Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 30, 2017

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

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Page 22 of 55 OCT. 30, 2017 23 USC RUNNING GAME VS. NOTRE DAME RUN DEFENSE After finishing with minus-four rush- ing yards in the first half on 12 at- tempts — most notably star running back Ronald Jones' seven carries net- ting five yards — USC committed to the run at the start of the second half much like they did the week prior in the comeback win versus Utah after trailing 21-7 at halftime. Jones ran for 18 yards on the first play of the second half, but scram- bles by quarterbacks Sam Darnold and Matt Fink thereafter became the only means of moving the ball on the ground. Jones finished with 32 yards on 12 carries, and USC managed only 76 rushing yards for the game. ADVANTAGE: Notre Dame USC PASSING GAME VS. NOTRE DAME PASS DEFENSE The USC numbers don't look bad — 25-of-36 passing for 260 yards with two touchdowns and one interception — but all the most significant plays came from the Irish end with five sacks (one of which forced a fumble on the opening play), seven hurries and the interception by cornerback Nick Watkins that set up Notre Dame's fourth touchdown. Especially notable is four of the sacks came from defensive linemen. In 12 games last season, the defensive line recorded three sacks collectively. ADVANTAGE: Notre Dame NOTRE DAME RUNNING GAME VS. USC RUN DEFENSE Seven of Notre Dame's first 11 running plays picked up at least 10 yards, in- cluding 11- and 13-yard jet sweeps by sophomore wideout Kevin Stepherson. Sophomore Tony Jones Jr. (five carries for 37 yards) also showcased his physical- ity the best he has all season. For the fourth time this year, two Irish players eclipsed 100 rushing yards in the same game, with junior running back Josh Adams' 191 highlighted by an 84-yard scoring run, and junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush making mostly good reads on the zone option while finishing with 106. The offensive line was the feature story, opening massive gaps the entire night, and USC's containment on the edge was poor. The Irish rushed for 92 yards on 14 carries in the first quarter (6.6 yards per attempt), 98 yards on 16 attempts in the second quarter (6.1 yards per attempt) and 151 yards on eight carries in the third (18.9 yards per attempt). ADVANTAGE: Notre Dame NOTRE DAME PASSING GAME VS. USC PASS DEFENSE Unlike USC's data, the numbers for Wimbush don't look pretty — 9-of-19 pass- ing for 120 yards — but they were more effective. Both of his completions in the first quarter resulted in touchdowns from 26 and 23 yards. A 13-yard completion on third-and-10 set up another score in the third quarter. He also committed no turnovers. Notre Dame's quality trumped USC's quantity. ADVANTAGE: Notre Dame SPECIAL TEAMS This unit had an inauspicious start for Notre Dame when junior return man C.J. Sanders was dropped at the 10-yard line on the opening kickoff, and then the ensuing Irish punt was returned 16 yards to the Notre Dame 43-yard line. However, USC had a more devastating second quarter when it first missed a 27-yard field goal and then return man Jack Jones fumbled a punt at his 9-yard line that Notre Dame's Drue Tranquill recovered to set up a 21-0 lead. A 32-yard kick return by Sanders and three punt returns by junior Chris Finke for an 11.3- yard average with a long of 18 were like extra credit. ADVANTAGE: Notre Dame THIRD-DOWN CONVERSIONS Notre Dame finished 7 of 13 (53.9 percent) while USC was 4 of 13 (30.8 percent), but this area was decided in the second quarter. First, with the Irish leading 14-0, USC running back Ronald Jones on third-and-one from the Irish 3-yard line was thrown for a loss, resulting eventually in a missed USC field goal. Then, Notre Dame tallied touchdowns on third-and-goal from the 3-yard line (Adams) and then third-and-goal from the 4-yard line (Wimbush) to make it 28-0 at halftime, and also converted a third-and-four with a 20-yard pass. When USC finally had a flicker of hope after scoring to make it 28-7, the Irish answered with their own TD march that was highlighted by a 13-yard comple- tion to sophomore wide receiver Chase Claypool on third-and-10. The final Irish score came on third-and-seven when Adams scampered for 14 yards. ADVANTAGE: Notre Dame TURNOVERS Not only did the Irish win this 3-0, but all three USC errors set up 21 Notre Dame points in the first half on 51-, nine- and 59-yard drives. The Irish gener- ated a turnover on USC's first play from scrimmage at the Notre Dame 43 that instantly changed the game's tide. ADVANTAGE: Notre Dame ANALYSIS Notre Dame was the far more physical team, evidenced by the 377-76 rush- ing disparity. That tone was established in the first quarter when it outrushed USC 92-7 and sustained that dominance along the line of scrimmage the rest of the way. Both USC touchdowns in the third quarter were answered with Irish TD drives as well, demonstrating a strong mental resolve to complement their physicality. Offense, defense and special teams all worked in harmony for the Irish after a shaky start off the first possession, and it demonstrated that they are and should remain a bona fide top-10 team, and potentially a College Football Playoff contender. ON PAPER REVISITED BY LOU SOMOGYI The Fighting Irish offensive line dominated the contest versus the Trojans, helping Notre Dame to a decisive 377-76 advantage in rushing yards. PHOTO BY ANGELA DRISKELL

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