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Notre Dame Football

Instant Reaction | USC 38 Notre Dame 27

November 27, 2022

Any time Notre Dame loses to USC, it’s a bitter pill to swallow for Irish fans. This one had that feeling early because Notre Dame put themselves in a hole that was going to be incredibly difficult to climb out of.

A three-and-out to start the game when not converting on 3rd and 2 put them down 10-0 and then they followed that up by turning the ball over on downs the next drive. This game wasn’t one where possessions could be wasted and the first two possessions were.

From that point on, it was going to be Notre Dame chasing it the rest of the night. They needed a break to go their way and didn’t get one.

Or they needed Caleb Williams to not be Patrick Mahomes 2.0 and he didn’t oblige. Notre Dame had consistent pressure on him and it didn’t matter because he escaped almost every impossible scenario he got into.

His ability to improvise proved to be too much for the defense to handle, but his decision-making with the zone read/RPO game was just as impressive.

I saw some people suggest that Notre Dame handed him the Heisman tonight. Nope. He went out and took it.

He’s a heck of a player that the Irish still have to face one more time before he leaves for the NFL.

- The success of the running game ultimately doomed the defense. USC came into the game first in the country in EPA per rush and they’re going to keep that top spot after today.

It was always going to be tough with Notre Dame trying to stop the run with even numbers all game long, but credit has to be given to USC because they won up front and without a game-wrecker at defensive tackle or linebacker, the Irish got gashed.

On six carries in the third quarter, Austin Jones ran for 71 yards.

The Notre Dame run defense hasn’t been great all season and they offered little resistance tonight.

- The story on defense is incomplete without mentioning that Cam Hart and TaRiq Bracy were unavailable. It matters in any game when two of your top three corners can’t play and when it’s against an offense like this, it’s a huge deal.

It was going to be a game where USC was going to make plays and the Irish were going to give up yards. What Notre Dame needed was to make enough plays to get some timely stops. If Hart and Bracy were there, maybe they make two or three that would have helped.

- I think if someone said Drew Pyne was going to throw for 318 yards, complete 88% of his passes, and the offense was going to average 7.8 yards per play, Notre Dame fans would take that in a heartbeat.

The offense also went 5 of 7 on 3rd down. The problem was that they were 0 for 2 to start and the whole idea of playing keep away from the USC offense was dead after that.

Pyne deserves a ton of credit for playing a good game. He hit his checkdowns in this game(!) and put up big numbers against a bad USC defense.

That fumble in the 3rd quarter when Notre Dame was on USC’s 30 was a killer, though. Instead of Notre Dame making it 17-14 or 17-10 at the very least, it swung to 24-7 for USC.

- Luck matters in these types of games.

Isaiah Foskey makes an outstanding hustle play and forces a fumble down the field, but USC recovers it.

Pyne doesn’t have a USC defender that close to him, but the ball comes out and ends up with USC. They didn’t even force it.

USC got lucky. Notre Dame didn’t. -

Were there some missed holding calls on USC? Yep.

Did Williams make several Notre Dame defenders miss who weren’t being held? Also yep.

I don’t think anyone should point to this as a major reason Notre Dame lost the game. What’s really crazy is that Notre Dame had an 18% Havoc rate and it could have been close to 30% without Williams’ Houdini act.

- Notre Dame had the edge on special teams. It didn’t matter when they only forced USC to punt twice and both of those were pooch punts by the quarterback. That’s really smart coaching by Lincoln Riley.

A punt block was one thing that could have potentially swung the momentum back for Notre Dame and they didn’t even give them a shot to do it.

- I don’t know if this late-season surge from Deion Colzie is going to be equal to what happened with Miles Boykin at Notre Dame, but even him gaining the confidence to make plays like he did against USC should be very beneficial to the offense next season.

- The outcome of this game is going to sting because of how Notre Dame shot themselves in the foot. It wasn’t that they played badly or prepared badly or that they gave up at any point in the game. It was that their mistakes burned them and they were playing a team where the quarterback has barely made any mistakes all season. So when those mistakes happened, they had to know it was going to cost them in the end.

The Irish fell to 8-4. This game shouldn’t diminish what they accomplished after a horrible start to the season. To have a chance at 9-4 with a backup quarterback playing pretty much the whole season is not nothing.

There were players who improved a lot this season and there’s going to be plenty of good talent returning in 2023. I believe the future is bright for the program, but I also think it’s obvious that they need more elite talent. They need it to develop from within the roster with the young players and they need it to arrive in this recruiting class and via the transfer portal.

What USC showed them today is that a quarterback can change everything. Even with all of the talent USC brought in with transfers, it would mean nothing if Caleb Williams didn’t follow Riley. He’s a unique talent and there was no other transfer in the country who could make as big of a difference as he’s made for the Trojans.

Players like Williams aren’t out there often. For every Russell Wilson or Justin Fields, there are dozens of others who don’t change the dynamic of a program after they transfer. When they become available, you have to pursue them.

USC has a defense that just made Pyne look like a player he hasn’t been all year and they are still probably going to make the College Football Playoff because their quarterback has elevated the team to a different level.

Notre Dame is going to continue to build up the talent around the quarterback. While that happens, they still are searching for that quarterback who can elevate everyone else on the team.

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