Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 30, 2017

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

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30 OCT. 30, 2017 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED What Worked Up The Middle Push Is Impactful: Numbers can often be misleading, and that is certainly true when look- ing at the production of the interior of the Notre Dame defensive line. The Irish interior players — which in- cluded senior end Andrew Trumbetti on third downs — combined for just nine tackles, one tackle for loss, three quarterback hurries and zero sacks. Make no mistake, they made a huge impact in this game. USC red- shirt sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold, a preseason favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, never got com- fortable in the pocket because of those players. Darnold was constantly be- ing flushed out of the pocket and was rarely allowed to step into it thanks to the pressure coming in his face. Notre Dame held USC to merely 76 rushing yards on 31 carries, and again the interior defenders played a huge role. Junior linebacker Te'von Coney led the team with 11 tackles, but a big reason for that was the USC linemen were rarely able to get to him because of the aggressive play of the front. USC loves to stretch the perimeter of the defense with the run game, but the inside defenders constantly pushed back the Trojan blockers and eliminated the cutback run lanes that USC likes to utilize. Watkins Baits Darnold Into Big Play: One of the biggest defensive plays of the game was the second- quarter interception made by Notre Dame senior cornerback Nick Watkins. The Irish had jumped out to a 21-0 lead, but USC had crossed midfield late in the second quarter and was trying to reach the end zone be- fore the break. If the Trojans scored it would have been 21-7, and they would have received the ball to start the third quarter. USC ended up scor- ing on that drive, which might have made it a 21-14 game. Instead, the Irish blew the game open, and it started with the Watkins interception. Notre Dame was playing a Cover 2 defense, which means the two safe- ties had to play a deep half of the field, while the cornerbacks and line- backers play underneath zones. USC had a pass play that just about every team in the country likes to run against Cover 2. The inside receiver was running a deep corner route against the safety, but Watkins had his eyes on Darnold and baited the USC quarterback, making him think he was going to cover the short route. Darnold kept his eyes downfield and as soon as he released the ball Watkins took off deep, undercut the corner route and made the interception. Notre Dame's offense responded with a 59-yard touchdown drive to make it 28-0. Wimbush Keeps USC Off-Bal- ance: USC made a concerted early effort on defense to stop the Notre Dame rushing attack. To soften up the defense, junior quarterback Bran- don Wimbush needed to make plays downfield, and that's just what he did. After going three-and-out on the first series, Wimbush found junior wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown over the top for a 26-yard touchdown on a post route against man coverage. There was no safety help on the route due to USC asking the back end players to come down to stop the run. On Notre Dame's next series, Wim- bush connected with sophomore wide receiver Kevin Stepherson on a back-shoulder fade route for a 23- yard touchdown to make it a 14-0 game. When USC dropped into coverage, Wimbush was able to tuck the ball and get upfield for big plays. On a first-and-20 play in the third quarter, Wimbush had no one open downfield so he took off, running for 23 yards to set up a touchdown and push the Irish lead to 35-7. Wimbush made similar plays all game, finishing with 106 rushing yards — the third time he's surpassed 100 yards on the ground this season. It seemed that whatever USC tried to take away, Wimbush and the rest of the Irish offense made it pay with the other part of its game. What Didn't Work Crucial Drops: When you blow out your archrival 49-14, there really isn't much that didn't go right. Offensively, the Irish did have two drops. On Notre Dame's opening series, Wimbush hit junior running back Josh Adams in the hands on a screen pass that if caught could have been a huge gain on third-and-11. Late in the second quarter, Wim- bush hit Alizé Mack in the hands on a downfield wheel route, but the junior tight end couldn't haul it in. ✦ USC Game: What Worked And What Didn't Work CLOSER LOOK BRYAN DRISKELL Bryan Driskell has been a football analyst for Blue & Gold Illustrated since April 2015. He can be reached at Senior cornerback Nick Watkins perfectly played a USC deep route for a crucial second-quarter interception. PHOTO BY ANGELA DRISKELL

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