Unfortunately, this thing fell over from the jump for the USC Trojans. Caleb Williams came into this one a Heisman favorite with a TD-INT ratio of 22-1. At the half, the presumed first overall pick had tripled his season interception total. Despite the turnover frenzy in the first and being down 24-6 at the half, the Trojans worked back to cut the lead to 11 (31-20) with 9 minutes left in the 4th. After things began to look manageable in terms of a comeback; the post-Caleb-to-Rice score, 99-yard Jadarian Price house call on the ensuing kick-off sucked the life out of the Cardinal and Gold; and the Fighting Irish never looked back. Notre Dame got their revenge from last year at home and beat the now #18 USC Trojans 48-20. Let’s go through the takeaways from a tough loss.
Now the defense doesn’t get support?
The story of the USC Football program, dating back to last season, has been that the team is carried by its high-powered offense. Players and coaches alike have spent the past few weeks defending the Defense and even outwardly backing the team’s Defensive Coordinator, Alex Grinch, whose seat has been getting warmer as the season’s gone on. To have the back of Grinch, he called a pretty solid game, especially in the first half. Outside of Christ Tyree’s 46-yard score, the Trojan defense only gave up one other play that was 20+ yards. Despite having 20+ carries, the USC defense held one of the Nation’s top RBs, Audric Estime, to under 100 yards. I had asked for the team to pick it up on defensive 3rd-downs, and they settled in nicely in this one, allowing Notre Dame to convert only three of their ten 3rd-down attempts. Though they didn’t do what they do best: put tremendous pressure on the opposing QB, the USC Trojans delivered almost as best as you can ask for, considering the circumstances.
Where’s the complimentary football?
As mentioned above, we’ve been clamoring for the Defense to “pick-up the slack” and do their part to help the team win. Finally Grinch and Co. bring their best game (they forced 5 punts, which is wild in a game where an opponent scores 48 points), only for the USC Trojans offense to turn the ball over an unimaginable 5 times. Yes the two fumbles came in garbage time, but one resulted in a score, making an ugly game look much uglier. Mario Williams’ fumble resulted in 6-and-1 for the Fighting Irish. Caleb’s first interception put the Fighting Irish just outside the USC 10-yard line, and his second pick put them on the goal line; both picks resulted in touchdowns for their rival. Caleb’s 3rd interception Came four plays, and 40 seconds after his 2nd one, and like the first two, led to Notre Dame scoring touchdowns. Four of the Five turnovers led to touchdowns, and if you tack on the kick return AND the TO on downs inside their own 20, the Defense is genuinely on the hook for about 10 points. No one’s been impressed by the Fighting Irish offense this season, and they didn’t have to do too much to get the job done, but in a game where the Defense is holding them when given an opportunity, Lincoln Riley’s squad has to do what they typically; not the literal opposite. It’s not all over (we’ll get to what’s next in a second) but this was not the game for Caleb to force three first half interceptions. And I use the word force because that’s what happens in the rare times the QB-sensation turns the ball over; he forces his throws and tries to do too much. Hopefully, this game, and the last one, are just a blip on the radar, and the reigning Heisman winner can get back on track.
Can there be good news?
Yup, it’s not over, folks. The beauty of this being their only loss, is that Notre Dame is an out of conference match-up so there’s no affect on the PAC-12 standings. If USC wins out, and claims victory in the PAC-12 championship, a playoff bid is likely. Ohio State and Michigan must play one another, and both must play Penn State. FSU and UNC seem to be heading toward a collision course, and it looks like OU-Texas round II will decide on a spot. If USC can beat their remaining foes (the heart of the PAC-12), they can completely rebuild their resume. The best-case scenario (outside of them running the table) would be for both UNC and FSU to head into an ACC championship battle with one loss a piece. Notre Dame mainly plays the Atlantic Coast Conference, so their internal demise would help USC’s case. If there was going to be one-loss for the Trojans on the schedule, better here than later this fall in Eugene, Oregon, or against any of the extensive tests they have coming up at home.