Blue and Gold Illustrated

December 2018

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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20 DECEMBER 2018 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY LOU SOMOGYI T he ghosts of past Los Angeles Coliseum horrors for national- title contending Notre Dame teams loomed early, but the spirit of the 2018 Fighting Irish pre- vailed with a 24-17 victory to cap a 12-0 regular season. Reeling with a 5-6 record while los- ing four of their last five games, USC jumped to an early 10-0 lead and was still ahead at halftime before Notre Dame methodically and gradually took control in a hard-fought con- quest. It bore some resemblance to six years earlier when the Irish had to battle to the end for a 22-13 vic- tory at USC in another 12-0 regular season that clinched a bid to the BCS National Championship Game. After facing its largest deficit this season, Notre Dame tallied the next 24 points before a USC touchdown with 48 seconds remaining kept the final score close. With the victory, Notre Dame all but sealed its first invitation into the four-team College Football Playoff. Participants will be announced for- mally at noon Sunday, Dec. 2 follow- ing the conference championship games the preceding day. Two USC fumbles after catches in Irish territory and two crucial third- and-long runs by junior quarterback Ian Book — who also completed 22 of 39 passes for a career-high 352 yards with two touchdowns and an interception — during two different scoring drives were especially piv- otal in the outcome. "USC was well prepared and Clay [Helton] did a great job of getting the team ready," Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said. "We took some body blows early and were able to get out of the first half with the game in reach." Director of football performance Matt Balis, hired in 2017 after the 4-8 debacle in 2016, was presented the game ball. "It's hard to win 12 games," Kelly said. "There are so many things out there that can distract not only kids but coaches, but I'm really pleased and proud of the team and everyone associated with it." FIRST QUARTER: USC 7, NOTRE DAME 0 Top Moment: USC took the open- ing kickoff and drove 78 yards in eight plays, with freshman quarter- back JT Daniels completing 6 of 7 passes for 64 yards, and then redshirt sophomore tailback Vavae Malepeai scampering for a 14-yard touchdown on the lone rush of the drive with 11:26 left. It was the 10th time in 12 games USC scored first. Top Performer: Against soft cush- ions given by the Irish defense, Dan- iels completed 16 of 17 passes for 138 yards, seven of them to freshman wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown for 70 yards. Stats: USC's 23 plays netted 179 yards, while Notre Dame ran only nine for 27 yards, with Book complet- ing 2 of 4 passes for 19 yards. Items: On USC's second posses- sion, Irish junior cornerback Troy Pride Jr. stripped the football from USC junior wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. and also recovered it at the Irish 33-yard line. SECOND QUARTER: USC 10, NOTRE DAME 7 Top Moment: With 2:20 left until halftime, Book hit senior wide re- ceiver Chris Finke in perfect stride near the goal-line pylon on a corner route for a 24-yard touchdown to pull Notre Dame within 10-7. Top Performer: In addition to the touchdown, the Book-to-Finke com- bination during that same drive con- nected for 18 yards on third-and-10 from the Irish 36 and nine more yards on third-and-eight from the USC 34-yard line. Book also scram- bled away from heavy pressure on a third-and-11 to pick up a first down at USC's 36-yard line. Stats: USC's 39 plays in the first half accounted 289 yards, with Dan- SPIRIT TRUMPS GHOSTS Notre Dame rallies for a 24-17 win at USC to cap 12-0 regular season Senior running back Dexter Williams led the Irish ground attack with 97 yards, highlighted by a 52-yard touchdown scamper, and also hauled in a career-high five catches for 54 yards. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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