NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Brian Kelly knew Adoree’ Jackson could wreck Notre Dame on Saturday night. So the Irish head coach put together a plan to limit his impact. It worked, at least on special teams.
Notre Dame punter Tyler Newsome went to a rugby style punt, keeping the ball on the ground and away from Jackson. Quarterback DeShone Kizer pooch punted for the first time this season as well.
Jackson didn’t field a single punt. He did get touches in the kickoff game with four returns for 101 yards, but couldn’t deliver a momentum-changing score in special teams.
“They’re a very difficult team obviously with their skilled return men,” Kelly said.
Jackson’s big moment came on offense when he took a short pass for an 83-yard touchdown during the second quarter, which tied the game 24-24 heading toward the half. But it was his only catch while his two rushes totaled just nine yards.
Top Play (Offense) - Kizer To Fuller
Will Fuller wasted no time after the Notre Dame offense got on the ball. Down 7-0 after a Cody Kessler touchdown run, Kizer hit Fuller for a 75-yard score on the first play from scrimmage.
Fuller ended up in man-to-man with cornerback Adoree’ Jackson, a much anticipated matchup. He blew past Jackson for the score.
“It was quarters (coverage),” Fuller said. “So basically it turns to man coverage once the safety draws on the Z. He had outside leverage, so I just beat him with speed right into the post. DeShone put a beautiful ball on me.”
Fuller finished with three receptions for 131 yards and that touchdown.
Top Play (Defense) - Russell’s Pick
KeiVarae Russell’s interception in man coverage vs. Juju Smith-Schuster gave Notre Dame the ball back at its own 33-yard line, up a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
“When the ball was in the air, I was in great position, like you guys saw,” Russell said. “It was just me one-on-one. People don’t understand. I don’t ever have safety help. So when he motioned in, I played off (the ball), but I’m going to bail a little bit and I’m going to play a little slower. If he does go deep, I’m going to take off with him because I’m not worried about the speed. He started doing a little stutter – and there’s no way he’s going to run the curl – so I just took off, and he took off with me. When the ball is in the air, he started running faster, and I started running faster, and I thought … knock it down … nah. Let’s go for the ball. He tried to let it fall in his hands, and I said let me go attack the ball. And you saw what happened.
“I play well against SC every time I play them. That interception looked like freshman year when I had that interception against No. 9 (Marqise Lee) again. This one was against another No. 9, their best wide receiver again. I definitely needed one. I couldn’t go the first half of the season without an interception.”
Top Unit (Offense) - Offensive Line
How well did the Notre Dame offensive line do? Notre Dame broke the 200-yard mark rushing again with 214 total, 143 of which came from C.J. Prosise. The Irish averaged 6.1 yards per carry and scored two touchdowns on the ground.
Kizer took four sacks but had plenty of time in a clean pocket.
“They've been great,” Prosise said. “It definitely showed. They were controlling the line of scrimmage and it made it easier for me to run. At first, some of the plays we like to run, they were focusing in. USC was focusing in trying to stop those plays and we still got them. They did a great job.”
Notre Dame is 4-0 this season when outrushing its opponent, as it did against USC.
Top Unit (Defense) - Kick Coverage
It’s a little creative, but the coverage units turned in an overall strong night against USC.
Equanimeous St. Brown vaulted through the USC punt operation for a block, which resulted in an Amir Carlisle recovery and touchdown to put Notre Dame up 21-10. The last Irish punt block for a touchdown came by Robert Blanton in 2010.
The coverage units also held down Jackson, USC’s primary return threat. He didn’t field a single punt, which included a Kizer pooch kick, while totaling 101 yards on four kickoff returns for zero touchdowns.
Best Drive (Offense) - All Tied Up
Down 31-24 with 2:20 left to play in the third quarter, Prosise converted 3rd-and-5 on a 10-yard run to move the chains near midfield. Will Fuller drew two consecutive pass interference calls, Kizer ran for 12 yards, and Prosise capped the drive with an impressive six-yard touchdown run. That tied the game 31-31 with 14:20 left in the fourth quarter.
Best Drive (Defense) - Rochell Sacks Kessler
After Prosise’s touchdown run tied the game 31-31, USC look to recapture momentum, driving to the Notre Dame 38-yard line after a 28-yard connection between Kessler and Deonta Burnett. And that’s where the drive stopped.
On first down Isaac Rochell stopped running back Tre Madden for no gain. Two plays later he sacked Kessler for a three-yard loss, forcing a Trojans’ punt from the Irish 41-yard line. It was the final USC play run in Notre Dame territory until the game’s final possession with the Irish up two scores.
“It was an effort sack,” Rochell said. “It wasn’t a game-changing move. It was just an effort play. I beat my guy. Anytime there’s a sack or interception it gives you max momentum. It gave our offense a lot of energy."