Brian Kelly and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish were helpless on Saturday night against both the offense and defense of arch-rival, USC. From start to finish, the Irish looked like an inferior team.
There were a few moments which crushed any momentum that Notre Dame was beginning to build, and a few others that shut the door on the possibility of a comeback.
After breaking up a pass to USC running back Marc Tyler on a third down, junior linebacker Carlo Calabrese received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for taunting which led to a field goal and 17-0 first half advantage for the Trojans.
Furthermore, the fumbled snap in the third quarter by backup quarterback Dayne Crist on the Trojans' 1-yard-line was at the very least a 10-point swing. USC safety Jawanza Starling would pick up the mishandled snap and return in 80 yards for a touchdown that putting USC ahead 24-10.
Then, after USC missed a fourth quarter field goal that would have increased the lead to 10, Cierre Wood let a pass in the backfield slip through his hands on the subsequent drive; the blunder being ruled a fumbled lateral which was recovered by the Trojans' Chris Galippo.
USC, in great field position, then scored after three plays on a 14-yard pass from Matt Barkley to Robert Woods that made the score 31-17.
The following drive, Irish starter Tommy Rees threw an interception on 3rd-and-1 with just under seven minutes on the clock.
The mistakes and turnovers really hurt the Irish, but if fans are honest about the game, USC dominated from start to finish and the Irish didn't deserve to win.
So, does this game have any greater meaning for the Irish? I would say no.
It might have a negative impact on recruiting considering the numerous prospects that were at the game, but the only thing Irish fans should take from the game is that the team needs to get better—a lot better.
Notre Dame fans are thoroughly familiar with crushing defeats at the hands of the Trojans, but this was the first game in quite a while that the Irish were heavy favorites; making the game all the more disappointing.
An average USC offensive line dominated the front seven of the Irish. USC's two running backs, Tyler and Curtis McNeal, combined for 185 yards on 37 carries and the Trojans' offense held the ball for an eye-popping 39:41.
While Notre Dame's defensive backs didn't play horribly, Barkley picked his spots and threw for 224 yards and three touchdowns. Two touchdowns and 119 yards of which went to the dynamic receiver Robert Woods.
The USC defense did its part as well holding the Irish to just 267 total yards.
With that said, there weren't many positives to come out of the game. If one is an optimist, they can say that at least the team knows how much they need to improve.
And while Brian Kelly shouldn't give up on the season, he should give the younger talent on the team more playing time.
With a BCS appearance out of the picture as the Irish now sit at 4-3, coach Kelly should put the underclassmen in pressure situations because many of them will be playing important roles for the Irish next season. And that goes for a large number of them, everyone from Andrew Hendrix to Ishaq Williams and Lo Wood.
This game won't devastate the Irish morale, nor should it, and the team will come out swinging versus Navy next Saturday. However, if Notre Dame wants to return to glory on the field, next season starts right now.