Irish Grind Out a Win

Ian Book capped a clutch drive by scoring on a quarterback draw from eight yards out with 3:33 remaining in the game to give Notre Dame a ten point lead, and Brock Wright secured USC’s onside kick with a minute left to secure a hard-fought 30-27 victory over the Trojans. The hosts led by 20-3 early in the third quarter before USC quarterback Kedon Slovis caught fire and brought his team back.

The contest became a nail-biter with 10:27 remaining when Slovis connected with Tyler Vaughns on a five-yard scoring strike to narrow the gap to 23-20. With Notre Dame facing a season-defining challenge to relieve the pressure, the Irish turned to the running game. Book crashed over the goal line on the 13th play of a 75-yard drive, just two snaps after he scrambled for 17 yards on a third and ten play.

Markese Stepp breaks off a nice run

Tony Jones, Jr. ran for 176 of Notre Dame’s 308 rushing yards, while Book was 17 of 32 for 165 yards and a touchdown. Kicker Jonathan Doerer had his best career game with three clutch field goals, including a booming 52-yarder into the wind. Slovis hit 24 of 35 passes for USC with two scores. Freshman tailback Markese Stepp was impressive for Troy, gaining 82 tough yards on ten carries. The win brings the Irish to 5-1 on the year as the team enters its midterm break.

The game started slowly for Notre Dame’s offense. Its first three drives went nowhere as the Trojans grabbed a 3-0 lead, and they were pinned back on their own three yard line early in the second period when things began to turn around. A much-needed first down catch by Chase Claypool got them out of a hole, and Jones ripped off a 43-yard run to set up a touchdown pass from Book to Cole Kmet to take the lead.

The Irish would add two more scores before intermission. Braden Lenzy took off on a reverse near midfield and ran past the USC defense for a 51-yard score for a 14-3 lead with 4:38 remaining in the half. Following a defensive stop on the next series, Doerer hit a 45-yard field goal in the final minute to build a 17-3 halftime lead.

Notre Dame’s Michael Young took the second half kickoff and almost scored, but he knocked the ball out of his own hands in his excitement. Fortunately for the Irish, he recovered his own fumble. Book took the offense into USC territory but the drive stalled. Doerer came on to crush a 52-yard three pointer to extend the lead to 20-3.

Slovis and the Trojans were not about to roll over, though. USC went field goal, touchdown and touchdown on its next three possessions, while the Irish managed only another field goal on a drive that was aided by a marginal roughing the passer penalty.

Claypool catches a pass over USC’s Olaijah Griffin

Leading by just 23-20 now, the final scoring drive by Notre Dame to regain control was the difference in this sixty-minute war. It showed great character by the offense, especially since the usually reliable but obviously gassed defense was struggling. Book’s long scramble allowed the hosts to overcome a first and 25 situation in USC territory when everyone knew that another field goal would not be enough to win it.

Let’s review the answers to our pregame questions.

Will the Irish defensive front be able to dominate the Trojan offensive line? Notre Dame had a couple of sacks, but Slovis hung in there and the Trojan backs broke off several nice runs. The battle was essentially a draw.

Which team will commit the fewest turnovers and costly penalties? Neither team had a turnover, although a failed fourth down play by Notre Dame set up a USC score and gave them plenty of momentum. Both teams had costly penalties. The Irish overcame a 15-yarder as noted above, and that made a huge difference in the outcome.

Can Notre Dame run the ball and limit the number of USC possessions? Yes, although USC scored a bit too easily in the second half and brought the game down to the wire.

Which quarterback will be most accurate on third down throws? Slovis was clutch in the second half, but Book won it with his legs.

Can the swift Trojan receivers turn short receptions into big plays? The Irish rushed three men most of the night and kept everything in front of them, so USC was forced to keep it short. They adjusted well after a poor first half, but the Irish successfully played keep-away in the final period.

Which special teams will make plays that alter momentum or field position? USC kept the Irish pinned back in the early going, but things evened out after that. Jonathan Doerer’s breakout performance was the difference and should earn him the game ball. (Edit: He did get the game ball).

Will the Irish defense be able to prevent another fast start by the Trojans? Yes. The plan worked well in the first half and allowed Notre Dame to build an early lead.

This game was hardly the walkover that many chest-thumping Irish fans were talking about earlier this week. Freshmen Slovis and Stepp gained a lot of respect for their performances, and Notre Dame was guilty of some very shoddy tackling. It will not be much fun to play against this group next season in Los Angeles when they are a year older, but let’s not worry about that for now.

The Irish get a bye next week before traveling to play Michigan to open the second half of the season. The team appeared to emerge from this contest without any new injuries, but I’m sure everyone can use the rest.

Tell John what you think in the comments below

38 thoughts on “Irish Grind Out a Win

  1. Kelly always plays conservatively especially in the second half with a lead. Will he ever learn to go for the throat? Until he does, he will be a mediocre coach at Notre Dame.

    • Nope. The plan was to keep the ball out of the hands of USC’s offense and control time of possession. It’s not really our fault that we earned yards in big chunks and gave the ball back to Slovis with time left. The failure, if any, was in letting USC back into the game in the third quarter when the had the ball; they made the offensive adjustments to take advantage of our prevent-style defense. Other than that, USC was way out-coached. Great job, Coach Kelly & your staff!

    • A mediocre coach that will pass Rockne’s record for number of wins, have a No. 1 recruiting class in 2021, have 26-4 record in last 30 games to tie Holtz’s best 30 game stretch, graduate his players and win 10 or more games 3 years in row.

      • Let’s not forget the record for player suspensions, arrests and the 21 forfeited wins we have had to endure under this coach. It’s a crying shame that he even gets mentioned in the same sentence as Rockne and Holtz! Another mediocre victory over a mediocre unranked team at home. 3-8 against Top 10 teams and no victories against Top 5 teams.

  2. Rush 3 Drop 8,
    prevent defense almost prevented a W.

    Irish would have won by 20 if Defense was allowed to do the job in 2nd half

    Kelly never learns unfortunately – too many close games that could be blowouts due to stubborn conservatism.

    • Had ND rushed 4 more often, they would have had at least 3 more sacks. We gave their QB too much time IMO. Michigan doesn’t have as explosive receivers, so let’s hope for a stouter D line. Good win in the end.

    • What Notre Dame team have you been watching through the years? Usually Kelly’s teams are trying to “milk the clock” with the passing game and snapping the ball with 20 seconds or more on the play clock. Last night was smart clock management with ground and pound. Your post reflects that when you don’t like someone, you see things the way you want to see them regardless of reality.

    • The defense worked brilliantly in the first half in controlling their receivers. The problem was in not adjusting soon enough to USC’s power-run focus of the second half. Other than that, Kelly, Long and Lea WAY out-coached Clay Helton in this game.

    • The experts for the NFL call the three man rush, the defense to loose the game. A better approach would be a four man front, 2 linebackers and five defensive backs. Then you can get the pass rush and keep the runs play down.

      How about that tackling? Doesn’t anyone teach them to tackle below the knees and slide down the legs. They did a terrible job on that large running back of USC.

      With proper defense and tackling, they would have won big. Book showed poor technique as a passer again. Will he ever recognize the blitz and know where his outlet receiver is ?

  3. Vannie,

    You didn’t use enough superlatives. Here’s a few. Clutchiest, guttsiest, grittiest, stalwartiest.
    Just when you give up on special teams they go and deliver that impressive pile of points.
    OK I wanted the Young run-back too. (Hey coach get off the field!)
    The usual chaos is going to happen as the season goes on so there is lots to fight for.
    And I am so glad the St. Brown family doesn’t have another game ball to add to the
    display case (nor for the Trojans a Shillelagh).

  4. Terry MCMANUS says:

    Good game. That kid QB for SC is the real thing and up to the occasion.

    ND is good but not playoff caliber.

  5. A win is a win, so I’ll take that. An artistic masterpiece, it was not. Playing defense, with one hand tied behind your back, is what allowed the Trojans to get back into the game. The strength of the defense is its pass rush, but that was virtually non-existent with a 3 man-rush. This provided Slovis with an inordinate amount of time to find receivers, and to his credit, he frequently did. Absolutely infuriating.

    Book was shaky in the passing game at times but won the game with his legs. I’m still not convinced he is the real deal. Why were there no passes to Chase Claypool in the second half and why wasn’t Javon McKinley utilized at all? Also odd that Brock Wright has been underutilized, particularly with Tommy Tremble having a forgettable game. Very strange.

    Michigan also has some terrific receivers. The defensive strategy needs to be changed if the Irish are to win that game. I suspect it well be, particularly with Crawford back.

    Additionally, am I the only one that was close to turning off the sound on the TV? These announcers are incredibly biased against Notre Dame the entire game. Frankly, they always are. Is there a worse group of announcers for any other home team in the country? It felt like they commented that nearly every call against ND was a good call, while nearly every call against USC was a bad call, and nearly every no-call that should have gone ND’s way was a good decision, while nearly every no-call that could have gone USC’s way was a bad decision. There were two clear late hits out-of-bounds that were not called on USC were supposedly good calls, while an obvious roughing the passer call on USC was viewed by the announcers as a bad call.

    The PAC-10 officiating crew was terrible, culminating on a bizarre do-over on a broken-up pass by ND in the end zone, based upon a phantom “someone blew a whistle” call. This gave the Trojans an extra play and potentially their last touchdown at the end of the game. We will never know.

    • I think there was a non referee whistle. The play before you saw Okwara pull up and stop rushing as if he thought the play was called dead.

    • The three-man rush was an intentional decision to completely deny Slovis any open receivers longer than about 5 yards, and it mostly succeeded. The fact that we STILL got to Slovis on a couple occasions tells you how good our pash rush is. It was a great coaching choice that resulted in a huge halftime lead. The real flaws were in how many yards their running backs could get before being challenged, and in not anticipating and adjusting to their halftime adjustments.

    • IrishBobinPittsburgh says:

      Sorry, but the Fox College Games have the worst announcers. It doesn’t matter what game is on, but I can’t stand any of them. Their macho style is something that wants me to turn off the sound. Granted Flutie should not be doing the Irish Games, and beats me why NBC has him. But either way, it’s always GREAT to beat usc…Now need to beat the skunkbears in two weeks…Go Irish!!! A year ago we were at ND watching the Irish beat a very motivated Pitt Team. Probably the best weekend for watching a game live. Go Irish!!!

    • ED CHRISTOPHER ND '67 says:

      As a chest-thumping ND alum I agree with Irish Rifle. The game plan turned a three touchdown victory into
      a three point victory. USC has a mediocre team with three good receivers. However, the unwarranted fear of
      these receivers precipitated a defensive game plan to neutralize them which in turn neutralized our defensive
      strength, namely our pass rush. Our pass rush allows our DBs to handle any receivers. We have a championship
      caliber defense when it is allowed to play to its strengths.
      Offensively, the goal should be to have a balance between passing and rushing. While the rushing attack was effective, pro tonto, it neutralized our great tight ends and our best wide receiver (Claypool).
      While the old rule is to take what the defense gives you it does not mean that you should accept a turkey wing from a Thanksgiving host, especially if he knows that you are a drumstick man.
      As to the tv announcers, where is Steve Beuerlein when you need him.

    • Great post! Spot on. Am I one of the few who thought it was the bad call of the game to go for 4th and 5 on the USC 40 (after 3 previous ones only netted you 5), instead of punting and pinning them deep? That led to a quick score and heavy momentum switch that almost lost us the game! I don’t like about a third of Chip Long’s play calls.

  6. I’m not a coach but I don’t get the play calling. ND seemed to get “cute” at times rather than just mixing up the running plays. The offense appears extremely inconsistent. Still, looks to be a 11-1 season which is always good. We are not a top 5-6 team – I think we would lose by 17+ to all of them – but solidly in the next level.

  7. Funny but my thoughts were the same after this game. Next year against this team in LA is going to be tough.

    It is easy to be a Monday morning quarterback, but I did disagree with Kelly going for it on that 4th down before the play. Five yards was too far. Kick them down inside the 20 and make them drive the whole field which was your game plan all along anyway.

    This team is a good team and Book is a good quarterback. I think this is a legit top 10 team but not quite elite, but they have heart and guts. Go Irish.

  8. Kelly could turn water into single malt scotch and you guys would criticize the amount of peat.

    The 4thQ drive of 12 runs/2 passes for over 7 minutes was Holtzian and I loved it.

    Plenty of work to do no doubt but we just beat SC at home. Enjoy. Like Skunkbear tears, Trojan tears are magical.

  9. This game was closer than it should have been due to the questionable decision in the second half to try and pick up a 4th and 5. Clearly gave USC the momentum and a shorter field. BTW, that certainly wasn’t a conservative decision. Go Irish!

  10. I hated this match up before the game. I believe that USC played the best they possibly could have, especially in the second half. When you have a Freshman quarterback and come out of a game with only two sacks against and no turnovers, you have had an exceptional (i.e. rare) performance. YET, ND prevailed. Winning ugly matters, it shows character and guts. There was a lot to knit pick in this game, but ultimately the W is the most important. These are games that a Kelly coached team seemed to lose in the past. Now let’s go curb stomp Michigan in two weeks.

  11. It wasn’t the prettiest of wins but a win against a pretty talented and motivated USC team nonetheless. The tackling, especially in the second half, was terrible at times and USC moved the ball mostly at will starting about halfway through the third quarter. I felt they should have pressured Slovis more instead of giving him all day and letting him get into a rythym with the speedy USC receivers.

    It would sure be easier if Stepp was wearing the blue and gold, as he originally planned, instead of the cardinal and gold of USC.

    ND won so perhaps the prevent defense was the right choice but in 2015 Van Gorder blitzed USC like crazy on the final drive notching a couple of sacks and forcing a turnover and sealing the win as I recall. ND had the personnel to do it again in 2019 but decided to go ultra conservative.

  12. The following are all of the AWESOME things that ND did in the game:
    – The offensive line was LIGHTS OUT. Not only did they protect Ian, but they opened huge holes for Tony Jones that resulted in an obnoxiously-high YPC.
    – The defensive game plan almost completely denied Slovis and his talented receivers the ability to take advantage down the field. They were forced to grind out long drives, denying them the explosiveness that a team built like USC relies on.
    – Ian Book was cool and collected, made great decisions, and played without any fear.
    – We got ourselves a Kicker. if you ever complained in the past, as I did, that Jonathan Doerer was a special teams failure, you need to own that and make amends. I own it. Jonathan, you are THE IRISH ICEMAN, and I apologize for ever doubting you.

    These are the reasons why we almost lost the game:
    – Arm tackling. That alone almost cost us the game.
    – Not making adjustments when it was clear that USC turned to a power running game in the third quarter. (Why it took USC so long to make that adjustment is a mystery.)
    – Poor self-scouting by Chip Long and failing to anticipate USC’s halftime adjustments to our game plan, resulting in us completely giving up the third quarter, AGAIN.

    Let’s all be clear about this: the prevent defense was a choice by the ND coaching staff to essentially concede the first three yards on every play in the hopes of NOT giving up 30 yards on any one play, and in the first half, IT WORKED BRILLIANTLY. If you disagree, fine, but you need to explain how we were able to dominate all phases of the game in the first half. If there was a coaching failure, it was in not anticipating USC’s adjustments in the third quarter on both sides of the ball, and that’s what almost cost us the game (along with all the infuriating arm tackles).

    This gets to my chief complaint about the coaching staff. Coach Kelly likes to say that he don’t like make many halftime adjustments, preferring instead to make adjustments on the fly in real time. I agree with that in principle, but he still needs to understand that the other team is making adjustments (even if he isn’t), and the coaching staff needs to do some self-scouting to anticipate the other team’s adjustments and at least plan for them. We have lost almost every third quarter this season, and it’s because we’re not adjusting to their adjustments.

    • I checked the third quarter scoring for ND in the four games they have played against decent teams. The total is 24 points, but seven came on a fumble return and another seven were the result of a turnover inside the opponent’s ten yard line. So, you’re right, the offense hasn’t down much by themselves in the third quarter. Just ten total points over four games where the offense deserves credit.

      I was also dismayed by the abysmal tackling last night. Technique was awful.

      • Oh, but Michigan will come close. Remember, Kelly’s teams play poorly on the road against ranked teams, so I believe it will go down to the wire with ND snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

        • Hopefully, BK will turn our defense lose (rush 4 or 5 an blitz) on an average Michigan QB and not go to the prevent defense against the very good receivers.