The Notre Dame football team flew out to the West Coast for the second time this season. The Irish knocked off rival USC to complete their undefeated regular season and essentially punch their ticket to the College Football Playoff.
Notre Dame football was playing for more than just the jeweled shillelagh when they took the field against USC this weekend. The Irish were looking to finish the regular season 12-0 for the first time since 2012, making them a virtual lock for the College Football Playoff.
At the time of kickoff, the spread for the game had Notre Dame favored by 12 points. Here is how things unfolded.
The Trojans received the opening kickoff. Freshman quarterback JT Daniels came out throwing and led the USC offense on an eight play 78 yard touchdown drive to take a 7-0 lead.
The Irish got a pair of first downs on their first possession, but were forced to punt around midfield.
Despite being pinned deep in their own territory, the USC offense was on the move again. After a completed pass near the boundary, Troy Pride Jr. forced a fumble on a tackle and then recovered the loose ball. The Book club was unable to make the Trojans pay for their miscue – going three-and-out quickly.
A good punt return and some chunk plays had the Trojans threatening again. They consistently won in the trenches and even converted on a fourth and short. A much-needed stop in the red zone forced USC to kick a field goal, which extended their lead to 10-0.
Notre Dame’s offense got a little bit of something going on their next possession. After crossing midfield, Brian Kelly elected to go for it on fourth down. Ian Book’s pass to Chris Finke was broken up, and USC took over.
The Irish defense picked the team up by forcing a USC punt. The Book club got rolling on the next possession. The club’s leader, Ian Book, picked up a critical first down by scrambling and lowering his shoulder to run through a defensive back.
Notre Dame continued to struggle to run the ball, but Book made enough throws to keep the drive alive. From the edge of the red zone, he threw an absolute dime to Chris Finke to put the Irish on the scoreboard.
On their ensuing possession, the Trojans hit a big pass play up the sidelines to move into Irish territory. JT Daniels hit Amon-Ra St. Brown in the red zone, but Alohi Gilman stripped the ball on the tackle. Captain Drue Tranquill recovered the fumble in the scrum.
At first, it seemed like Notre Dame was content with running out the clock. After a first down run, however, the offense picked up the tempo, but it was too late. They were forced to attempt a Hail Mary before halftime. Book’s prayer was caught by Miles Boykin, but he was immediately tackled.
The Irish received the second half kickoff trailing 10-7. The Book club had a brief meeting this time. They went three-and-out, but Tyler Newsome gave them a nice punt to pin the Trojans deep. USC responded with a punt of their own.
The Book club congregated again, and this time juice was served to all. Dexter Williams to a handoff around the edge and took it 52 yards to the house. Notre Dame claimed its first lead of the game, 14-10.
Daniels and company moved the ball into Irish territory yet again, but penalties and some big plays by the Irish defense stalled the drive and forced a punt. After a few first downs, Notre Dame was forced to punt as well.
On third down, Julian Love jumped a route and nearly intercepted a pass from Daniels. The ball hit the ground before he could complete the catch, and the Trojans had a chance to punt the ball away.
On the next drive, Book missed a wide open Chris Finke deep down field. A completion on that play would have resulted in a touchdown. The Irish had to settle for a 46 yard field goal attempt that Justin Yoon barely pushed over the crossbar. The field goal gave Yoon the record for most career field goals in Notre Dame history.
My future brother-in-law commented on the current state of the game with a Zoolander reference. He said, “What is this, a lead for ants? It should be at least… three times as big.” I agreed.
The Irish defense continued to play much better than they did in the first half. They forced a punt and gave the ball back to the offense.
The Book club started moving the ball thanks to some chunk plays from Dexter Williams. However, an ill-advised throw by Ian Book was intercepted in the endzone. The USC offense took over at the 20 after the touchback.
The Irish defense had their first sacks of the game on the next possession – stopping the Trojans in their tracks and forcing a punt.
After a penalty on the punt, Notre Dame’s starting field position was not great. Ian Book made what I would call a “winning play” when he scrambled to convert a third and long early in the drive.
He followed that up with a quick throw to Tony Jones Jr. in the flat that went for 51 yards and a touchdown. Book saw that the Trojans were bringing pressure from that side of the field and knew that Jones would be open. Miles Boykin added a key block downfield to clear the way to the endzone.
JT Daniels and the Trojans would not go quietly, though. The true freshman led the offense down the field and hit Tyler Vaughns for a touchdown with 48 seconds left on the clock.
The ensuing onside kick was corralled by the silky mitts of Miles Boykin, and the game went final at 24-17.
Two words: Playoffs, baby.