Notre Dame vs. USC: 10 Things We Learned from the Irish's Win over the Trojans
The moment that millions have dreamed of but hardly any expected has finally come. A moment in which college football has witnessed the return to glory of one of the most decorated programs in the history of this nation.
With a 22-13 victory over the USC Trojans, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are headed to the 2013 BCS National Championship Game.
The final score indicates that this game was closer than some expected it to be. What the score cannot do, however, is break down what it is we learned from both teams during the rivalry game battle.
Fortunately, the following slides will.
10. Notre Dame Can Run
In case you didn't know, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish can run the football. Any who would like to debate that fact can speak with Theo Riddick, Cierre Wood and Everett Golson.
Even George Atkinson III would have a few things to say.
As a team, the Irish picked up 222 yards on the ground. They were led by Theo Riddick, who picked up 146 yards and the team's lone touchdown on 20 carries.
One week ago, Cierre Wood ran for 150 yards against Wake Forest.
The Irish will need their ground game to be this strong against either Alabama or Georgia. Their pass game is solid but inconsistent, which presents the need for Riddick and Wood to hit the gaps as well as they presently are.
Which is exactly what they did against USC.
9. Max Wittek Is the Future
Max Wittek had as difficult a debut as any player possibly could. Matched up against one of the top defenses in the nation, Wittek fell victim to a fierce pass rush and quality ball hawks down the field.
What was clear in his performance, however, was just how powerful an arm Wittek has and how poised he already is in the pocket. Even if coach Lane Kiffin failed to call the necessary plays on seven consecutive opportunities from the Notre Dame 1-yard line.
But let's look at the positives.
Wittek finished the game 14-of-23 for 186 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Even so, the freshman stepped up and completed a 53-yard pass to Marqise Lee that nearly brought the Trojans within two points.
Unfortunately, the Trojans stalled at the goal line. Nevertheless, Wittek displayed a level of pocket presence that few could have in their first career start.
Especially not when you're matched up against one of the nation's top defenses.
8. USC's Defense Can't Tackle
The USC Trojans have one of the most athletically gifted defenses in the nation. This comes by virtue of the likes of Nickell Robey and Josh Shaw on the corners, Dion Bailey up the gut and Morgan Breslin on the end.
Unfortunately, those athletes appear more inclined to lay a big hit than they are to make a fundamental tackle. Which is exactly why they lost this and five total games.
USC gained full position on the likes of Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood but were incapable of bringing them down. They'd go for a helmet first tackle instead of wrapping their opponent up, thus leading to 24 Notre Dame first downs, five of which came on third down.
7. Responsible Is Enough for Everett Golson... for Now
During the first quarter alone, Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson threw for 100 yards on 7-of-8 passing. This efficiency set ND up for a 27-yard field goal and a nine-yard touchdown run by Theo Riddick.
He proceeded to complete just eight of his next 18 passes for 117 yards. In other words, Golson had the type of disappearing act that could sink the Irish against either Alabama or Georgia.
The important part of Golson's game is that he took care of the ball. Whether running or throwing, he did not turn the ball over a single time and consistently put the Irish in position to win the game.
He's certain to need to play better against an SEC opponent in Alabama or Georgia. The question is, will Golson be able to play up to that level?
The first quarter suggests he will. The proceeding quarters do not.
6. USC Defense Smothers in the Red Zone
The USC defense is prone to allowing big plays and is one of the worst in the nation at preventing first downs. Once an opponent enters the red zone, however, the Trojans will clamp down and smother an opponent.
Such was evident against the Irish.
The Irish may not be the best at scoring in the red zone, but the Trojans filled gaps and covered opponents quite well. The likes of Leonard Williams and Morgan Breslin did an excellent job of working the corners, while George Uko clogged up the middle.
Dion Bailey made up for a missed interception by stepping up for some quality stuffs on quarterback Everett Golson's option runs.
5. Lane Kiffin + Primetime = Concern
For the second consecutive week, Lane Kiffin has led the USC Trojans into a high-profile game in which the rewards of a victory were limitless. Unfortunately, two consecutive rivalry games have bred two underwhelming losses.
While blame can be sent all around, there has to be concern over Kiffin's ability to call a primetime game.
Kiffin is a phenomenal football mind who, at 37, has endless potential as a head coach. The fact of the matter is, Kiffin's ineptitude with play-calling is a major hindrance to the Trojans' chances of maximizing their true potential.
Which has to create the expectation that he will not last as the head of the Trojan army beyond this season.
Kiffin had 11 plays within the Notre Dame 4-yard line during the fourth quarter alone. During that time, the Trojans managed to score just three points due to the poor play-calling from the goal line outward.
Max Wittek's inaccuracy could be cited for this, but there is something to say about Kiffin's over-dependency on the air attack.
4. Notre Dame's Defense Is Clutch
If you didn't believe it before, you better do so now. The Notre Dame defense is as clutch as any in the nation.
Seven consecutive goal-line stops display just that.
With the USC Trojans in prime position to come back and make this a ballgame, Manti Te'o stepped up and grabbed an interception on a pass over the middle. For those who feel it was limited to just that, the Irish stepped up all quarter long.
The Trojans ran 11 plays from inside of the 4-yard line during the fourth quarter alone. They walked away with three points during that time, which proves how dominant ND can be.
Specifically when it matters most.
3. USC Should Have Been Running
If we learned anything from USC's showdown with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, it's that the Trojans should have been running the ball all year long. Unfortunately, head coach Lane Kiffin relied too heavily on the pass and dropped the team to a 7-5 record entering bowl play.
If only he had believed in Curtis McNeal and Silas Redd sooner.
Redd ran for 77 yards on 12 carries, while McNeal picked up 38 yards on nine carries. Although the Trojans had been trailing, it's difficult to comprehend how the Trojans could abandon the run so severely when they'd picked up 115 yards on 12 carries.
Clearly, their run game was flourishing. That did not change at any point during the game, which is mainly due to the ND defense being able to predict the pass-first approach of the Trojans' offense.
Had they opted to run more, they may have more than seven wins. Specifically, the Trojans may have pulled out the upset.
2. Notre Dame Can't Score in the Red Zone
With all due respect to the USC Trojans' stout red-zone defense, there is just as much to say about Notre Dame's ineptitude. Don't believe that this game should be judged so harshly?
Stop yourself before it's too late.
Notre Dame ranks dead last in the nation in terms of touchdowns per red-zone possessions. Their one touchdown in six red-zone trips against USC does nothing but prove their overwhelming level of inability to convert.
Should the Irish play this way against either Alabama or Georgia, that could spell defeat.
The Irish have an elite defense and a pace-setting group of running backs. They're capable of moving the ball through the air, as well, which suggests that the Irish will have red-zone scoring opportunities against their potential opponents.
The question is, will they be able to convert often enough against an elite opponent such as Alabama or Georgia? If not, their magical season could come to an end.
1. Kyle Brindza Is a Weapon
If you are unfamiliar with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, you should know that they are one of the most powerful defensive units in the nation. They ranked tied for first in the nation entering the USC game and will smother any opponent they face.
For that reason, any points they score are potentially devastating to an opponent. Which is exactly why kicker Kyle Brindza is such a powerful weapon.
That and the fact that he hit five field goals, including a 52-yarder to end the first half. Even if he did miss one during the third, Brindza is the primary reason ND won this game.
He accounted for 16 of their 22 points. That's more points for Brindza than the entire USC team.
Continuing to perform poorly in the red zone is all on Notre Dame's offensive play-callers and playmakers. Which is exactly why they continue to rank last in the nation in terms of touchdowns per red-zone possession.
If Brindza can continue to kick this efficiently; however, the Irish could pull off a victory during the BCS National Championship Game.