Late heroics, but too many defensive miscues

The Irish defense denied USC late, but it was the yards and points given up beforehand that were too much to overcome.

Notre Dame's defense had a few big plays and too many big misses in Saturday's 34-27 loss to visiting USC.

The biggest play was junior cornerback Gary Gray's interception and 30-yard return in the fourth quarter, which led to Notre Dame's final touchdown.

Also don't forget that the Irish defense stopped the Trojans on the next series after one first down, the key play being a sack by defensive end John Ryan.

Gray saw his first starter-type minutes of his career against USC.

"One of the things he did in the last game was compete for balls at corner," Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said of Gray. "I think as a coaching staff, one of the things that we've been disappointed in is the competition for balls that have been in the air."

The overall defensive picture for the Irish wasn't pretty. USC gained 501 yards of total offense, and freshman quarterback Matt Barkley threw for 380. Notre Dame missed tackles and left holes in coverage.

Bright spots included freshman linebacker Manti Te'o, who had four tackles and four assists; defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore, who had three solos, half a sack, and an additional tackle for loss; and Brian Smith, who finished with three solos, five assists, and two quarterback hurries from his linebacker position.

Rivalry redux

Last year, the Irish were humbled 38-3 at USC. Two years ago, it was no contest 38-0 USC at Notre Dame. In 2006 the Trojans prevailed 44-24.

In 2005, the inaugural season for Charlie Weis at Notre Dame, USC rallied to win on the famous Reggie Bush-Matt Leinert "push" play — which, as the Associated Press and others pointed out, happened in the same end zone as Notre Dame's unsuccessful final drive on Saturday.

USC has scored at least 34 every time out against Weis-led teams.

Sidelined

It's likely unfair (or at least unproductive) to speculate. But those of us in the press box couldn't help but wonder how the game might have been different with Notre Dame's MIchael Floyd participating.

Floyd remains sidelined with a broken clavicle. USC bottled up tight end Kyle Rudolph (three catches for 9 yards) and contained Golden Tate for much of the day before the speedy receiver broke loose with a series of huge plays down the stretch, finishing with 117 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

Robby Parris had a career day with nine catches for 92 yards, among those a near-touchdown 25-yard catch and run on a nifty first-half fake punt. He showed toughness to spare with a clutch catch covering 13 yards on fourth and 10 from the USC 29 with time running out. Two USC defenders leveled him, knocking his helmet off and committing a personal foul for headhunting in the process (free safety Taylor Mays was apparently flagged).

Might've been

In Weis' postgame press conference, a reporter astutely brought up a third-quarter series that might have faded into the background given the fourth-quarter dramatics.

On its first set of downs in the second half, Notre Dame drove to third and 2 from the USC 28, but runs by Armando Allen and James Aldridge failed to gain the first down.

"I needed to get three more yards," Weis said when asked about whether a field goal was considered.

"That really swung some momentum," he said of the series. "We were really disappointed on that one because we didn't get enough push to get the first down."


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