Blue and Gold Illustrated

December 2018

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

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24 DECEMBER 2018 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED TURNING POINT Our initial thought on the turning point was that it came with Notre Dame trailing 10-0 and facing third-and-11 at the USC 47-yard line. Junior quar- terback Ian Book's 11-yard yard scramble out of what looked like an impending sack helped set up the first Irish touchdown and was a game changer. However, on the ensuing possession USC was marching down the field threatening to score again. A 14-yard completion by freshman quar- terback JT Daniels to freshman wideout Amon-Ra St. Brown took the ball near the Irish 15-yard line — when junior safety Alohi Gilman wrapped up St. Brown and dislodged the football that fifth- year senior linebacker Drue Tranquill recovered with one minute remaining in the half. The Trojans were in rhythm, and had they scored to make it 17-7 right before halftime, the climb would have been much steeper for Notre Dame, while USC's confidence might have soared higher. Instead, it was a squandered opportunity for the Trojans and a significant momentum-altering play in the contest. STAT OF THE GAME For the third time in 10 years, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly managed to fashion a 12-0 regular season, first at Cincinnati (2009) and now twice at Notre Dame (2012 and 2018). Extremely few coaches can get to 12-0 just once in their college careers, never mind three times (or even at two schools). To our knowledge, Penn State's Joe Paterno and Nebraska's Tom Osborne were among the first as schedules began to expand to 11- and 12-game regular seasons. The company has been quite exclusive with Urban Meyer of Utah, Florida and Ohio State, Chris Petersen of Boise State and Washington, and Nick Saban of Alabama. Kelly also joins the hallowed company of Knute Rockne and Frank Leahy as the lone head coaches at Notre Dame to have two unbeaten and untied regular seasons. Rockne achieved it five times — 1919, 1920, 1924, 1929 with nine-game regular seasons, plus 10-0 in 1930, and Leahy twice: 1947 (9-0) and 1949 (10-0). THE BIG THREE … AND NOTRE DAME Since the inception of the College Football Play- off in 2014, three teams have won the four titles from 2014-17 and have comprised the "first tier" of college football. Alabama has won two titles (2015 and 2017), been to the CFP all four years and had a mark of 48-3 entering it. Clemson has been in it three times, won it in 2016 and was 47-5 during those four regular seasons. Finally, Ohio State captured the inaugural crown in 2014, has been in it twice and posted a 45-5 ledger in the 2014-17 regular seasons. All three could be there again in 2018, while Notre Dame crashes the party. Oklahoma, also a 2018 CFP contender, is on the fringe of that first tier, while the Fighting Irish, who have won at least 10 games three of the past four years, have begun to ensconce themselves more and more in that second tier. Opportunity awaits for more this season and in the years to come. THREE OBSERVATIONS BY LOU SOMOGYI OFFENSE: WR CHRIS FINKE All of Notre Dame's receivers made plays at times against USC, and senior running back Dexter Williams ripped off a 52-yard run that finally put Notre Dame ahead. However, the former walk-on and current senior wide receiver was Notre Dame's top player. Finke led the Irish with seven catches for 86 yards — both of which set career highs — and hauled in a 24-yard touchdown grab. Prior to his scoring catch, he pulled down an 18-yard reception to convert a third- and-10 on the third play of the drive and produced a nine-yard gain to convert a third-and-eight. Two plays later, Finke got open on a corner route for a touchdown that got the Irish on the board. DEFENSE: S ALOHI GILMAN AND CB JULIAN LOVE On a night when Notre Dame surrendered 349 pass- ing yards, it might seem strange to name a pair of junior defensive backs as the players of the game, but raw numbers don't always tell the story. Love did an excellent job limiting yards after catch and led the defense with 12 tackles, with 10 of them in the first half. Gilman was also impactful, forcing a fumble by USC freshman wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown deep in Irish territory that kept it a three-point game going into the break. He also made a number of strong solo tackles on the perimeter in the run game and finished with 10 stops. SPECIAL TEAMS: JUSTIN YOON Not only did the senior kicker become Notre Dame's all-time leader in field goals made with a 46-yarder in the third quarter, but his outstanding ball placement on kickoffs allowed the Irish coverage unit to thrive in this game. All three attempted returns resulted in USC fail- ing to get to the 25-yard line. TOP PLAYERS OF THE GAME BY BRYAN DRISKELL Senior wide receiver Chris Finke led the team in receptions (seven) and receiv- ing yards (86), and his 24-yard touchdown grab got the Irish on the board after they had fallen behind 10-0. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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