Any Notre Dame Fighting Irish football fan could tell you that Brian Kelly’s teams over the years have had a penchant for starting games slowly.
Sometimes it was by design, with Kelly leaning on experienced and talented teams to keep an even keel and wade through all the fleeting emotion and jitters on the way to competing consistently for the entire game (FSU 2014 is a great example of this - that ND team competed from beginning to end).
However, more often than any Irish fan would like, Kelly’s teams have come out flat in some of the biggest games they’ve played, and it ended up costing them despite finally getting things going later on in each contest. Clemson 2015 comes to mind as the most obvious, as does USC 2011, Arizona State 2014, and probably at least a few more.
Like those slow-starting Irish performances I just listed, playing at home against a rival like USC is not the time to wait until the last couple quarters to really get going.
Southern Cal is #11 in the country, it’s a night game, and the emotions will be running high for a bunch of 18-23-year-olds on Saturday (as well as for 80,000 fans who, although never really rabid these days, would love an excuse to get at least a little rowdy immediately following a full day of tailgating).
So, what do the Irish need to focus on doing? Absolutely blasting USC’s door off its hinges right out of the gate.
Nothing gets the crowd into it and momentum swinging to your side like a couple big plays early on, and the 2015 ND-USC game is proof of that.
The ND defense started slow by giving up an early touchdown, as was often the deal under Brian VanGorder. But then, that talented 2015 Irish offense decided they wanted to rip the game back away from the Trojans and start kicking ass.
Here was their very first play from scrimmage, and it was a Goddamn statement:
Major thing to note in that video: Will Fuller was being covered one-on-one by Adoree Jackson, an All-American candidate at corner who was known for being one of the fastest college football players in the country (he also ran track at USC).
Even more major thing to note in that video: Will Fuller absolutely torches Jackson, leaving him in the dust as he beats him deep and DeShone Kizer hits in him stride for the 75-yard touchdown.
What happened over the next quarter and a half was an Irish beatdown of USC, as the Trojans managed only a field goal to interrupt what would otherwise be a 24-0 Notre Dame run that included CJ Prosise eviscerating the Trojans defense and Amir Carlisle returning a Equanimeous St. Brown punt block for a touchdown.
Now, if you remember this game, you know the defense let USC back in it, showing just how fickle and important momentum is in a rivalry game. However, thinking about this year’s Notre Dame defense and their fantastic ability to keep teams out of the end zone, a fast start on offense would likely mean an Irish victory, potentially in a blowout.
Obviously, this year’s offense is different than 2015. It’s built to wear USC down on the ground, and not necessarily by taking the top off through big passing plays. But if ND can begin the game with a couple physical and demoralizing 10-15 play drives that end in touchdowns by Josh Adams, Brandon Wimbush, etc., then Notre Dame Stadium will be rockin’, the Trojans sideline will be worried, Sam Darnold will feel mounting pressure to put the team on his back, and the Irish can make plays from there, feeding off the noise and the opponents’ hurried and panicky response.
And hell, USC will be so concerned about stopping the run, maybe it makes sense for Brian Kelly to give Wimbush a chance at a play-action bomb during the first series, and give Equanimeous St. Brown — or maybe Kevin Stepherson, who I am ITCHING to see get a deep ball opportunity since he has seen so little action this season with his suspension — a chance to burn Jack Jones, Chris Hawkins, and the rest of the USC secondary and work the fans into a frenzy.
The defense can feed off that, and ND could very possibly dominate from there.
This doesn’t have to be close, and that applies not only to the entire game, but also to the first quarter.
Let’s go get it. Beat SC.