Notre Dame defeated USC, 22-13, on Saturday night in the Coliseum to secure their spot in the National Title game. The Fighting Irish did not bring their A-game but came out on top. There were many positives for Brian Kelly’s team on Saturday night. Here are some of those positives:
Theo Riddick’s MVP Performance
Riddick came into the game with three 100-yard rushing performances (Navy, BYU, Boston College). Fans and critics were wondering whether or not Riddick was the best option for the Fighting Irish at Running Back. Cierre Wood appeared to be the bigger homerun threat, averaging 6.73 yards per carry. In comparison, Riddick was only averaging 4.89 yards per carry. Riddick somewhat silenced those critics on Saturday night with a 146-yard performance against the Trojans. What was really impressive about Riddick was his drive and determination to carry the Irish to victory. It was clear from the ABC broadcast that Riddick did not want to be removed from the ballgame at any point. He would complain and fight with the coaches each time he was lifted from the game. He wanted the ball in his hands. Riddick also demonstrated why he is a better option than Wood in some occasions: his receiving skills. Riddick added 33 yards on 3 catches. He had 179 yards total and Notre Dame’s only touchdown. Theo Riddick embodied the spirit of this Notre Dame team. He was resilient on Saturday night in leading the Irish to a victory.
Notre Dame’s Goalline Stand
Once again, the Fighting Irish held an opponent inside the five-yard line. USC had a 1st and 10 at the Notre Dame 1-yard line following a pass interference penalty against KeiVarae Russell. On 1st and 2nd down, the Trojans Quarterback Max Wittek attempted to sneak the ball across the plane. However, Notre Dame stood up Wittek both times. Then, Notre Dame stopped Curtis McNeal for no gain. The Trojans decided to go for it on 4th down. Wittek faked the run and then passed to Soma Valnuku. Valnuku was unable to come up with the ball. This embodied what the Notre Dame season has been able. The Irish make stands when their back is against the wall. They did it against Stanford, Pitt and USC. This is why they are headed to Miami.
KeiVarae Russell’s Interception
All week, fans heard about how Notre Dame would be unable to stop Marqise Lee and Robert Woods. The story line for years is that Notre Dame has no speed. At the conclusion of the 2nd half, Freshman Cornerback KeiVarae Russell intercepted a Max Wittek deep ball that was intended for Marqise Lee. Russell ran stride for stride with Lee before making the pick. Russell has been one of the surprises this season. Many expected him to be one of the downfalls of the Defense. But, Russell has been very serviceable at the Cornerback position. He recorded two interceptions in the regular season to go along with two passes broken up. Russell also recorded 50 tackles this season.