1st USC Drive/3rd Quarter
The Irish again begin in a base 4-3 (Scott Smith starting at SLB with Gary Gray and Darrin Walls back at CB) and turn to the Nickel package on later downs. (Darius Fleming and Kerry Neal check in as defensive ends while Sergio Brown fills the nickel DB role). USC travels 73 yards in 6 plays (2:37 time of possession) and jump to a 13-point point lead with a 41-yard touchdown pass from Matt Barkley to Damian Williams. USC 20 ND 7
- Walls correctly squats on a hitch route vs. Williams and breaks up the pass to set up 2nd and 10.
- Good effort by Ian Williams to shed Kristopher O'Dowd's block and combine with Manti Te'o on the tackle, limiting Allen Bradford to three yards up the gut. Te'o fought off the block of LT Charles Brown and Irish DT Ethan Johnson fought to a stalemate with LG Jeff Byers. USC RG Alex Parsons pancaked Irish LDE Kapron Lewis-Moore on the play. Brian Smith fought off a block from RT Tyron Smith to receive partial credit on the play.
- Facing 3rd and 7 from their own 30-yard line, Barkley hits Brice Butler on a corner-route from the left slot for 15 yards and a Trojans first down. Sergio Brown could not stay with the talented redshirt freshman who took one hard step toward a slant than broke to the sideline with Brown trailing. This was another "high-low" effort by the Trojans, attempting to catch the Irish confused in zone coverage as they did twice in the first half, but the Irish switched to man defense and USC simply beat them with personnel. Brown has makeup speed but is too often beaten by a receiver‘s first fake.
- Harrison Smith commits a bench-able error, showing poor technique and even worse effort on a sideline "Ole" tackle attempt vs. FB Stanley Havili. Havili gains the first down after the catch. Te'o was caught on a run-blitz as Barkley faked a hand-off left and rolled right while LDE (backside responsibility) Kapron Lewis-Moore was cut down by tight end Anthony McCoy. Havili slipped out of the backfield as Smith, with flat responsibility to the right side, overpursued on the fake hand-off left, but his non-tackle was the true issue in Havili's 19-yard catch-and-run. Gary Gray made the sideline hit.
- Barkley is sacked on 1st and 10 at the ND 41-yard line by Lewis-Moore and a blitzing Brian Smith. More of a coverage sack as Barkley stood tall in the pocket after a pump but could not find a target downfield as the pocket collapsed around him. Ethan Johnson did his job, maintaining his pass rush lane in the pocket.
- Facing the Trojans second Bubble/Bunch look of the contest (the first gained 9 yards), the Irish were outnumbered as Sergio Brown blitzed on the snap, leaving Darrin Walls and Kyle McCarthy against two USC lead blockers (Anthony McCoy and Brice Butler) and Damian Williams. Williams predictably took the easy pass down the sideline for a 41-yard touchdown. McCarthy was caught too far inside (he also slipped and was subsequently blocked) while Walls backed off into coverage and was (inexplicably, considering the immediate pass from Barkley to Williams) nearly 20 yards off the ball when Williams began to head downfield. Harrison Smith took a terrible angle and whiffed at Williams who casually sped by as Walls was cleared out by Butler downfield en route to the end zone. (See note in 3rd Quarter Observations for more on this play and Coach Weis' explanation).
2nd Drive/3rd Quarter
After a Notre Dame touchdown cut the lead to 20-14, USC responded with a 5-play, 73-yard drive for a score. Notre Dame played in a base 4-3 with the exception of a one-play Nickel look (the touchdown). USC 27 ND 14
- Barkley played pitch-and-catch with McCoy for a 7-yard gain. McCoy split wide on the right sideline as Walls offers the big tight end a solid 8-yard cushion in bail coverage. Manti Te'o cleans up the mess (after Walls' weak swinging arm attempt barely causes McCoy to break stride). When Te'o has two steps to hit a ball carrier, its lights out…
- McKnight is stopped for a gain of 2 yards by the penetration of Ian Williams. Williams beat O'Dowd on the play as Parsons and Smith double-teamed to pancake Ethan Johnson.
- On 3rd and short, Barkley made perhaps his best throw under pressure, hitting a painfully open McCoy in stride downfield as the big tight end rumbled for a 60-yard gain to the Irish 4-yard line. Brian Smith had perfectly timed a delayed blitz to force the quick throw, but Irish FS Harrison Smith took either a false step to his right (as the pass came to his left) or a false step up (hard to tell on DVR tape) while Kyle McCarthy appeared to have flat responsibility vs. Havili on the play (though Havili was chucked by Fleming at the line as well). Regardless, ND sold out with what should have been an effective blitz but coverage errors continue to plague this team…as does poor tackling as a beaten Smith grabbed and was dragged by McCoy for an extra 20 yards before receiving help from Darrin Walls on the tackle at the ND 5-yard line. Two play-action fakes killed Irish safeties on Saturday.
- After barely noticing a blitzing Sergio Brown, Bradford is stopped after a yard gain by Brian Smith and Ethan Johnson. Brown has nice timing as blitzer but needs to bring a little more power at the point.
- On 2nd and Goal from the 3-yard line, Bradford scores on a toss over the left side as Filer knifes through the line but loses his feet; Te'o takes a curious inside angle (nowhere near the play); Brian Smith is blocked by Brice Butler on a crack and Walls is forced to go low (taking out Bradford's legs with a pulling tackle in front of him…pretty nice effort by Walls, actually). Harrison Smith delivers a blow at the goal line but Bradford extends his left arm for the score. Good hit by Smith who had taken a false step toward the middle at the snap. No clue why Te'o and Smith both stepped inside as there was no fake in that direction, nor did any SC linemen move to the right.
3rd Quarter Observations:
- Weis mentioned in his Tuesday press conference that Brown does indeed have plays in which he is assigned to blitz regardless of the offense's formation and others in which a blitzer can "peel" into coverage. He was unclear as to which defined Brown's role on the 41-yard bubble screen TD.
- The Irish had absolutely no answer for Anthony McCoy or USC's 3rd Quarter adjustments. The pass to McCoy (out of the bubble-look) for 25 yards was obvious (pre-snap) from the press box, yet not on the field. USC's coaching staff bested Notre Dame's in the 3rd period.
- At some point, preferably this week, Notre Dame's shoddy tackling efforts should be penalized with benchings. There's no excuse for five games of poor technique.
Last Drive 3rd/Beginning 4th Quarter
The Trojans take control with a 6-play, 66-yard drive (2:02 time of possession to take a commanding 20-point lead with 13:33 remaining in the contest. Sergio Brown replaced Harrison Smith in the team's 4-3 base defense to begin the drive (Walls and Gray at CB). I fully expected ND to yield more than 40 points and look sloppy offensively, but this Irish squad, limited defensively, has zero quit. USC 34 ND 14
- Walls is shaken by Williams from the left slot and Barkley finds the junior playmaker for 25 yards to the corner. Williams ran a textbook route on Walls after beating him off the line and Brown slipped on a subtle move by Williams to the post. Barkley had a solid four seconds and easy passing lane to plant and throw.
- USC's third Bubble/Bunch was a textbook case of the scheme defeating Notre Dame's obvious adjustment, as McCoy, rather than blocking for Williams, ran a simple post route (uncovered) for a gain of 26 yards. Defensively, Scott Smith blitz (not well) on the snap while McCarthy sprinted toward Williams (who had received the last two bubble passes) while Walls dropped into coverage on the sideline. Despite the absence of a receiving threat (TE Rhett Ellison was down) on the left side, the middle was totally vacated as McCoy caught the ball 10 yards from the nearest Irish defender (FS Sergio Brown). Brown missed the left tackle; Gray missed a dive and Te'o and Ryan finally wrapped up McCoy at the ND 12-yard line. Shaky scheme; too-obvious an adjustment (how could USC NOT counter with this throw?), and the usually shoddy tackling by Notre Dame on the play.
- Barkley's play-action roll right is diagnosed by Scott Smith and Lewis-Moore, but strong side (right side) TE Rhett Ellison sneaks out after a block for an easy flair pass and rumbles to the goal line before being clocked by Brian Smith. Sergio Brown brings zero power in an attempted shoulder tackle but Smith really cleaned up Ellison from the side. Ellison popped up smiling.
- The Irish switch to their goal line defense and Brown plays a stop-fade by Williams perfectly, batting down Barkley's pass as the outside right cornerback.
- Scott Smith penetrates and takes on a Havili lead block as Toryan Smith hits McKnight in the hole. McKnight slips the tackle (falling down) and reaches for the end zone as the ball comes up. Unfortunately for the Irish, the ground caused McKnight's fumble.
- Facing 3rd and Goal from the 1-yard line, the Trojans turn to a toss right as McKnight flies over a pile of bodies near the right pylon for a touchdown and commanding lead. RT Tyron Smith cleared out Harrison Smith; Havili got just enough of Toryan Smith's leg, and McKnight dove over the Irish goal line LB for the score before again losing the ball out of bounds. A furious Brian Smith pleaded his case with two officials for a fumble recovery after he recovered the ball 3 yards out of bounds (While way off base in this case, Smith's fire and energy would serve him well for the duration of the 4th Quarter).
2nd USC Drive/4th Quarter
After the Irish cut the lead to 34-20 on a Clausen 2-yard plunge, USC was held to 24 yards on 5 plays (two first downs) and were able to burn just 2:18 off the clock before committing a turnover (interception). ND began the series in a base 4-3 with Gray and Robert Blanton at CB. USC 34 ND 20
- McKnight takes a stretch handoff (solo backfield) and knifes through a seam in the Irish interior as Ian Williams is controlled by O'Dowd; Cwynar by RG Alex Parsons and Te'o by RT Tyron Smith. Ryan is blocked out of his lane and Brian Smith is chipped by LT Charles Brown. McKnight leaps over a diving Smith before he carries Blanton, Gray, and McCarthy for at least 6 yards on a 17-yard carry up the gut.
- Ellison slips out again (across the backfield this time) and though John Ryan notices the development on the backside, he doesn't get enough of Ellison to shake him from his route. Barkley, rolling left, throws unmolested (would be Ryan's responsibility) to Ellison for an 11-yard gain and another USC first down. Te'o hustles for the downfield tackle. Ryan, even though he technically diagnosed the route, should have stayed with his backside assignment on the rolling Barkley.
- McKnight is dropped for a two-yard loss as Brian Smith perfectly shoots through a seam to bring down the dangerous runner over left tackle. Credit Darius Fleming for securing the edge at SLB.
- Lewis-Moore stops McKnight for another two-yard loss as Ethan Johnson, Ian Williams, and Manti Te'o plug the middle. Good play on the backside by Lewis-Moore.
- An incredible blitz by Brian Smith off right tackle (leaping over McKnight and drilling Barkley) forces the freshman into a quick throw to his right. The pass is tipped by Trojans WR Ronald Johnson into the hands of Irish CB Gary Gray who returns the pick 30 yards to the USC 13-yard line and the Irish have new life yet again.
Final USC Drive
The Irish begin in their base 4-3 with Blanton and Gray on the corners and John Ryan at RDE. Kerry Neal replaces Ryan in the nickel for two plays. USC 34 ND 27
- Ian Williams beats O'Dowd and is held (no call) as Barkley hits Ausberry on the Irish sideline for a gain of 8 yards on 1st down. Nice hit by Blanton in support but Blanton does not need to give the huge Ausberry that large of a cushion.
- Harrison Smith meets McKnight over left tackle but the SC runner falls forward over Smith for a first down on 2nd and 2. Smith's slight hesitation gave McKnight the necessary forward momentum.
- Following an SC timeout with 6:13 on the clock, the Trojans targeted RDE John Ryan on a play-action roll left (to Ryan's side). The Irish senior stayed home to record a huge 8-yard sack of Barkley, setting up 2nd and 18. Ryan has made a key late play in three of Notre Dame's last five games.
- After Te'o (on a run blitz) and Harrison Smith are handled over left tackle (Neal stunted inside from his RDE spot), Gary Gray holds the edge on the sideline at CB to limit McKnight to 8 yards (2nd and 18). Brian Smith hustles across the field the make the tackle.
- McKnight found an outside lane after a well-timed screen over the left side, but NT Ian Williams sprinted from his down position to dive and knock McKnight out of bounds short of the marker, giving the Irish a final chance at a comeback. Williams was one yard ahead of McKnight, but several body lengths inside the speedy runner when McKnight caught the pass. His unsung effort on the play would have gone down in Irish annals had the game ended differently.
Final Score: USC 34 ND 27
Defensive Game Balls: Manti Te'o; Gary Gray after a rough 1st Quarter; Brian Smith and Ian Willams for the game's final three drives.