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Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD
Notre Dame Football

Go Fourth: Irish close out USC with textbook drive

October 24, 2021

Suddenly, it was time to grab the Mylanta.

Or, perhaps, something stronger.

No. 13 Notre Dame, which had effectively controlled the opening 45-plus minutes of Saturday night's primetime intersectional rivalry against visiting University of Southern California, found itself in what had defined the season's first half: a tense, white-knuckle affair that seemed poised to break towards either team.

Then, something happened.

And, yes, the Fighting Irish already had closed out five of their first six games – almost each one of those wins secured in the game's twilight moments.

But on this night, with a Notre Dame Stadium crowd of 77,622 embracing autumn’s first real chill, the Irish might as well have been in charge of a healthy heart campaign.

Notre Dame sealed this triumph, one so particularly pleasing to its head coach and myriad alumni, with what might become a season-defining, close-out scoring march.

USC had scored its only two touchdowns of the game in back-to-back fashion, mere minutes apart in the fourth quarter, and the Irish's last drive had ended with a Jack Coan interception down the right sideline.

Though the Trojans missed their extra point, they trailed merely 24-16 and possessed momentum – or so it seemed.

The Irish possessed something else: the rugged resolve honed in this program through the 2017-2020 seasons and further burnished in this campaign's opening two months.

So, Notre Dame took possession at its own 25-yard line. They pushed rudderless USC, its coach already fired in the season's opening two weeks, all the way back west and closed out a 31-16 win.

"I think it was all the things that I mentioned earlier. Five guys playing together. The ability to run the football when you needed to, a quarterback that was going to still continue to push the ball into some tight windows. They were playing some man coverage. We made some big throws in some tight windows.

“It was all that coming together in those last, what I call response drives, two touchdowns that they made for USC. We had to come back and respond. We knew that this is a gritty team, right? They did that at Virginia Tech. But what we needed to see is how this thing was all coming together as one and tonight was a better indication of how that comes together as one."

It opened with a Kyren Williams run that tallied nine yards, and play No. 2 was a quick flare from Jack Coan to Avery Davis, who had scored the game's first touchdown, for a first down.

“It's that mindset, that identity as an offense that we always knew we had,” said Williams, who rushed for 138 yards and two touchdowns, plus added 42 receiving yards on six receptions. “Virginia Tech and USC, you could see it coming along. Guys are making blocks and pushing the line of scrimmage.”

Williams added another short run on the third play, and then Kevin Austin elicited a pass-interference penalty against the Trojans on the next snap.

It was another Williams run, this one for 11 yards, and another one for just two – but the Trojans complied with another devastating penalty, an unsportsmanlike conduct flag that moved the Irish down to the 15. USC was flagged nine times for 65 yards in the game.

Two more runs from Williams, for two and then 10 yards down inside the 5, made the game-punctuating touchdown a mere formality.

Freshman quarterback Tyler Buchner obliged one the next snap, when he easily parsed the USC defense for the rushing score.

Just like that, eight official plays, nine snaps with the pass interference, 75 yards and 3 minutes, 59 seconds later, the Irish could exhale.

Their defense then stymied USC's desperation final possession, and Isaiah Foskey's sack-fumble of Trojans signal-caller Kedon Slovis was recovered by TaRiq Bracy.

So thorough was Notre Dame's ability to close out this game that its final two snaps featured Buchner just taking a knee when it rested just yards from another touchdown.


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