Blue and Gold Illustrated

December 2018

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

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Page 22 of 47 DECEMBER 2018 23 USC RUNNING GAME VS. NOTRE DAME RUN DEFENSE In the first quarter, USC's "running game" was basically the short passing game when freshman quarterback JT Daniels completed 16 of 17 passes for 138 yards, although the lone score came on a 14-yard burst through the middle by redshirt sophomore tailback Vavae Malepeai. Similar to Syracuse a week earlier, USC's 112 yards on its 22 designed rushing plays helped augment the much more emphasized passing attack, but there was never enough sustainment or rhythm established with it to control the line of scrimmage. Overall, though, USC's offensive line held its own much better than anticipated. ADVANTAGE: Even USC PASSING GAME VS. NOTRE DAME PASS DEFENSE Concerned primarily with the big-play capabilities of the best collective receiving corps they have faced this year, the Irish played a soft, off-man coverage in the first half to keep everything in front of them and wait for a USC miscue (which eventu- ally happened with lost fumbles after catches at the Irish 33- and 15-yard lines). In the second half, the Irish then adjusted to dropping seven and even eight men into coverage, most conspicuously junior defensive end Julian Okwara, which often can confuse younger quarterbacks, and also having the safeties come down faster to the line to minimize yards after the catch. The results showed when Daniels, after finishing the first half 26 of 31 for 244 yards (7.9 yards per attempt), was a far less efficient 11 of 20 for 105 yards (5.3 yards per attempt) in the second. ADVANTAGE: Even NOTRE DAME RUNNING GAME VS. USC RUN DEFENSE All it takes in today's spread-oriented offenses is just one big play with the run to help open the floodgates, and it did with senior running back Dexter Williams' 52-yard touchdown sweep on a perfectly executed misdirection play in which most of the blockers pulled right while Williams sped to the left for the score. That one play accounted for 43 percent of Notre Dame's 121-yard rushing total. Junior quarterback Ian Book's 16-yard draw on third-and-12 and 11-yard scramble on third-and-11 also were crucial plays against a USC defense that stacked the box and forced the Irish to execute with the pass. ADVANTAGE: USC NOTRE DAME PASSING GAME VS. USC PASS DEFENSE Book passed for a career-high 352 yards after a slow start (2 of 4 for 19 yards in the first quarter), and particularly targeted senior wideout Chris Finke. He caught all seven of his passes for 86 yards — both career highs — in the first half, while the Trojans applied quality coverage on standouts Miles Boykin and Chase Claypool, who became more prominent later. Underrated has been the use of the backs the past two weeks, with Williams catching a career-high five passes for 54 yards (he had 50 receiving yards all year), and junior Tony Jones' Jr. sneaking out in the flat on the wheel route for a 51-yard score when USC brought the house on a third-and-six blitz to pressure Book. ADVANTAGE: Notre Dame SPECIAL TEAMS Four areas gave Notre Dame the edge. First, kick coverage by the Irish was particularly strong. Second, a 59-yard punt by fifth-year senior Tyler Newsome after the opening series of the second half pinned USC back at its 10 and helped set up the go-ahead touchdown. Third, senior kicker Justin Yoon's 46-yard field goal, his lone attempt on a bad field, extended the Irish advantage to 17-10. Finally, Finke helped bait USC into a couple of penalties on punt returns. The Trojans also fair caught a punt at their 5-yard line. ADVANTAGE: Notre Dame THIRD-DOWN CONVERSIONS Although the final percentage for USC was higher at 7 of 15 (46.7 percent) compared to Notre Dame's 6 of 15 (40.0 percent), the Irish conversions were more meaningful and dramatic. On the initial Irish touchdown drive, Notre Dame converted third-and-10 and third-and-eight situations with 18- and nine- yard completions to Finke, and on third-and-11 Book escaped a strong rush and rammed ahead for the requisite 11 yards. Then in the fourth quarter, with the Irish clinging to a 17-10 lead and facing third-and-12 at its 28-yard line, Book raced 16 yards on a quarterback draw. Three plays later on third-and-six, he found Jones on a 51-yard scoring play. ADVANTAGE: Notre Dame TURNOVERS Zero points were scored off the game's three turnovers, two fumbles by USC and an interception forced into the end zone by Book. However, USC's two lost fumbles crushed their momentum. After scoring on their first series to make it 7-0, Daniels connected on short tosses to take USC from its five to Notre Dame's 33 — before junior cornerback Troy Pride Jr. forced a Michael Pittman fumble. Pride recovered the ball at the Notre Dame 33. Next, leading 10-7 with a minute left in the first half, St. Brown was stripped of the football by junior safety Alohi Gilman near the Irish 15-yard line, and fifth-year senior linebacker Drue Tranquill recovered it. Book's interception also could have had ramifications in the fourth quarter, but the defense came to the rescue. ADVANTAGE: Notre Dame ANALYSIS This game swung on two crucial third-and-long runs for first downs by Book that helped result in two Irish touchdowns, and two lost fumbles by USC re- ceivers in Irish territory when USC had the lead and could have really applied more pressure. Notre Dame also had a missed opportunity when Book overthrew a wide open Finke for what would have been a second touchdown between the two. The Trojans battled valiantly when some opinions held they would quit, but Notre Dame's significant edge in veteran play on both sides of the ball provided a vital difference. ON PAPER REVISITED BY LOU SOMOGYI Junior drop end Julian Okwara recorded a sack of JT Daniels in the fourth quarter, and also was effective dropping into coverage during the second half. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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