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Irish Shake off SC's Best Shot, Win 41-31

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It wasn't particularly pretty, but some big plays and big performances kept ND in the playoff hunt.

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that was interesting.

In a game that can only be described as hectic, Notre Dame had a few more big plays in them than rival USC, and that enabled the Irish to come away with a 41-31 victory Saturday night.

After all the talk of how USC would come out after Steve Sarkisian's ouster and all the drama that came with it, the Trojans did not surprise me one bit by coming out playing, at worst, their second-best football game of the year.

Let's take a look at some of the biggest moments of the game:

Will Fuller at it again




It was great to see ND strike quickly to open up their offensive game, especially after USC had scored easily on their own first drive. (This was the first time ND has scored on their first drive with DeShone Kizer at quarterback). Fuller burning Adoree Jackson, one of the very best players in college football, was a mark of just how talented he is, and the Irish are. It was Jackson who would later score on a jailbreak screen that looked suspiciously like plays ND runs to Fuller seemingly every other week. He is a dynamite player.

Blocked punt TD!

The YouTube vid of this has embedding disabled, but you can check out the blocked-punt TD here. At the time, ND went up 21-10 with the block and it looked like the rout was about to be on. It wasn't so much that ND blocked a punt for a score - they had done neither of those things since, of course, Robert Blanton against Utah - but how overwhelming the Irish special teams unit was on the play. A whopping FOUR players could've blocked the punt, with Equanimeous St. Brown recording the block for his biggest play yet in blue and gold. Amir Carlisle was the guy who picked up the ball and scored, with a convoy leading him into the end zone. I can only assume this was a massive USC special teams breakdown, because I haven't seen a more dominating effort on a punt block in a while.

90-yard drives

After the ND defense basically went into the tank for much of the 2nd and 3rd quarters, giving up not one but two huge plays on trick plays (I saw the reverse pass coming from 10 miles away when Cody Kessler pitched the ball and have no idea how the Irish were so unprepared for it), the pitchforks and torches were about to come out for Brian VanGorder. Win or lose, the guy has some explanations to make for how his team let up so many huge plays, even allowing for USC's terrific talent level.

But, ND responded offensively in a huge way late in the game, going on back-to-back 90-yard drives. The first was largely spearheaded by DeShone Kizer and Will Fuller, who picked up back-to-back pass interference flags, leading to a C.J. Prosise touchdown.



The second 90-yard drive was sparked (after another couple of huge gains by Prosise) by the Irish giving SC a taste of their own medicine, running their own halfback pass. Torii Hunter found Aliz'e Jones for a big gain, and then Corey Robinson made a show-stopping catch in the end zone to put the Irish ahead 38-31. Nice to see Robinson, who's had a rough season, make a big play to help his team win.



By the way, Prosise was, for lack of a better description, effing outstanding. 19 carries, 143 yards, for 7.5 per carry. If anyone on the Irish has earned the bye-week breather, it's Prosise. You almost wonder if he needs it, though: The way his eyes darted around whenever he was on the field, he looked like a cat eagerly anticipating another round of his human waving around a shoestring in front of him.

KeiVarae Russell

We've been waiting for KeiVarae Russell to have a huge game. In the second half tonight, he had one. He made a dynamic play to pick off Kessler on a deep ball intended for JuJu Smith-Schuster. He also had 10 tackles to rank second on the team. SC made some big plays, but Russell did his job in spades.

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All in all, not the cleanest, not the greatest, and not the most impressive game for ND. But a win is a win. The Irish's job is simple right now: Get to Stanford with a 10-1 record. And with that simple objective in front of them, tonight's win goes in as one over a very talented foe that played a good game. It's a success.