Notre Dame Football: 10 Things We Learned in Irish's Win Against USC
It wasn't pretty and it was nerve-racking, but in the end, Notre Dame took down archrival USC 14-10 at Notre Dame Stadium Saturday evening.
The win moved the Irish to 5-2, while USC fell to 4-3 on the season in interim head coach Ed Orgeron's second game in that post. For historical perspective, the victory was the first home victory for Notre Dame against USC since 2001.
But that's not the only thing to be learned about Notre Dame's fifth victory of the 2013 season.
Here's everything we learned following the Irish's victory against USC.
Notre Dame's Rushing Defense Needs Work
Entering Saturday's game against USC, Notre Dame ranked 23rd nationally against the run, limiting opponents to an average of 122.3 yards per game on the ground.
But against the Trojans, the Irish front seven was gouged early, allowing 115 rushing yards in the first half alone. USC running back Silas Redd led all rushers with 112 yards on 19 carries, becoming the first back to eclipse the 100-yard mark against Notre Dame this season.
Redd's Trojans finished with 129 net rushing yards, a figure which would have been 145 had quarterback Cody Kessler not lost 16 yards on multiple sacks.
Cam McDaniel May Be Notre Dame's No. 1 Running Back
A season-long dilemma for head coach Brian Kelly's offense has been the lack of a No. 1 running back.
Through the first half of the season, George Atkinson III, Cam McDaniel, Amir Carlisle and Tarean Folston shared carries, with none of the bunch claiming the job.
But that may be changing, as Cam McDaniel has been Notre Dame's leading rusher in each of the Irish's last two contests. Against the Trojans, McDaniel ran for 92 yards on 18 carries.
What's aiding in McDaniel's cause to be the lead back is Atkinson's tendency to bounce runs outside rather than make the proper cuts between the tackles.
The Defense Came Up Big
If you're looking for the unit to lend credit to for the win, it's the Irish defense.
The unit didn't allow a score in the second half despite being given awful field position time and time again. Most importantly, it limited big-chunk plays, even with the presence of USC receiver Nelson Agholor in the mix.
And with the Irish offense failing to move the ball in the second half, the defense single-handedly won the game for the Irish. It was by far the most impressive defensive performance of the season.
Jaylon Smith Has Proven His 5-Star Billing
The crown jewel of Notre Dame's 2013 recruiting class, 5-star linebacker, per 247Sports, Jaylon Smith has at long last come into his own for the Irish defense.
The 6'3", 230-pound linebacker recorded four tackles (one for loss) and his first career interception against the Trojans.
Forced to become a starter due to former linebacker Danny Spond prematurely ending his college football career, Smith was attacked early and often by opposing offenses but has since become the threat fans expected the Fort Wayne, Ind., native to be.
Stephon Tuitt Has Finally Reappeared
Prior to the season, Stephon Tuitt was compared to South Carolina All-American defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
Those expectations were a bit burdensome, particularly with Tuitt recovering from offseason sports hernia surgery that caused him to miss a good portion of summer workouts.
But Tuitt finally reappeared Saturday evening after a disappointing start to the regular season, recording multiple sacks and making life difficult for the USC backfield.
Andrew Hendrix Isn't a Viable Backup Quarterback
When Tommy Rees left the game early in the second half with a neck injury, Andrew Hendrix was forced to enter the game, and that didn't turn out the way many fans hoped it would.
The backup quarterback proved he isn't even a viable option for the position, completing none of his four passing attempts while gaining five net yards on six carries.
The Cincinnati native looked uncomfortable and stiff for the duration of the second half, and his presence in the game slowed the Irish offense to a nearly unbearable halt. Concisely, Notre Dame won't win games with Hendrix at quarterback.
Notre Dame Needs Tommy Rees Whether You Like It or Not
While Tommy Rees has received heaps of criticism during his career at Notre Dame, one thing was made clear in his absence during the second half: The Irish need him, especially without Everett Golson in the lineup.
Rees, who is now 19-6 as a starter, understands the finer points of Kelly's offense at a higher level than any of the other quarterbacks on the roster.
He isn't the most athletic quarterback of all time, but he's the best option Notre Dame has.
Rees is strongly disliked by the fanbase—and rightfully so at times—but Saturday evening was a night in which fans should have appreciated his efforts. Just keep remembering that ugly second half next time there are calls for his head.
Defensive End Sheldon Day Has Returned to Form
After missing both the Michigan State and Oklahoma games with an ankle injury—Sheldon Day played one snap against Arizona State—the Indianapolis native looked fully healthy once again against USC.
The re-emergence of the 6'2", 290-pound defensive end couldn't have come at a better time either, as Stephon Tuitt seems to have returned to his original form as well. That means one thing for Notre Dame's defense, and that's the long-awaited presence of a ferocious pass rush.
With Tuitt, Day and nose guard Louis Nix each healthy, Notre Dame's defense will be exponentially improved.
Notre Dame Got Its 1st Home Win Against USC Since 2001
Prior to Saturday, it had been 12 years since Notre Dame beat USC in South Bend, Ind.
The Trojans experienced consistent success at Notre Dame Stadium from 2003-11, earning five consecutive victories at the "House that Rockne Built."
But that success evaporated Saturday, as the Irish took down USC 14-10.
For perspective and a deeper meaning of the win's significance, the last time Notre Dame beat USC at home, Bob Davie was the Irish's head coach. The year was 2001. This humble writer was nine years old at the time.
Yeah, let that sink in.
Notre Dame's BCS Hopes Are Still Alive
For Notre Dame to qualify for a BCS bowl game, it must win out.
That difficult journey got off to a great start Saturday, and USC was one of two questionable games remaining on the schedule, with the other being a trip to Stanford for the regular-season finale.
At 5-2, Notre Dame has very winnable games remaining against Air Force, Navy, Pittsburgh and BYU before heading to Palo Alto, Calif., to take on the Cardinal.
If the Irish are 9-2 one month from now, Saturday's victory against USC will be remembered as the most important of what would be a four-game winning streak.