And just like that, there went 12 games. Before delving into this game I just want to say it’s been a hell of a ride. While not always the result we were looking for, we were not left without excitement. Any week I can watch Irish football I am grateful for, and this season was extra special as I got to share it with you all. Thank you, to all of the readers who’ve been with us or have joined along the way this season. This was a very unique year for Notre Dame as a program. And while some of us may be disappointed, I think there is a reason for a lot of optimism going forward. With that being said I also want to thank the players whose last time playing in an Irish uniform was last night. You all are the groundwork for what the program goes on to be. You all survived Kelly trying to gut the program and will be a huge part of why Notre Dame (in my opinion) will ultimately reach its final goal. This program’s future looks bright and it all started here this season.
Now that I got that out of the way, we still do have a bowl game to play. Also, there are plenty of seasons in the MF era to come, so what did last night mean going forward? By the time the game was 24-7, I was pretty sure that my prediction of 34-28 Irish was way off. I was down about it too (almost more down than Stanford, and Marshall) because this was not a prediction I had made in homer fashion. Coming into this game I truly thought Notre Dame was the superior team. I thought they were easily the best defense USC had faced all year, and I thought that Notre Dame’s offense would be able to put a good amount of points up against this defense. So looking at 24-7, I knew my and a lot of the similar predictions had been way off. But were they? I see all the headlines “USC dominates ND”, and “USC cruises past ND”, but did they? No, we were not that far off and no I do not think USC dominated this game as much as ESPN made it sound and look.
I’ll start with the defense. Before I say any of this, Caleb Williams IS very talented. I will take nothing away from what he is as a player. The reason Notre Dame was gashed on the ground was because of the threat he poses. We had to be mindful of him more so than almost any other QB this year and that opened up big lanes for Austin Jones out of the backfield. I think he is an extremely talented player. So when an officiating crew decides that holding is no longer a penalty in the sport of American Football it’s no wonder the kid has 5-6 “Heisman moments”. I hate being this guy, I truly do. I have kept myself from complaining about officiating all season. I think it makes for terrible discussion after a game and there is little to be learned/gained from beating that dead horse, but good lord that was atrocious. Remember Johnny Manziel’s play against Alabama? Of course, you do, I don’t even have to say the year or which play exactly but you remember. ESPN (Kirk and Chris) would have you believe that Caleb Williams had 4+ plays like that last night. Which he did, until you look and on every single one of those scrambles there was not just one, but multiple egregious holding calls. It would be one thing to not have it called, but to have commentators blatantly ignoring all of them to try and manufacture hype around an award that has a dying interest is just infuriating. Already down 2 starters in the secondary, and Williams is already talented enough. You saw what happened on the one drive they decided to call anything, they ended up in a 3rd and 25+. Imagine if the refs had just thrown 1 or 2 more, let alone the 10+ blatantly obvious ones. Not saying the defense is completely devoid of blame, but similarly to the Stanford game, I will not accept that you cannot lay any blame on the officiating crew.
Coming into this game I thought that the defense would be able to hold its own against this offense. I was worried offensively just due to the lack of consistency with the unit as a whole this season. In the end, I thought our offense would be enough against a pretty bad USC defense. The one thing I said they would avoid that UCLA failed to avoid was turnovers. In the end, it is what led to the loss. First was the failed 4th and 1 that counts as a turnover. I said that I thought we should put trust in our defense and take the points early. Had they gotten it yes it would’ve been big, but my thought process with this offense is any points are good points. Then had Pyne had not fumbled opening the second half there’s a real possibility that Notre Dame flips momentum big time. Instead, it’s a 10-14 point swing in the other direction. Despite a chance later on to close it to one possession, I know all of us thought it was probably over at that point. Then obviously on that final drive, Pyne is trying to make something happen late and it’s picked off. Had they avoided just one or two of those turnovers this game is much different in the final minutes. Had we scored to make it 31-24 or 31-28 it could’ve gotten pretty wild. That is even with the struggles on the defensive side to contain Williams.
After this game, I felt down more so than I had even following even the Stanford loss. The turnovers, combined with awful officiating, and an awful broadcast had me down in the dumps. After sleeping it off and racking my brain I am not so upset. I think despite everything Notre Dame can close out 9-4 with a top 5 recruiting class set to be confirmed in the coming weeks/months. I think if we can solidify the QB position we have special things to come. Let’s try to enjoy bowl season as best we can, and look forward to how we build heading into year two with Marcus Freeman.