Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 30, 2017

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

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26 OCT. 30, 2017 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED DEFENSE DOMINATES Notre Dame's defense had performed well in the sea- son's first six games, showing dramatic improvement over its 2016 performance when it ranked 62nd in scoring defense and 72nd in rushing defense. USC, however, was expected to be the defense's toughest test of the season to date. The Trojans were led by redshirt sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold, Lindy's Sports top can- didate for the Heisman Trophy coming into the season. The Trojans were ranked 19th nationally in total offense (477.0 yards per game), 18th in third-down offense (46.8 percent success rate), 27th in yards per play (6.43) and 20th in passing offense (296.4 yards per contest). USC also came into the game averaging 180.6 yards per game on the ground. In its first six games, the Irish de- fense had faced only one offense ranked in the top 50 nationally in scoring offense and total offense. Notre Dame was more than up to the challenge, holding USC to 14 points, just 76 rushing yards, 336 yards of total offense and only 5.0 yards per play. USC's 14-point output was its lowest total since a 10-point effort in a loss to Stanford on Sept. 17, 2016. USC compiled most of its yards when the game was no longer in doubt. Notre Dame took a 28-0 lead into halftime, and at that point the Tro- jans had just 103 yards of total offense and minus-four rushing yards. Notre Dame forced three turnovers, raising its season total to 17, surpassing its numbers from both 2016 (14) and 2015 (14). The Irish defense also had five sacks, giving it 18 on the season after tallying just 14 all of last year. Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly credited defensive coordinator Mike Elko following the game. "The plan was in hiring Mike Elko is that he's got a great reputation in taking the football away," Kelly said following the victory. Notre Dame held USC to just 4 of 13 on third down (30.8 percent), which also played a major role in the ability of the defense to get off the field. That success started on Notre Dame's early down success. "We just got them into so many third-down situations where they had to be almost flawless," Kelly said. "They made some plays in third down to keep drives alive, but we were able to mix things up enough with some pressures and some drop-eights [into coverage] and some different looks." Notre Dame has made this turn- around with a roster that lost more players from its 2016 rotation than it added newcomers to it. The change isn't about the talent of the Notre Dame players, it's about their preparation. "For those that watched us last year compared to this year, we didn't trade for anybody," Kelly quipped. "There was nobody on the waiver wire. "These are guys that have devel- oped within the program that are getting pressure on the quarterback and it's making a big difference." During the week, the Notre Dame defensive coaches work to make sure the players can execute at a high level during games. "The fundamentals of foot- ball are where we've made our biggest adjustment," Kelly said. "Fundamentally, we're in better run support fits, and we're tackling and getting in a position to strip it. "And then we're getting pressure on the quarterback, flat out. We're getting pres- sure with a four-man rush." When the Irish defense can force turnovers, it has a significant impact on the of- fense, which has turned 14 of the team's 17 turnovers into scores this season. "When the defense takes away the ball, you just get so excited," junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush said following the game. "Coach [Chip] Long wants to be aggressive and call a play, usually a shot. "The offense has done a great job of turning around and putting points on the board after the defense does a great job." BRANDON WIMBUSH RETURNS Getting junior quarterback Bran- don Wimbush back in the lineup proved impactful for the Irish of- fense, which failed to score in the first quarter of a game for the first time all season against North Caro- lina, a game he missed with an injury. Wimbush completed just 9 of 19 passes, but his head coach was not concerned. "He put up 49 points," Brian Kelly said in defense of his quarter- back. "You can keep looking at his numbers all you want, but we self- scouted him last week, and his pro- duction numbers in terms of third down, legs, throwing it, converting in fourth-down situations, key deci- sions in our zone-read option game. "He's a really effective quarterback for us." Wimbush finished the game with 120 passing yards, 106 rushing yards USC GAME NOTES BY BRYAN DRISKELL The Irish defense limited a USC offense that was ranked among the top 20 nationally to 14 points, 76 rushing yards, 336 yards of total offense and only 5.0 yards per play. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA MISCELLANEOUS NOTES • Head coach Brian Kelly is now 5-3 against USC, including three straight victories at home. • After rushing for 377 yards against USC, the Irish offense has now surpassed the 300-yard mark on the ground in five of its seven games. • The blowout victory allowed Notre Dame to empty the benches. Senior walk-on wide receiver Grant Hammann and sophomore walk- on receivers Mick Assaf and Arion Shinaver got into the game for their first career action. Cali- fornia native Sam Bush — a senior walk-on — made his second career appearance in the win.

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