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Tape Review: USC-Notre Dame game notes

Notes on USC players and scheme after re-watching Saturday's 45-27 rivalry win over Notre Dame.

USC/Notre Dame Game Notes

- USC quickly goes twice in a row to Darreus Rogers. Notre Dame often bracketed JuJu Smith-Schuster, so it’s important to show you will throw to the other side and make them have that in the back of their mind every time they put an extra defender over Smith-Schuster.

- De’Quan Hampton had the big game against UCLA, but Isaac Whitney is the first receiver to sub in this week. This is partly because he backs up Darreus Rogers, who caught passes on the first two plays.

- Jerry Tillery gets started early with the bullying tactics. As Ronald Jones II tries to get up after a first down run, Tillery, who was nowhere near making a tackle, comes over an nudges Jones with his knee to knock him back to the ground. Jones gets up and pushes Tillery away. Normally, this wouldn’t matter, but Tillery’s later actions show none of the instances were by accident.

- Just as everyone expected…or not, the first running back off the bench is Dominic Davis.

- The jet sweep motion that Notre Dame uses helps open up the long run on the Irish’s first play. Ajene Harris normally would have been on the side of the field where Josh Adams cuts back to, but is running across the formation when Adams breaks through the middle. It’s only because of Adoree’ Jackson’s speed that Notre Dame needs an extra play to get in the end zone.

- Adoree' Jackson is just so much fun to watch with the ball in his hands. USC runs a swing pass to him on third and 11 that is ruled a lateral. So needing a 12-yard run, Jackson runs into his blocker, bounces off, tiptoes the sideline, makes a guy miss and picks up the 12 yards needed for a first down.

- A Zach Banner block gives Ronald Jones II the corner, a Daniel Imatorbhebhe block allows him to fain coming inside before bouncing it outside and a JuJu Smith-Schuster block puts him on the sideline with no defender to beat. Great blocking begets a big boy breakaway run.

- The Trojans run their first 19 offensive plays out of the shotgun.

- Third and 3 near midfield has Sam Darnold ready to take a shot after he sees JuJu Smith-Schuster with man coverage on the outside, but Smith-Schuster runs a stick route instead. Darnold pulls the pass back and then turns to the other side where he rushes a throw and slings it behind Darreus Rogers, forcing a punt.

- On third and long, Christian Rector lines up as a defensive end with Rasheem Green shoulder to shoulder while Uchenna Nwosu moves into the nose tackle position standing over the center. Michael Hutchings bluffs attacking in two different gaps on the linemen’s side, but backs away. Nwosu pats his feet at the line of scrimmage for nearly two seconds and then loops around to the outside where he would normally be lined up while Rector/Green stand inside. Rector gets to DeShone Kizer but can’t bring him down and Kizer runs around a flat-footed Cam Smith to pick up 13 yards, but go out of bounds just shy of the first down marker.

- C’mon Sam…a jump pass? You’re ridiculous. Avoiding the rush, then delivering a first down conversion with a jump pass. You’re unbelievable sometimes.

- Ronald Jones II has become much better at being decisive with his first cut on zone read plays. Once he puts his foot in the ground, he fires through the hole.

- Another miscommunication between Sam Darnold and JuJu Smith-Schuster.

- A beautiful connection from Sam Darnold to Deontay Burnett right in the center of a Notre Dame zone defense. Good anticipatory throw into the window and nice job by Burnett to take a hit and still make the catch.

- Sam Darnold spikes a screen pass at the feet of Ronald Jones II. Looks like he just got a little spooked. He had more time and Jones was just coming open.

- Stevie Tu'ikolovatu with back-to-back tackles to start a drive. He shows his experience by staying clean of any blockers as he and Rasheem Green run a game together and then is waiting in the hole for Josh Adams as he gets to the line of scrimmage on first down. Always a good sign for a team when a nose tackle get back-to-back tackles on first and second down. 

- USC goes all out for the punt block and Michael Pittman Jr. drills the punter. After Pittman hits him, multiple Trojans basically all watch the ref to see if a flag is going to be thrown, which happens. This play could have been a huge momentum swing because instead of starting at midfield, USC hands the ball back and Notre Dame drives down the field, only to miss a short field goal.

- Notre Dame tries to run a statue of liberty play, but by faking a throw to the right, the football is quite visible in DeShone Kizer’s left hand for all the defenders on the left side. It isn’t behind his back like you’d like for a statue of liberty play, but instead out in the open. The play fake gets Uchenna Nwosu and Stevie Tu’ikolovatu, who follow the screen right action. Michael Hutchings and Leon McQuay III each take one step before realizing what is going on, but Cameron Smith sees it and is not fooled at all by the play, tackling Dexter Williams for a seven-yard loss. 

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- Bringing Quinton Powell up to the line of scrimmage when he blitzes effectively negates him. Once offensive linemen get their hands on him, he isn’t normally going to get free. Instead, bring him late and let his speed be to his advantage as he can hit a hole that opens up after the initial separation at the snap.

- Sometimes offensive linemen don’t have much of a chance. Jarron Jones blasts through the line and brings RoJo down for a six-yard loss. He crosses the face of Nico Falah, but Falah didn’t have much hope of getting a reach block on Jones when Jones was lined up on the inside shoulder of left guard Damien Mama. Mama pulls to get out in front with a block for RoJo, leaving a gaping hole for Jarron Jones to run through and hit RoJo in the backfield before Falah ever had a chance.

- USC runs an out-and-up wheel route out of a motioning Deontay Burnett with Darreus Rogers going inside and Burnett is wide open. Sam Darnold’s throw hangs up in the air too long and Notre Dame is able to break the pass up. Darnold may have just thrown it too high or it might have been the gusting wind that cost the Trojans a big gain on a third down play. Probably would have worked better for Darnold to throw that one with a low trajectory like he was fitting the outside soft spot of a Cover-Two defense because of how much separation Burnett had got.

- Trying to block Uchenna Nwosu on the outside with just a running back? Nwosu says, ‘Nah, brah. Not a good idea’ as he goes right by Josh Adams and spins DeShone Kizer around a couple of times before the referees blow the play dead and give him a sack. If Kizer’s flip had been allowed, it had the potential to be bad for either team. If ruled a forward pass, the Irish save 13 yards. If ruled a lateral, USC would have had the ball at the 10-yard line after Rasheem Green comes away with the football.

- USC using some different looks with the safeties jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage and the cornerbacks playing off 10-15 yards. You can’t see great what defensive concept the Trojans are running, but it could be they are wanting to play zone, but would prefer to have the corners defending against any deep balls, since they likely have better ball skills.

- Porter Gustin nearly misses a sack and Adoree’ Jackson nearly misses an interception. Those are the type of game-changing plays that can sometimes be that close betweens wins and losses. On this day it didn’t matter, but the missed interception was brought up by Jackson multiple times after the game. It was a 50/50 ball with Torii Hunter Jr., but Jackson blamed himself for missing an interception, especially because he thought that if he caught it, he would have taken it the other way for a pick six.

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- The referees made the correct call on the non-play when Notre Dame snaps the ball past the punter and out of the back of the end zone. The play never should have happened because the refs were allowing the defense an opportunity to substitute after the offense did. However, what should have been called was a delay of game for the long snapper not heeding the referees’ ‘ready-for-play’ whistle.

- Adoree’ Jackson just makes it look too easy on the 55-yard punt return for a touchdown. He shows as much too, sticking his tongue out ala Michael Jordan as he runs it in and then passing out some high-fives to the Song Girls on his way back to the bench.

- After his punt return TD, Notre Dame smartly attacks Adoree’ Jackson immediately. The best time to go after a star on defense is right after they have just had a long play that would tire them out.

- What was DeShone Kizer seeing on his interception thrown to Ajene Harris? Harris is all over the route, steps in front and takes it the other way. The pressure by Stevie Tu’ikolovatu up the middle speeds up Kizer’s progression and eventual throw.

- Porter Gustin is really picking up the nuisances of being a pass rusher. He picks up a half sack when he uses a speed rush and not only dips his shoulder under the block attempt, but dives with his helmet to duck under the offensive lineman’s outstretched arms. He gets a full step on the right tackle, dives and grabs ahold of DeShone Kizer’s back foot and begins twisting him to bring him down. Rasheem Green hits Kizer to make sure it’s official, picking up a half sack as well.

- A weak unsportsmanlike conduct is called on Notre Dame offensive lineman Mark Harrell. Uchenna Nwosu frog splashes on top of the pile as the sack is taking place and rolls over to Harrell’s side. He moves Nwosu away from his legs with Nwosu rolling away. Harrell gets flagged for removing an opponent from a pile.

- Ajene Harris gets his first career sack when DeShone Kizer basically steps into his lap. Harris tries to time the snap count and just barely catches himself before stepping offsides. He rushes around the edge and is picked up by the running back, but when Uchenna Nwosu runs a stunt with Rasheem Green and is left unblocked, Kizer tries to step up and avoid the sack only to run right into Harris’ arms.

- USC gets away with a pick play on crossing routes that enables the Trojans to pick up a first down. Daniel Imatorbhebhe and the defender chasing Darreus Rogers bounce off each other, which gets Rogers wide open and he takes the pass for a 21-yard third down conversion.

- Three great blocks allow Adoree’ Jackson to take a short swing pass for a 52-yard touchdown. Taylor McNamara picks up the defender assigned to Jackson in man-to-man coverage. Deontay Burnett dives and gets just enough of cornerback Cole Luke to chop him off his feet momentarily, allowing Jackson to get the edge and Darreus Rogers walls of the outside land with a great block of safety Devin Studstill. Jackson’s speed does the rest down the sideline.

- Notre Dame had a lot of success with straight ahead running with a trap block, but USC’s tackling was not up to its normal standard at times, allowing five-yard gains to turn into 15 yards.

- Christian Rector gets just enough of a defender at the 45-yard line to keep him from having a shot at Adoree’ Jackson on his kickoff return for a touchdown. Jack Jones misses the kicker, but Jackson takes care of that in one hurdle. Second string kickoff return blocker, Isaac Whitney shows great hustle racing down the field to get his hands on the last defender. He does enough to keep the final guy from a true tackle attempt against Jackson, who strolls in with a touchdown.

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- How about that lick from Matt Boermeester? He sells out for the highlight and is all smiles afterward.

- Good play recognition by Porter Gustin to see the throwback pass. Poor blocking allows him to cut through two linemen to make the tackle for a minimal gain. If the play would have netted significant yardage, USC would have been irate because no penalty was called on an offensive lineman who tried to cut Stevie Tu’ikolovatu. His initial dive low works, but he just grabs both of Tu’ikolovatu’s legs as he’s trying to get up and chase after the play. Tu’ikolovatu has to essentially kick the lineman free.

- Not sure who missed their assignment, but USC blows a coverage on the first play of the fourth quarter biting on the play fake of DeShone Kizer running to the right side. Running back Josh Adams flares out and cuts up and is wide open. If he doesn’t slip and stumble, a 23-yard play could have gone for much more.

- When Marvell Tell III diagnoses a play and gets headed downhill attacking a ballcarrier, it is fun to watch. He can cover so much ground with his long strides, but he has to tackle better. He diagnoses a run, takes on the initial blocker, wraps up the ballcarrier at the line of scrimmage and then gets carried six yards on one play early in the fourth quarter.

- Ajene Harris correctly diagnoses the bubble screen Notre Dame is attempting to run, cuts through the blockers and gets his hand on the throw, which will turn out to be a lateral. But give Leon McQuay III credit for putting immediate pressure on DeShone Kizer to help force that throw just a little wider than Notre Dame wants.

- Ronald Jones II runs for a patient 15 yards following the blocks of a pulling Viane Talamaivao, who kicks out the linebacker and Chad Wheeler, who combines with Damien Mama to completely turn Jerry Tillery to open up a path before Wheeler comes off to get the middle linebacker. Those blocks put Jones one-on-one with the safety, who makes a nice tackle in the open field.

- If there was any doubt that the hit on Aca’Cedric Ware from Nicco Fertitta, the son of former UFC co-owner and CEO Lorenzo Fertitta, was helmet to helmet, the refs only needed to look on the ground around where the hit was made. Fertitta hit Ware so hard that gold paint chips from his helmet went floating though the air.

- Fertitta has every right to be fired up for his hit. Big hits are a part of football and you should be excited when you get a big hit, but after seeing that Ware was down the rest of Notre Dame’s team actions are pretty deplorable. The fact that freshman safety Devin Studstill has to shove Jerry Tillery back away from a motionless Ware and an assistant coach/staff member has to run out and grab Tillery after he kicks at Ware’s head and fellow defensive lineman Jay Hayes is making a ‘go to sleep’ motion is reprehensible. 

- Adoree’ Jackson misses out on a fourth touchdown when Sam Darnold’s throw on a swing pass is just a touch too far out in front of Jackson. There was one defender to navigate, but Jackson’s father would say after the game that he expected Adoree’ to flip over the defender to get into the end zone.

- After Jerry Tillery steps on Zach Banner’s ankle following the touchdown to JuJu Smith-Schuster, you see Brian Kelly questioning him, “What’s that about?” he asks as the penalty is being called on he field. Tillery barely will look at Kelly. “I don’t know.” Kelly asks him another question and Tillery answers the same. “What do you mean you don’t know?” Kelly goes off on Tillery a bit in this instance and then later after finding out what happened from the referees during a TV timeout, seeks out Tillery on the bench and goes off on him.

- Max Browne stares down Michael Pittman the entire time on his only throw of the day. That gives the defender covering the running back in the flat time to come off and get a hand on the pass.

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