The independent voice of Notre Dame Athletics

  • Irish Stonewall Troy

    by John Vannie

    Stephon Tuitt and Jaylon Smith sparked a heroic defensive effort as Notre Dame defeated the Trojans by 14-10 on Saturday night. The Irish scored with just over a minute left in the first half to take the lead, but needed a second half shutout by the defense to survive an injury to quarterback Tommy Rees early in the third quarter that effectively handcuffed the offense.

    Both teams moved the ball well at the outset, although USC stoned Cam McDaniel on fourth and goal from the one yard line to end the game’s opening drive. The Trojans then marched the length of the field for a touchdown using a balanced attack that featured runs by Silas Redd and passes from Cody Kessler to Nelson Agholor.

    The Irish pulled even at 7-7 on the last play of the first quarter as Rees hit Troy Niklas on a short third down pass for the score. The offenses continued to dominate in the second period, but both teams failed to convert key scoring opportunities. USC kicker Andre Heidari pushed a 40-yard field goal attempt and wide receiver Marquis Lee dropped a sure touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone. Notre Dame also had a promising drive end on a sack and intentional grounding penalty.

    The Trojans finally broke through with a short field goal after Louis Nix stopped Javorius Allen on a third down run inside the Irish five yard line. As the half drew to a close with Notre Dame trailing 10-7 and 91 yards from the end zone, Cam McDaniel sandwiched bursts of 24 and 36 yards around a couple of passes by Rees to move downfield. Rees hit T.J. Jones on an 11-yard scoring toss to provide what proved to be the winning points.

    Jaylon Smith provided good field position for Rees and company on the first series of the third quarter when he stepped in front of a Kessler pass for a textbook interception near midfield. The Irish were not able to capitalize, and Rees went down on a crushing hit a few minutes later when it appeared Notre Dame was in position to take control of the game.

    Backup Andrew Hendrix was not effective throwing the ball and USC’s defense immediately and correctly determined they could sell out against the run. The Irish managed only one first down after Rees went out and were forced to punt time after time as the game moved into the fourth quarter. Agholor’s long punt returns against the stunningly inept Notre Dame special teams tilted the field position advantage back to the Trojans.

    The Irish defense continued to turn away each attempt by USC to score, and Heidari misfired again from long range. Tuitt was the dominant force for Notre Dame, chasing or sacking Kessler and drawing multiple holding penalties as the Trojans simply could not block him.

    Kessler put together a last-ditch drive with 1:35 remaining, but great plays by linebacker Joe Schmidt and cornerback KeiVarae Russell on the last two Trojan pass attempts sealed the win.

    While Notre Dame’s second half offensive woes resulted from the loss of Rees, credit for the win goes to the defense for a perfect second half after a fairly mediocre first 30 minutes. USC had 115 rushing yards at intermission, but only 129 for the game. Poor punt coverage almost cost the Irish the victory, while the missed field goals hurt the Trojans and motivated interim Coach Ed Orgeron to take chances on fourth down late in the game rather than send Heidari onto the field.

    Let’s look at the pregame questions for additional analysis:

    Will missed tackles continue to haunt the Notre Dame defense? There was a lot of grabbing and arm tackling in the first half, but the Irish tightened up in the second half and were more physical.

    Which quarterback will avoid a costly mistake? Hendrix barely avoided disaster when McDaniel fell on his fumble inside the Notre Dame ten yard line.

    Will the Irish be ready for an intense slugfest after two weeks off? Notre Dame came out with an up tempo strategy and generally moved the ball well when Rees was in there. The defense started slowly and came on strong as noted above, but the special teams were still on mid-term break.

    Can USC keep from running out of gas in the fourth quarter? The Irish and Hendrix did not really test their defense, but the Trojan offensive line was overwhelmed by Tuitt and company in the late going.

    Will Marquis Lee be a difference maker or a non-factor? Lee disappeared from the game after dropping a touchdown pass in the second quarter. I’m not sure if his knee or his feelings were hurt more.

    Which team will manufacture the most effective pass rush? USC’s sack of Rees put him out of the game, but Notre Dame’s constant harassment of Kessler was ultimately the difference.

    How much bad music will we be subjected to on third downs? There was sufficient excitement on the field for the crowd to be loud and engaged without the added stimuli, but the sound system guys went overboard anyway.

    Will 12 hours of tailgating lead to chaos in the stadium rest rooms? Most people who attended our tailgater were probably unable to find the restrooms in the stadium.

    The 5-2 Irish will push forward as they strive to win out and qualify for a BCS bowl. Rees should be back next week as the team travels to play Air Force, and his presence at the helm of a balanced attack plus the rejuvenated defense make Notre Dame a bit more formidable.

    38 Responses to “Irish Stonewall Troy”

    1. I was at the game and the atmosphere was fantastic. People standing and cheering were NOT asked to sit down & we stood most of the game. (If anyone was drunk in Section 4, I missed it.) The crowd was loud and really into the game. We even booed the Trojan marching band which noone wanted to see. The anti Rees comments in the first half were long gone by the 4th quarter. We weren’t booing Hendrix but were perplexed by his lack of confidence and inability to complete a single pass. Nevertheless, it was a resounding victory, and kudos to the defense for a sterling performance.

      • Defense was superb in preserving the 14-10 victory. They looked better than last year’s defense! Great job, guys! Even the secondary looked improved in several pass breakups.

      • Avon Domer says:

        Garr: I, too, can’t stand U$C’s football team, but I was really embarrassed when I heard so much of the crowd boo the USC band. Seriously, what’s the purpose in that? I’ve been to many USC games at Notre Dame Stadium and each and every time the USC band has been there, which to me at least, shows the respect USC has for Notre Dame and this 85-year rivalry. To bring that many band members across the country to appear at Notre Dame Stadium must cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, which is an enormous commitment on their part. I’m not saying that the crowd should stand up and applaud them, but shouldn’t we all be, as representatives of Notre Dame, classy enough to not boo those kids? Having the opposing team’s band in our stadium adds to the color, pagentry, passion and excitement that makes the college game so much more fun than any “Johnny-Corporate” NFL game experience I’ve encountered. Oh well…just a thought.

        • I agree that booing the opponent’s band (even the USC Band) is generally in bad taste, especially during their half time show. But, as a former member of the ND Band, I recall being booed by the opponent’s fans when on the road and never took it personally (after all, I was a representative of the enemy, at least for a day!). And as a current band parent, I must say that I was more than a bit miffed after the game when the USC Band continued to play during the ND Band post-game show, and that is when I heard most of the booing. Afterward, my daughter commented that they specifically delayed the start of the post-game show until after the USC Band finished playing their alma mater. Too bad USC didn’t show the same level of respect in return.

          • Avon Domer says:

            jmbsax: As a former ND band member maybe you could answer this question: Do Ken Dye and the director of the opposing team’s band get together before a game to discuss when each band should play, particularly after the game is over? If not, perhaps in the future they should so they don’t step on each other by playing at the same time, which serves nobody well.

            • Mike Coffey says:

              SC’s band has been playing during ND’s postgame show for decades. They don’t give a shit.

    2. Jim...Lebanon, PA says:

      I was always disappointed and perplexed by Kelly not playing Andrew and giving him more snaps.
      Now I know why… Sorry Brian!!! But, you now need to have Zaire ready.

    3. I was very proud of our defense. They made adjustments when they needed to and became who we all know they are. But I am speechless, no flabergasted, at the absolute ineffectiveness of our backup QB. That role needs to be ready at all times. And we have been told since Spring that our QB situation is solid and offers many options. But when we needed it most, it almost cost us a victory. There needs to be a serious “come to Jesus” meeting this week to right this “ship” regarding the back up QB role. I know the coaches can’t go on the field and throw for our QB’s, but come on. Was the entire 2nd half an issue of no confidence or poor attention given to this vital role on our team. Even if Tommy can go on Saturday, it makes me very leary of any scenario where Tommy is not able to go. So many QB’s on our roster and we couldn’t put more of a drive together. Pathetic of a national program. Go Irish!

    4. Ryan from Omaha says:

      Loved seeing the up-tempo Irish offense to start the game. More of that and less snaps with 0 left on the play clock.

    5. When is Kelly going to hire a dedicated special teams coach.? We are a disaster on punt and kickoff coverage. F our years of the nonsense.

    6. Why is it anathema for the writers to question the offensive play calling,the obvious lack of smash mouth blocking and tackling,the pass defense,and the miserable special teams performance? All of which are basics for an elite team.
      Hurry-up tempo guru with “22 years experience” with a stunning number of game delays and time outs and play changing with 4-6 seconds on the play clock putting offensive lineman in a what to do mindset within 1-2 seconds before the snap does not compute.
      It is hard to believe these kids are not teachable. They probably were better high school players than they are college players. Is the playbook the size of the New York phone directory? Does Kelly call the offense with the play card in his face? Why not watch Alabama film rather than last year film and see how the game is played and coached?

      • Yeah I don’t get it, this Notre Dame team is bad. ND escaped with a win against a USC team thats not good at all. There is no improvement over the years under Kelly.

        I will admit Notre Dame is playing the season with their backup QB but the fact the QB situation looks like this is Kelly’s fault.

        Still all the talk about Rees doesn’t matter this team is not elite and will never be under Kelly.

        • Backup QB? Try third string going into the Spring. That makes Hendrix the fourth string. What college team can win at all with the third or fourth string QB. Kelly and staff have done a remarkable job, though this is lost on most.

    7. I hope wherever he is, Everett Golson realizes how much he has hurt the ND program with his selfish actions last winter/spring. With him in the starting lineup and Tommy Rees ready to come off the bench as a capable, if not spectauclar, back-up, I believe the Irish would be at least 6-1 if not 7-0 right now and in the BCS title picture once again.

      • GraceHallChapel86 says:

        He’s a kid. He blew it and apologized. It was the pressure to perform that put him in that position. No tears for him, but it is what it is.

        • It sure sounds like you’re shedding tears for him. He put himself in that position when he signed to play at ND. If the pressure to perform drove him to commit academic fraud, maybe he shouldn’t come back at all. I hate to say that, because I think he is a really talented kid. But the pressure is only going to get greater on him. Lord knows what he could or would do if it gets too much for him again.

          • Oh, and I hate that, “it is what it is,” phrase. What the heck does that mean and how does it explain Golson’s actions?

    8. I feel sorry for Andrew Hendrix, but my gosh, how can you be in a program for four years and at one time be considered the favorite to start and play the game with such utter fear and incompetence. Saturday I watched composed freshman around the country run teams with effectiveness. Why is the ND playbook so difficult to master when it seems like the plays are so vanilla? It is only the fourth time a 5-2 ND team is unranked but I can’t really argue. It’s great to beat USC but it is apparent this team still has a long way to go. Let me echo the earlier comments regarding the not-so-special teams. They very well could have cost the team a win Saturday night.

    9. I can’t believe how much Hendrix has regressed as a qb. He played much better, when he got a chance to play, the past couple of years. What could a coaching staff do to ruin a four star qb like that. I think Kelly is making a major mistake not getting Zaire some field time, not just for the present , but for next year as a backup to Golson or even the starter if Golson doesn’t return or gets hurt. Nothing like throwing a totally inexperienced qb on the field when you need a game winning drive. I don’t think Kelly thinks about” down the road” to much.

      • Would it have been worth it to burn Zaire’s redshirt for a game that could have put the team at 5-3 with their only remaining goal to finish 9-3, hope for a BCS birth but most likely end up in the Pinstripe bowl? When/if Golson comes back, Zaire will be prepared to back him up and learn on the fly should Golson go down with an injury. Regardless, I think it was smart of Kelly to keep Zaire off the field because what the program needs is QB depth w/eligibility for the next 4 seasons while they bring in additional QBs to learn and grow in the program.

        Also, the coaching staff that created last years team into the first undefeated squad Notre Dame had seen in 25 years does not “ruin” a 4 star QB. Hendrix just isn’t good.

    10. I’m completely astonished that Kelly is supposedly known for developing qbs and our backup qb didn’t even complete a pass and looked less than average? It amazes me. I definitely think that Zaire should be getting snaps on the field this year. If this offense is so hard to master then we need to get these players on ASAP so they can master it. Why are we waiting around for them to either transfer on us or have an even harder time adjusting to the speed of the game? Other freshmen around the league not only play but start as well. We can not run into a defense that has 9/10 men in the box. It is like Pee Wee football. We have to be able to complete a few passes.

    11. Great team win. Defense continues to make adjustments at halftime and come out in the 2nd half prepared to will the team to victory on both sides of the ball.

      My main concerns from Saturday night are two-fold. 1)Why did the offensive sets have to change so drastically when Hendrix came into the game? I understand that Hendrix is limited and runs more of the read-option playbook but we started to put both TEs on the line of scrimmage with a WR offset behind the line of scrimmage with often only 1 WR spread wide. You can still run a Hendrix-friendly offense out of the same sets that you had been lining up in all night. No reason to blatantly telegraph the fact that our new QB is incredibly limited.

      This brings me to my next point, telgraphing the play. On ND’s first drive of the game the offense ran the same exact play 3 consecutive times, including and most importantly on the 4th and goal from the 1 which we all know was easily stuffed when Koyack missed his block and USC crashed the edge. Does anyone on the offensive staff not realize that the WR in motion and where he is when the ball gets snapped had just been communicated to the defense on 2nd and 3rd down? Why in the world would you call this play again and put yourself in such a low-percentage shot of scoring? Same thing happened late in the game when ND needed a critical 4th down before punting away their last possession of the game. The play hasn’t worked all night and the defense can easily gauge when the ball will be snapped because of the WR in motion. Absolutely mind-boggling decision making on the offensive staff’s part.

      Notre Dame makes way too many of the above mistakes and has been lucky to have been bailed out by its defense the past few weeks. Hopefully the OC can make some strategic decision-making adjustments because they won’t be so luck in Palo Alto.

    12. We’ve had this discussion before. Malik needs to play. No reason to red shirt him (unless medically he’s not well). If the program progresses, recruiting will take care of the future. Kelly’s handling of quarterbacks, re. Hendrix and his reluctancce to play Malik needs to be seriously questioned. Why Has Henrix regressed? Why is he holding Malik back?
      Coach Kelly has certainly made strides in develpoing this program; however, media, and influential graduates should be seeking to determine the rationale for what has transpired in this most crucial position; also, why special teams continue to be a weak link in this program.
      It is not enough for him to say, as he often does, the players have got to perform better or that we’ve got to coach them up, etc. etc. T

    13. marleyman says:

      How is it possible that a national program such as the Irish have such poor backup quarterbacks? Tommy understands the offense better than anyone, no doubt, but he is not a championship caliber qb. Hendrix is a disaster. I have never seen anything from him at any time that would suggest he could start anywhere in D-1 football. Most curious to me was when I watched the post game presser. When asked about Malik, Kelly shut down the journalist immediately and would not even discuss the possibility of Zaire playing. How long is Kelly going to wait to try something that will “right the ship.” I guess he is hoping that Rees is OK so he can play in the next few gimme games. Heaven help us if he is really hurt. Hendrix couldn’t even be counted on to beat a miserable AF squad in my view.

    14. I needed a night’s rest to assess what I just saw. So here it goes….

      1.) Kudos to the “D” for stepping up.
      2.) We have no back up!!!
      3.) As bad as some people think Tommy is/can be….Hendrix was awful. After four years he should
      preform better than he did.
      4.) We are ND!!!!! We don’t have a reliable back up QB!!!!???? Oh GOD save us!!!
      5.) The schedule looks pretty favorable for us as long as we do not look past anyone!!

    15. I’m notsure Hendrix is that bad. He only got the opportunity to throw theball fou times and it isn’t his fault Kelly didn’t want to even try moving the ball downfield while Hendrix was in there.

      I’d like to see Hendrix have an opportunity, his physical skills far surpass Rees and Rees simply doesn’t give this team a chance to beat Stanford.

      I say lets se what Hendrix can do; 4 passs against USC means nothing, you all need to chill.

    16. Note: ND was not really playing with its backup QB-it was playing with its third string QB. Also, remember that Zaire has battled mono for part of this season.

    17. One more-special teams were not totally atrocious. Twice ND pinned USC deep in its own territory.

    18. Ghost of Joe Moore says:

      How easy it was to predict the Rees (only when he plays half way decent fans)
      to dump on those who see TR as a very moderately ordinary QB.
      Before he got his boo boo in this game and as exhibited in games before, he consistently
      puts his receivers in compromising situations. Every receiver is climbing
      a ladder to catch a thrown ball on almost every pass play.
      He is scared to death at the slightest sign of a pass rush. He is quite simply
      very overrated es

    19. ND Chicago says:

      Great to beat USC, but as already pointed out the failure to have a plan B is becoming a hallmark of Kelly. Very reminiscent of his first year against Michigan when Crist went down and both Rees and Montana came in and looked completely lost because Kelly admittedly didn’t give them the reps they needed to be ready. This hardly looks like the guy who won with his back up QB while at Cincy and was thought of as a great offensive mind when ND hired him. Defense is starting to come around to where most people thought they would be, but still miss way too many tackles. It’s only taken 4 years, but the special teams have finally mastered a fair catch on punts and, well; that’s about it. ND gives away an entire phase of every game by having such poor special teams play. There’s almost no hope of any kind for a kick/punt return and a blocked kick is out of the question. On the flip side, you have to hold your breath every time ND kicks because they can’t cover them. The tired excuse of “lack of depth” doesn’t hold water in year four. Although, I would love to see ND in a BCS game, even if they got selected, they’re just not good enough to compete with elite teams right now.

    20. I too was astonished at the lack of preparation with Hendrix. They just seem to love Rees. I’m not sure they wanted to start Golson either, but had too. Pretty short leash and Rees was in. Rees is a very good QB, but college isn’t the pro where you have a guy for 10 years, one has to get backups some experience for next year and in case of emergency. So glad they got some freshman/new faces in on defense.

    21. irishhawk50 says:

      I can’t believe Hendrix is as bad as he looked. I haven’t played in 30 years and could complete a 5 yard pass with no pressure from the defense. That having been said, I think he should start against Air Force. It is a team made for him to get some quality reps and get into the game or else get Zaire ready to have his red shirt pulled and be game ready. If ND is to win out they need a real back up quarterback and the next couple of games should be relatively easy.

    22. From the Pete Carroll years through today, how many times did the Irish seem to be dominated by USC on the field? Answer: Almost every year.

      This year, on defense, ND did the dominating. On offense, when we had our starting QB we competed (i.e. were not dominated)….. The progress is probably a combo of USC taking a step back and ND taking a step forward.

      Let’s not be so negative folks. We just beat our rival when our starting QB was knocked out of the game. Personally I am celebrating that. If you are not, then your expectations are too high IMO.

    23. I agree that the win was great and the defense stepped up. Nice to see the team come out and not be flat to start a game which has become a Kelly trademark.The fact that we were unranked before the game and actually dropped in total points to even lower after the win tells us that those who look at us objectively see what many above point out. Zero consistency in the running game, the worst special teams over a four year period in division I football and the inability to put bad teams away means that even if we win out the chance of a decent bowl seems impossible. It is great to win as we did We need to demonstrate we can handle mediocre teams like USC and Purdue and Michigan. Kelly has not been able to get the entire team to play at a high level this year. His poor QB development is very troubling. After four years this is the best we can do with two QBs? Yes I know Goldson was the guy but really no one in back of him –why not just go with Zaire? Rees is not a D I QB let alone a BCS caliber QB. Hendrix was never developed. that is all on Kelly

    24. ElkhartIrish says:

      Gunner Kiel should be kicking himself in the butt. In all possibility he would be playing now and helping the Irish on national TV. But I guess it really takes the RKG.

    25. irishhawk50 says:

      I see Rees was cleared to practice, but I still think Hendrix needs the reps and start to mentally prepare for any future work. If ND can’t beat Air Force with a walk on QB they should just give up. I know they have a habit of playing down to the foe, but Air Force was lucky to beat Colgate. Use this game as a glorified scrimage and keep Rees loose, but mostly rest him and see what Hendrix can do.