ND vs. USC: Questions Answered

Reviewing our handful of pre-game questions prior to Notre Dame's collapse in the Coliseum Saturday afternoon.

1.) Red Zone Redux: Can the Irish convert yards into touchdowns? The problem for head coach Brian Kelly's offense wasn't converting red zone trips into touchdowns, but rather, mounting offensive drives that considered broaching USC"s 20-yard line. The Irish did so three times, scored two touchdowns and turned it over on downs (fittingly) to end the contest on the third.

An offense that clearly needed to carry Notre Dame in order to pull-off an unlikely upset not only lacked direction, but any semblance of competitive toughness or mettle, not to mention execution.

2.) How about a timely turnover, or two? Not even close. The pre-game point offered that the Irish defense would not only need to create a pair of turnovers, but would need to do so to quell Trojans drives deep in Notre Dame territory -- thus bleeding clock and providing a possession "win" for a defense that wasn't likely to get many.

USC's offense instead riddled Brian VanGorder's unit when it broached the Irish end zone, scoring touchdowns from the Notre Dame 16, 6, 14 9, 16, and and 4-yard line. They were turned back on downs at the Irish 17 late, already leading 49-14.

Notre Dame's only "win" occurred on its first defensive possession when USC was forced to punt after reaching the visitor's 28-yard line. A sack by Jaylon Smith knocked the Trojans back to no man's land (the Irish 35) and quarterback Cody Kessler executed a pooch punt that resulted in a touchback.

The efficient Kessler never came close to a turnover and the Irish defense was unable to force a fumble in an astonishing 93 offensive snaps by their hosts.

By any reasonable measure, the defense was worse than expected.

3.) Will one more weapon (Greg Bryant) be made available? The redshirt-freshman runner joined classmate Malik Zaire as the lone brights spots Saturday, albeit after the game had long been decided. Bryant rushed for a team-best 79 yards on 7 carries highlighted by a 27-yard run in which he broke multiple Trojans tackle attempts en route to the Irish one-yard line.

Bryant's first carry, however, occurred after USC had mounted a 28-0 lead. It was just the fifth rush of the contest for the Irish in their first 30 snaps.

His inclusion in the offense was more incidental than inclusionary in the Irish game plan, but it nonetheless bodes well for bowl game playing time and preparation.

4.) What about Max? As hinted Friday, the athletic sophomore re-took his starting free safety job lost following Notre Dame's Debacle in the Desert on Nov. 8 (not to be confused with Saturday's Collapse at the Coliseum). But Redfield was lost early in the contest, the result of a brutal collision with Bryce Dixon late in the first quarter. The 3rd-and-3 snap ended with a 13-yard gain and first down for USC and a broken rib (at minimum) for Redfield, who purportedly spent Saturday evening in a South Central Los Angeles ER.

He is likely out for Notre Dame's December bowl game.

5.) Who among them will rise, thrive? The new interior quartet, Greer Martini, Devin Butler, the Irish safeties, Kyle Brindza, Everett Golson

How about none of the above?

Notre Dame's defensive front was not only battered, but further bruised, losing the services of former third-string-turned-starting nose tackle Jacob Matuska while continually allowing chunks of rushing yards to their hosts despite a game plan to gang up against the run.

Nothing worked.

Third-string middle linebacker-turned starter Greer Martini was lost late in the first half due to a thigh injury. Prior, he recorded five tackles including one for lost yardage while also giving up a touchdown against USC freshman WR Adoree Jackson, who beat his classmate after lining up in the Trojans backfield -- for a 6-yard touchdown catch. Asking Martini to handle that matchup against one of USC's fastest players was ludicrous. Asking a third-string freshman mike 'backer to face the Trojans was an unavoidable recipe for disaster from the outset. Martini joined his more seasoned teammates in missing multiple tackles as USC operated with impunity.

Sophomore cornerback Devin Butler was beaten for a post-route touchdown by senior WR George Farmer, but that was par for the course. Farmer beat Notre Dame's top cornerback, Cole Luke, for a 48-yard score as well.

Luke curiously lined up at LCB rather than his normal position for the bulk of the first quarter and was repeatedly torched before flipping back. He explained post-game that he was merely caught on the left side because of the Trojans up-tempo offense, but he started the game there as well. Regardless, Luke did not appear comfortable on the left side.

-- Kicker Kyle Brindza botched his only field goal attempt, a fitting momentum killer at the end of the first half on a 37-yarder that drilled the right upright. He finished the regular season 13 of 22, the worst effort of his three-year starting career.

-- Quarterback Everett Golson produced his worst game as a football player and was benched after committing his 22nd turnover of the season.

Apparently the first 21 served as indicators something might need to be fixed -- or coached.

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