Offensive MVP: Theo RiddickIn a contested that boasted six of the 50-plus best football players in the country, it was unheralded but irreplaceable Theo Riddick that stood tall as the best player on the field Saturday night.
Riddick ripped off a career-best 146 rushing yards, scored the victor's only touchdown, and secured three passes for 33 yards including two clutch 3rd and long receptions that led to 10 Irish points. A consistent battering ram throughout, Riddick tore through scrimmage for gains of 12, 7, 9 (TD), 15, 7, 9, 8, 6, 20, and 13 yards. He continually turned what appeared to be minimal room into four yard gains, thereby keeping the Irish offense "ahead of the chains" and making third-down manageable most of the evening for quarterback Everett Golson.
A slot receiver during the Kelly regime prior to this season, Riddick entered 2012 without a rushing touchdown, 100-yard game, or defined role. He concluded the regular season as one of the team's 10 best players, leading rusher, and go-to player when the chips were down.
Offensive Game Balls: Everett Golson won his 10th straight start without committing a turnover, completing 15 of 26 passes for 217 yards while adding 47 more on the ground (second on the squad). Golson gained 17 rushing yards (two carries) on the game's decisive field goal drive, one that provided a nine-point margin, 22-13, with just under six minutes remaining.
Per usual, Golson's top target was tight end Tyler Eifert. The All-America candidate caught four passes for 69 yards including three first down grabs, among them a 36-yard catch-and-run on the left sideline that contributed to a third quarter field goal and 19-10 advantage. It was likewise an Eifert seal block that provided room for Riddick's longest gain of the day, 20 yard over the right side on the aforementioned concluding field goal drive.
Notre Dame's offensive line (Zack Martin, Chris Watt, Braxston Cave, Mike Golic, Jr., and Christian Lombard) protected Golson well, allowing just one sack (that the fault of the young triggerman) and opening rushing lanes for 222 yards (5.3 per carry) with just three snaps resulting in negative yards.
Defensive MVP: Kapron Lewis-MooreThis should probably be re-named, "The Bob Diaco Award" but Saturday night's biggest impact player was 5th-year senior defensive lineman Kapron Lewis-Moore. The co-captain has emerged of late as one of the team's 10 best players, last night recording a crucial third-down sack in the second half, two tackles for loss, a quarterback pressure, and five tackles. Lewis-Moore also negated a potential first down on The Opening drive by sniffing out a screen pass to running back Curtis McNeal that forced quarterback Max Wittek to throw incomplete.
Defensive Game Balls: Heisman finalist Manti Te'o again came up big in the passing game, intercepting a Wittek pass and negating a potential touchdown with underneath end zone coverage on a skinny post to all-star receiver Marqise Lee. Te'o's heady coverage and positioning forced Wittek to throw high and incomplete to an otherwise open Lee, forcing a field goal as a result.
Junior cornerback Bennett Jackson was tasked with the most difficult assignment: field cornerback (more open space) vs. the nation's best pair of receivers. Though he likely took the brunt of abuse from fans watching at home for a few battles lost along the way, its notable that Jackson won the war, registering six tackles while allowing just two plays of consequence -- a short post touchdown to Robert Woods and a 43-yard gain to Lee in which the latter made a spectacular grab vs. solid coverage.
Lee came into the game averaging nearly 10 receptions and 140 yards per game with 14 touchdowns. He finished with 5 grabs, 75 yards, and was held out of the end zone.
Safety Matthias Farley showed well, leading the team with nine stops including one for loss. Farley's best effort was a diving tackle in space vs. USC runner Curtis McNeal, whose previous cut-back had frozen most of the Irish defense with nothing but green grass -- and Farley's effort -- in front.
Nose guard Louis Nix continued to dominant, last night finishing with three tackles including two at scrimmage and one for lost yardage on 3rd and 1 in the second half, while breaking up a pass and providing an immovable pivot on Notre Dame's remarkable 8-snap, 1-yard goal line stand that effectively ended the contest. Nix's push allowed teammates Lewis-Moore and Stephon Tuitt to combine on two stops vs. three Trojans rushes. Nix and Farley combined for the third, a handoff to McNeal that was summarily stuffed.
Special Teams MVP: Kyle BrindzaBrindza connected on field goals from 27, 29, 52, 33, and 19 yards out while missing from 34 in the third quarter. His five successful shots tied a program record held by Craig Hentrich, Nick Setta, and teammate Nick Tausch.
Brindza's 52-yarder at the end of the first half helped the Irish regain momentum (a 16-10 lead) and ranks tied for the third-longest boot in program history.
Among Brindza's seven kickoffs, two were touchbacks, one was returned to the Irish 16-yard line, two returned to the 24, and another ended with Brindza helping to save a touchdown as Marqise Lee broke free for 43 yards before being stopped by Brindza (and the Irish sideline).
The Numbers Game- Notre Dame is 12-0 for the first time since 1988 and just the third time in program history (1973).
- The Irish defense has allowed the following touchdown totals this season: 1, 2, 0, 0, 0, 0, 2, 1, 2, 0, 0, and 1…
- The Irish defense has yielded two touchdowns or fewer in 24 of its last 29 contests...
- USC's offense produced scoring drives of 75 and 80 yards vs. the Irish. Those equal two of the three longest of the season vs. Bob Diaco's standout unit. The Trojans 75-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter was the first of more than 60 yards allowed by the Irish since Navy marched 75 yards on the opening possession of the second half in the Dublin season opener.
- Notre Dame's defense has seen opponents take control of the football at least 60 yards away from pay dirt on 114 possessions this season: just two resulted in touchdowns.
- The Irish finished the regular season allowing just nine points through 12 first quarters. Only Miami, Oklahoma and Pittsburgh managed points -- each a single field goal.
- Notre Dame held nine of its 12 opponents to 300 total yards or less. Oklahoma gained 373 and was joined by Navy (341), and Pittsburgh (308) as the only foes to top the 300-yard mark vs. the Irish this season. Boston College managed exactly 300 in 66 snaps in Game 10. USC's 289 total yards was the second lowest of the season vs. Notre Dame and the Trojans lowest total since xxx.
- Over its last 25 games, the Irish defense has yielded a total of 33 third quarter points….
- Notre Dame has allowed a total of 124 points this season, second only to defending national champion Alabama (111). Alabama plays a 13th game next Saturday night vs. Georgia in the SEC Title game, the winner facing the Irish for the BCS Title in January. Both the Irish (fumble) and Crimson Tide (kick return) have allowed a non-offensive score this season contributing to the total.
- The Irish improved to 16-0 when throwing fewer than 30 passes in the 38-game Kelly era...
- Notre Dame is 43-2 since the beginning of the 2005 season when it out-rushes its opponent.
- After 38 games, both Brian Kelly and Lou Holtz had won 28 and lost 10 as Notre Dame's head coach.
- Senior linebacker Manti Te'o recorded his seventh interception of the season Saturday night, tying him with Georgia's Tony Tayloer (2006) for the most of the last decade by a college football linebacker.
- Te'o became the second player in Irish history (Bob Crable) to record 100 or more tackles in three consecutive seasons.
- The Irish have won 20 of their last 23 games and are 10-1 in November under Brian Kelly. Tonight's win marks the first instance of back-to-back wins by the Irish at USC since 1990-92.
- Theo Riddick's 146 yards were a career-high. He previously rushed for 143 yards vs. Brigham Young in mid-October. He finished the regular season with four games in excess of 100 yards with six rushing scores. Riddick had neither rushed for a score nor run for 100 yards prior to 2012.
- Kicker Kyle Brindza has connected on 23 of 31 field goals this fall. His 23 successful kicks breaks the program record of 21 set by John Carney in 1986.
- Quarterback Everett Golson won his 10th consecutive start to begin his career, one away from the program record held by Bob Williams (1949-50).