After the special-teams unit allowed the huge 39-yard return, the defense broke. The defense played a goal-line type package and ate up yardage like a wood chipper. USC looked worn out about halfway through the fourth quarter, but absolutely stood strong to force the field goal after the Irish had gotten a First-and-Goal. USC only allowed three points in the final quarter.
Huge stops early in the third quarter skyrocketed USC's defensive grade. The defense has put the game in the hands of the offense by keeping Notre Dame from scoring. The offense responded with three-and-outs. Notre Dame's only score of the third quarter is yet another field goal.
Once again, the Irish scored on their drive. Notre Dame has scored every time its gotten the ball. This grade is this high because the Trojans have held them to just a field goal two out of three possessions. If USC gets into a shootout, all the defense needs to do is keep Notre Dame from finding the end zone.
USC forced Notre Dame to punt for the first time in the game with under two minutes left in the first half. If the Trojans can keep that aggression up through the second half, this game is on. Unfortunately, they followed it up by allowing the Irish to turn an interception into a field goal.
Notre Dame has amassed 277 total yards of offense and currently leads the Trojans 16-10.
The Trojans had trouble with Notre Dame's rushing attack on the first drive, including the quarterback scramble. However, holding the Irish to just a field goal was still a win for the USC defense. The offsides penalty that extended the second Irish drive had to be jitters, but USC is giving up lots of quick passes across the first-down marker.
The silver lining is the pass rush. The Trojans are getting pressure on the Irish quarterback, and that's crucial to the long-term outcome of this game. Also, USC needs to get off the field on third down.