Trojan fans are pointing fingers at Lane Kiffin. They do not like his play-calling at the goal line. Some folks are realizing that USC, for all of their talent, could not move Notre Dame at the point of attack on four running plays.
Whatever your reason for disappointment may be, the fact is the Fighting Irish deserve all the credit. They rose to the occasion, again, and put themselves in the BCS Championship Game. As they have done all season, the Irish got physical.
They balled up their fists and fought their way to a goal-line stop.
So, how did they do it? Let's check out the goal-line stand as the eight snaps, that started at the 2-yard line, resulted in no USC points.
First up, the false start. That happens. Should Marcus Martin have held his water? Absolutely, but it happens. Sometimes nerves just get the better of you and you fire off the ball, and it costs you five yards.
Line up and play first down from the 7.
Next play, three-yard gain. Good, not great. That run gets you back inside the 5, and now it is 2nd-and-goal from the 4. That's not bad shape.
That brings us to the back-to-back pass interference calls.
Bravo to KeiVarae Russell. Marqise Lee is one of, if not the nation's best wide receiver. He is a monster on the edge, capable of making the impossible catch look easy. Russell and the Fighting Irish were committed to making someone else beat them, especially after Lee's great catch put Notre Dame's back is against the wall.
Catches in traffic are what Lee does well, and Russell was committed to stopping the ball from getting to his hands. It worked out twice, and the ultimate result was another 1st-and-goal for the Trojans.
Two quarterback sneaks later, USC's offense still cannot get into the end zone. Tip your hat to Notre Dame; wag your finger at the Trojans. USC, for all of its talent, is not the team you want in the game when moving bodies at the point of attack is the goal.
So Notre Dame forces Kiffin to alter his strategy. Instead of taking the shortest route to the goal line—his quarterback going a few feet—Kiffin goes for the handoff to Curtis McNeal.
It's really a smart decision by Bob Diaco here as they go with their goal-line defense. Most teams mug their linebackers up to the line and leave a safety or two as the over-the-top defender. Notre Dame has its safeties at the line and allows Manti Te'o, their best defender, to be the scraping player side-to-side.
Matthias Farley makes the play for the Irish as he and Zeke Motta both crash down from the opposite ends. Louis Nix III helps Farley finish the job as the big kid gets penetration inside.
While Te'o doesn't make the play there, his ability to go sideline to sideline is what makes that play possible. Most interior 'backers are not going to be the primary bootleg and wide-play defenders in a Cover-0 goal-line set. Te'o and his ability allow for that safety pinching to spill, and that is what makes this play work.
The last play of the drive is all about the push by the Irish. USC had two players open—tight end Randall Telfer and fullback Soma Vainuku. Unfortunately, Notre Dame's goal-line strategy of bringing edge pressure overwhelmed the USC pass protection and forced Max Wittek to throw the ball early.
If he has time, Wittek likely hits the wide-open tight end heading toward the corner. At the very least, he'd make a better throw to his open fullback. Pressure forced a bad throw and quick decision.
Both benefited the Irish tremendously, sealing the deal on their big goal-line stand.
Talk about Lane Kiffin all you want; the fact is, Notre Dame did its job and the University of Southern California did not. USC did not move bodies at the point of attack, Notre Dame did. USC was not able to make the catch on the fade as it has done plenty of times before; Notre Dame stopped that.
USC could not hit the open receiver to put a touchdown on the board; Notre Dame's pressure made that impossible.