If you blinked early Saturday night you might have thought you missed the game as USC jumped out to a 10-0 lead against Notre Dame, but boy did the rest of the night go not all that much as anticipated. However, USC simply made more plays than Notre Dame in a game that the Trojans were in control of throughout, despite a fine effort by the Irish to play spoiler.
The win brings USC within one victory of their first College Football Playoff appearance in program history while Notre Dame finishes the regular season at 8-4. For the first time since 2016, Notre Dame will finish a year with fewer than 10 wins (postseason included).
Here are your instant takeaways from Notre Dame’s regular season finale defeat to the rival Trojans.
Caleb Williams Show
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Caleb Williams was everything he was advertised to be and more as he was simply unstoppable in USC’s defeat of Notre Dame. I actually give Notre Dame’s defensive line a fair amount of credit on their ability to get to Williams. We expected that going in but their inability to bring him down wound up costly. Yes, he ran for three touchdowns but it was his scrambles and extensions of plays on non-touchdowns that did the largest amounts of damage.
Two weeks from tonight will see a handful of young men get their trip to New York but it will be Williams who walks away with the award. As good as he was, Notre Dame had a different issue on defense…
Austin Jones on Early Downs
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Notre Dame was supposed to be the ones that were able to run the ball when and how they wanted Saturday night, not USC. We discussed Williams and his incredible ability to extend plays and ultimately run for three touchdowns but the Irish struggled in a massive way on early downs against the USC rushing attack.
Austin Jones won’t get the headlines on Sunday morning but he had a massive night in establishing everything USC wanted to do. Because of Williams big night it will get ignored by the masses but his 24 carries for 154 yards was anything but quiet in determining this outcome.
Notre Dame bad on third down, too
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The final numbers show USC going 8-12 on third down but that’s somehow worse than what they did when the game was still in the balance. They started 8 of 10 with Notre Dame finally getting a stop to make the Trojans 8 of 11 on a third-and-28.
Losing the Turnover Battle
We spoke about it all week going in about how important the turnover battle was in this game. We didn’t expect Notre Dame to be able to win it but if they were to keep it even then the Irish would have a chance in this one.
Down 10 and driving early in the second half, an error by Pyne on a zone-read resulted in a costly fumble that forced Notre Dame to be playing even further from behind for the evening.
What happens if Notre Dame finishes that drive and gets within three? Stops were still far too scarce by the Irish as discussed above but turnovers did no favors.
Drew Pyne Balled
Say what you want about Drew Pyne. We’ll discuss his standing and future plenty in the days, weeks, and hell, months ahead. Let’s just set this straight in regards to Saturday night.
Drew Pyne balled.
He completed his first 15 pass attempts, at times making me wonder who was actually wearing that number 10 for Notre Dame, but he competed his butt off on the big stage. He finished 23-26 for 318 yards and three touchdowns.
Unfortunately the two turnovers were especially costly as USC’s offense needed anything but extra possessions. If you were expecting a Ford Taurus to go out and perform like a Ferrari then that’s a you problem. Yes, the upgrades at quarterback are obvious but that’s not Pyne’s problem as he did a magnificent job keeping Notre Dame within shouting distance on a night the running game was slow to get going.
Did you blink?
If so, I’m pretty sure Caleb Williams just escaped another would-be Notre Dame tackler.
Mayer goes out guns a blazing
On a night that USC used bracket coverage and tried their hardest to keep him from beating them, Michael Mayer still did Michael Mayer things. The record-setting Notre Dame tight end ended the night with eight receptions for 98 yards and a pair of touchdowns. I’m guessing we don’t see him play another down in a Notre Dame uniform as his draft potential is far too great to risk any injury in a Gator Bowl or Cheez-It Bowl, but hats of to one of the very best to ever do it in blue and gold.
And I say with certainty, the best to ever do it as a tight end at Tight End U.
More to come
These of course are just initial thoughts from the second the game went final. Plenty will be up throughout the night and morning here at Fighting Irish Wire.
In the meantime – here are a few links to postgame coverage here:
Also a hearty congrats to Matt Zemek at Trojans Wire. We may not love USC here but we certainly enjoyed working with him leading up to the game this week. He’s been through some dark days and if nobody else in ketchup and mustard colors deserves it, Matt certainly deserves to cover a likely CFP team and Heisman frontrunner.