Notre Dame defeated Southern Cal last night, 14-10, to notch its first home victory over the Trojans since 2001. It was a defensive showcase for the Irish, with Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix, III, giving the USC offensive line fits all night. After giving up a touchdown in Southern Cal’s opening drive, which went for ninety-six yards, ND’s defense locked down and surrendered just three more points in the game. While serious questions remain about the Irish offense, the defense answered the bell.
Tommy Rees’s night started promisingly enough, leading the Irish on a seventy-plus yard opening drive that ended in a failed fourth-and-goal conversion attempt from the one yard line. On the play, USC’s Su’a Cravens blasted through the end and blew up Cam McDaniel three yards in the backfield. There was an emotional appeal to the play call itself, with the opportunity it presented to finish off a dominating drive with a touchdown that would have certainly amped up an already excited team and home crowd. That said, putting the issue on Kyle Brindza’s foot may have been the smarter call.
As it went, Tommy didn’t have to do much, but what he did, he did well. He finished the evening with 166 yards, no interceptions and two touchdowns, one to USC-offeree Troy Niklas and one to TJ Jones. He left the game, however, midway through the third quarter with what Coach Kelly called “neck strain” after being sacked. His condition won’t be known until Monday and his availability for the Air Force game is unknown.
Andrew Hendrix’s performance in relief was not good, and Kelly’s concern was palpable in his remarks after the game. The ND offense was almost completely neutered once Rees left the game. Hendrix was awful throwing the ball and only slightly better running. If Rees is in fact gone for the next game or several games, Notre Dame’s offense may regress severely.
It was, then, very much a game won by the defense, who used the bye week to good effect. Jaylon Smith notched his first career interception while Louis Nix plugged up the middle well and broke up a pass. NBC’s Mike Mayock may have even used the phrase “butt control” in referring to Nix’s performance, but my notes are blurred by spilled Trojan Blood. Stephon Tuitt, on the heels of a minor “is he or isn’t he?” controversy, was rampant, picking up two sacks and seven tackles to go with a pass block of his own. Given the offensive talent USC brought into the game, it is rather remarkable that they did not score in the second half and went 0-11 on third down after the opening drive. USC came into the game averaging twenty-eight points per game.
Southern Cal was clearly a team worn down by injury and the symptoms of scholarship reductions. Marqise Lee, the all-world receiver, started the game, but left and did not play in the second half. They missed two field goals, one terribly to the right. Their offense couldn’t get anything done. Note that in its win over Arizona, the Trojans ran the ball for 249 yards and passed for 297 yards. Against ND last night, they could only muster 129 rushing yards and 166 yards through the air.
This was a huge win for Notre Dame, who hosted a bevvy of recruits and representatives from the Sugar and Fiesta bowls. By putting the ghosts of home losses past in the past, Notre Dame has positioned itself for a run to the BCS, if Tommy Rees is capable of coming back effectively. If not, the coaching staff will earn their money over the next few days, by either ramping up Andrew Hendrix, or burning Malik Zaire’s redshirt.