Oh the sweet taste of victory!!
The Irish football program went into Week 7 of the 2023 season surrounded by noise and facing what most observers agreed was a must-win situation against an undefeated #10 USC squad. The team showed up in outstanding form with arguably the most energy we’ve seen in a few years and trounced Caleb Williams and the Trojans in a 48-20 win. Given how the last few weeks went, I don’t think any of us could’ve written a better script for how the game played out under the lights (and with some literal fireworks) on Saturday night.
So let’s jump right in.
With this year’s win, the Irish bring the USC series record to 51-38 (54%). Notre Dame has outscored the Trojans 1,965 - 1,813, with an average point difference of 1.6. The overall impact on the series was small from a number’s perspective. But combine that with the season’s circumstances and the way the game was played, and I’ll go out on a limb and say that this one will be talked about a lot in the years to come.
Notre Dame is 6-2 through Week 7. After a grueling eight game stretch to begin the season, the Irish have finally reached their bye week oasis. They’re back on the winning side of things and going into the regular season’s final four games with a much more legit path to winning out.
I’ll just go ahead and get this out of the way now. The Notre Dame offense still has to figure some things out. When you look at the final score and the energy surrounding the program postgame, you’d imagine that the unit was in early season form but it’s not quite back there yet. I’m way too excited to critique but just wanted to acknowledge because it’s apparent as you dig deeper in the numbers. Very reminiscent to last season, the defense and special teams were stars in last night’s team win and there’s not much anyone should gripe about, offense struggles included.
The defense’s rocking of USC’s offense began almost immediately, and in their first drive Caleb Williams threw his second interception of the season. That turnover set up ND’s sophomore running back Gi’Bran Payne for a four-yard touchdown pass from Sam Hartman. The Trojans finished up the 1st quarter with only a field goal for all their efforts and headaches.
The 2nd quarter proved even more disastrous for USC. Notre Dame began the quarter with a 36-yard field goal from Shrader and the Trojans responded with a turnover on downs, two more interceptions and finally a field goal to close out the half. Amidst all of this, enabled by a rabid Irish defense with Xavier Watts playing a Braveheart role, ND racked up another field goal and two rushing touchdowns from Audric Estime. ND went into halftime up 24 – 6.
The third quarter was relatively quiet and both teams tallied a touchdown.
And then things got exciting again in the fourth, mostly at the expense of USC. Caleb Williams threw a touchdown pass early on but that would be the team’s last positive highlight of the game. In their remaining possessions they had a turnover on downs, a fumble returned for a touchdown (another crazy moment in a superhuman night for Xavier Watts) and fumble to close out the game. While USC was getting more and more comfortable on the struggle bus, Notre Dame’s Jadarian Price had a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and Shrader knocked through his second field goal for the night, this time a 23-yarder.
The defense and Xavier Watts had a performance that I think will be talked about for a long time. Not only did they shut down Lincoln Riley’s highly touted offense, deal major blows to Caleb Williams’ Heisman odds and potential Draft stock but they effectively silenced a lot of the critiques (the infamous 10-man storyline) that had been snowballing. The group also put the offense in excellent spots to succeed, even though they aren’t necessarily firing on all cylinders. It was a really incredible night and I hope that defensive unit gets all of the flowers they deserve.
Key Team Comparisons – Ball Movement
Ball movement stats are kind of useless to compare when you take into account how the Notre Dame defense dismantled USC’s offense. The only really relevant number is that the Irish offense still continued its struggles with 3rd down conversions. They only converted 30% on 10 attempts but to be honest, it didn’t really have an impact so it’s whatever.
Key Team Comparisons – Offense
USC bested Notre Dame in terms of total yards 302 – 251. It wasn’t the greatest night for either team’s passing attack and USC beat out ND 199 – 126. The Irish had the rushing advantage, tallying up 125 yards on the ground compared with 103 yards for USC.
Key Team Comparisons – Extra Stats
The Trojans came into the game averaging 0.6 turnovers per game in 2023. Notre Dame crushed that metric and turned Saturday night into a turnover nightmare scenario for them. USC walked away from the matchup with five total turnovers. Three came at the hands of Caleb Williams through the air and the other two were lost fumbles late in the fourth quarter. It was a flawless night for the Irish from a turnover perspective and complete stat line flip from last week.
Penalties were again an annoying thorn in Notre Dame’s side. Because so much else was going right they weren’t as crippling as they were in the last few games but still something to be called out. A lot of this week’s penalties were understandable and came as the result of the secondary playing some pretty aggressive man coverage to keep the struggling but still very talented Trojan offense in check. Probably the biggest standout was the penalty that actually never actually materialized. The potential defensive offsides penalty and Marcus Freeman preemptive timeout that allowed the USC field goal to close out the first half will undoubtedly be griped about on the message boards in and in the Twitterverse for a bit.
Both quarterbacks have played better football but Caleb Williams had the objectively worse performance. Sam Hartman bested him in terms of completion percentage, touchdowns thrown as well as interceptions thrown even though Williams tallied up 73 more yards through the air.
Running back turned wide receiver Chris Tyree was the standout for the Irish’s receiver corps against USC. Tyree tallied up 62 total yards and Rico Flores Jr. played a supporting role with 24 yards. Tyree also accounted for one of Hartman’s passing touchdowns and running back Gi’Bran Payne pulled in the second. A somewhat quiet night for the receivers but they plugged in where and when they needed to.
Audric Estime returned to form in Week 7. USC’s defensive front wasn’t as much of a doormat as most expected but Estime still tallied up two touchdowns and 95 rushing yards on 22 carries. Freshman wide receiver Jordan Faison and Sam Hartman played the biggest supporting roles with 16 and 12 yards, respectively.
I’m still basking in the big win and enjoying all of the post-game content (major shout outs to the university’s media team). This game was the injection of positive momentum that the program and fan base needed and fortunately we get to go and enjoy it during the bye week that seemed like it would never show up. Going into the game I was optimistic that the Irish could win out and now I think a lot more of us, most importantly the staff and players, are in that camp.
So let the good times roll and I’m looking forward to checking back in with you all when the action kicks back up again for the Pitt game.
Cheers and Go Irish!!