As the last of the fans were ushered off the field late after Notre Dame’s 30-27 win over the USC Trojans, I found myself staring at the jumbotron scoreboard and thinking about how this one almost got away.
Before you jump down to the comments to yell at me about being negative — this ain’t that post. In fact, I think the way Notre Dame eventually won this football game is a far more positive thing than many will give it credit for.
Notre Dame was an 11 point favorite, and the way the game lined up, it would have been weird to see it any other way. Throughout the week, there were all kinds of reasons to count out the Trojans, such as the cold weather, and true freshman quarterback, and Clay Helton’s job security, and the turnovers, and — and. The list piled up quickly. Once those things start piling up like that, it’s hard to see anything other than an “easy win.”
Obviously that wasn’t the case. In fact — it wasn’t NOT the case either.
Notre Dame struggled quite a bit in the first quarter to move the football with any kind of consistency. Three possessions saw three punts and a grand total of 63 yards. The Irish also picked up 3 penalties for 25 yards. Once USC grabbed an early 3-0 lead, it started to look more and more like this was going to be a fight.
Maybe Notre Dame started to get that feeling too, because the Irish turned a corner in the 2nd quarter. Notre Dame turned to their running game to settle things down, and it gave them the stability that they were looking for to change the tide of the game. Tony Jones Jr. rushed for 90 of his 176 yards on the day in the second quarter. It was his huge 43 yard run that helped set up the Ian Book to Cole Kmet touchdown that capped a 97 yard drive.
On Notre Dame’s next possession, they put USC off balance with a speed offering. On a play we’ve seen Notre Dame use a number of time, Braden Lenzy took what was basically an end-around toss 51 yards to the house. The following possession saw Notre Dame increase the lead once again with a 45 yard field goal from Jonathan Doerer.
At the half, the Irish were up 17-3, and everyone in the stadium was at ease. The Trojans weren’t at ease though, and showed the will to fight as a literal fight broke out at midfield. It was a sign that the cold weather had little to no effect on Southern Cal — and there was still two quarters left (even if the refs called them the UCLA Bruins when explaining that every player on both teams got a personal foul — all the lol’s).
The start of the second half gave Irish fans about 2.2 seconds of bliss as we watched Michael Young fly through a hole on the opening kickoff with nothing but green in front of him. The rivalry gods stepped in and Young knocked the ball loose from himself with his arm and fell on top of it on the turf. Instead of 24-3, which would have almost certainly took a lot of the fight SC had and launched it into the South Bend sky, Notre Dame was forced to kick a 52 yard field goal to keep it a “respectable” 20-3 game.
So the thing is... this game didn’t go away. Southern Cal kept chipping away, and once Tyler Vaughns caught his 5 yard TD, it became a 23-20 game with 10:27 left in the game.
That’s alarm bell ringing time.
Notre Dame and Ian Book rose to the occasion as soon as they got the ball back. They went 75 yards and chewed up almost 7 minutes of clock as Book ran it into the endzone for an 8 yard touchdown. EVEN THEN, USC scored with a little over a minute left in the game.
Look — you saw what happened, so I’ll stop recapping it once again. Here’s the thing though... shouldn’t we have expected this?
I know Notre Dame is the better football team, and had so much going for it as far as the win was concerned, but we’ve seen this before. Rivalry games take weird twists and turns, and unexpected things happen, and WINNING IS HARD(er) in these types of games.
Notre Dame VS USC is one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports, and those are generally the types of games where hearts get crushed and miracles happen. USC needed a miracle tonight and they almost got one. It’s just proof that these games should never be circled as a “win” as casually as many of do in like August.
Ask the oldtimers, and they’ll spin tale after tale of rivalry games gone weird. With the Michigan Wolverines up next in two weeks, there are lessons to be learned here by fans, and that’s to hold on tight... this stuff is still tricky.