versus Ohio State for Notre Dame's of- fense, but without a 3-point halftime lead. The Irish quarterback went throw for throw with his Heisman contender counterpart. But an absent run game persisted during the first half. Against Southern Cal, Drew Pyne completed all 8 of his first-half passes for 106 yards and a touch- down. The Irish mustered only 3.07 yards per non- sack rush. The lack of a run game was strange to see against a Trojans defense ranked 103rd in that category. Sophomore running back Audric Estime had 3 carries for 5 yards in the first half. 2. Three Key Moments Sting Notre Dame didn't need to be perfect to beat Southern Cal, but it needed to be better than it was in a few pivotal spots. The three that felt most impactful were sopho- more tight end Mitchell Evans' stuffed fourth- and-1 sneak, Pyne's fumble on the opening drive of the second half and Williams' 19-yard scramble that evaded several tackles late in the third quar- ter. The snuffed-out sneak was in the first quarter on Notre Dame's second drive and came at the Trojans' 27-yard line, ending a prime opportu- nity to cut into a 10-0 lead. Pyne fumbled on a botched exchange when Notre Dame had reached the cusp of the red zone on its opening drive of the second half. The Irish were trailing 17-7 at the time. Southern Cal scored a touchdown on its ensuing possession, giving it a 24-7 edge that felt insurmountable with Williams on the other sideline. Williams' magic act was on a second-and-13 play from Notre Dame's 40-yard line with the Irish trailing 24-14. The Trojans scored on his 3-yard touchdown run three plays later. 3. Pyne's Strong Day Still Not Enough Notre Dame needed every bit of Pyne's overall strong performance just to stay within striking dis- tance. He delivered what might have been his best passing performance of the year. He completed his first 15 passes and didn't misfire until the fourth quarter. He was 23-of-26 passing for 318 yards with 3 touchdowns and an interception. Yet Williams still outshined him. His improvisa- tional ability needled Notre Dame's defense all game. He didn't give the ball away. He misfired only four times himself. He was the reason South- ern Cal's offense finished drives. His dual-threat skill set kept Notre Dame guessing all game. It felt like Southern Cal could live with Pyne beating its defense. Notre Dame couldn't say the same with Williams, who frequently made something from nothing. The task of slowing Williams down was even harder for Notre Dame without two of its top three cornerbacks. Senior Cam Hart missed the game due to a shoulder injury. Graduate student TaRiq Bracy was in uniform but did not play because of a hamstring issue. Southern Cal targeted freshman cornerback Jaden Mickey often in his first career start, especially on third downs. 4. Field Position Not In Notre Dame's Favor Notre Dame had at least a 13-yard advantage in average starting field position in each of its last five games, aided by 11 turnovers and 5 blocked punts in that span. That streak ended against the Trojans, whose average drive starting point was its 37-yard line. Notre Dame's was its own 21. Two Irish turnovers and none from Southern Cal were part of that. But so was a special teams performance that felt like a wash. Winning special teams is a crucial part of the Irish's formula for winning games. Notre Dame never even had a chance to send its punt block team on the field. Southern Cal punted twice, but both were Williams pooch kicks against its defense. The Irish's first three kick returns went just 15 yards. Jon Sot punted only once, but it was a 39-yarder from deep in Notre Dame terri- tory that gave Southern Cal the ball near midfield. Notre Dame also had 12 men on the field on an extra point and committed a holding penalty on a kick return. 5. Foskey And Mayer Shine If Saturday was the last game for senior defen- sive end Isaiah Foskey and junior tight end Michael Mayer before declaring for the NFL Draft, they went out with strong individual performances that kept Notre Dame in the game. Notre Dame needed its best players to meet the moment in a game against a Heisman contender. Foskey and Mayer delivered. Mayer had 8 catches for 98 yards and 2 touch- downs. He ranks third all-time in program history with 180 receptions, reaching that mark in 36 games. He has 2,099 yards and 18 touchdowns. All three of those are the most by a Notre Dame tight end. Foskey reached the 11-sack mark for the second straight season. He has 26.5 career sacks, the most in Notre Dame history since sacks became an offi- cial stat. He had 1.5 sacks versus Southern Cal and frequently generated pressure on Williams. FIVE THOUGHTS BY PATRICK ENGEL Senior defensive end Isaiah Foskey reached the 11-sack mark for the second straight season. PHOTO BY MEG OLIPHANT

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