Saturday, October 21, 2017

No. 13 Notre Dame 49, No. 11 USC 14: Notre Dame keeps its College Football Playoff hopes alive with an emphatic win over rival USC

                                                            Photo Credit: Jon Opiela

By: Jon Opiela
Twitter: @jonopiela24

SOUTH BEND, Ind.– The No. 11 USC Trojans (6-2, 4-1 Pac-12) and the No. 13 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (6-1) squared off under the lights of Notre Dame Stadium in what served as a College Football Playoff elimination game. Notre Dame scored 28 unanswered points in the first half to set the tone for the 49-14 blowout.

With doubts about whether or not Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly could produce a major win or not were answered and then some in the emphatic win, but wants more on the quest to a potential trip to the College Football Playoff.

“It’s our rival. I mean, we won the Shillelagh back.  I mean, that’s an important thing – we like the trophies,” Kelly said. “This is not the crown jewel for us, if you will. We want more. This was a great victory, we’re excited about the win and beating a very good USC team, but our guys want to be unique.”

Irish All-American left tackle Mike McGlinchey called the victory over USC, “The best win by far in my five years here.”

USC’s first play on offense resulted in a fumble by quarterback Sam Darnold. Te’Von Coney was credited with both the forced fumble and the fumble recovery.  The Irish converted on the Trojans turnover on a 26-yard strike from Brandon Wimbush to Equanimeous St. Brown to get on the scoreboard first.

Kevin Stepherson pulled in a 23-yard pass from Wimbush while spinning and falling into the end zone for the second Notre Dame touchdown of the game. Stepherson finished the game with a team-high three receptions and 58 yards, while also adding 24 yards of rushing. Brandon Wimbush was impressed with the play from Stepherson.

“I liked his two weeks of preparations and that leads to the way he played today. He was focused for the entire two weeks,” Wimbush said. “I told him before the game, ‘I’m going to hit you a couple of times today’ and he did his thing and went up and got the ball for me.”

Notre Dame’s defensive front kept constant pressure on USC quarterbacks Darnold and Matt Fink throughout the game. The Irish recorded five sacks and forced three turnovers. Darnold finished 20-of-28 through the air for 229 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception.

“What I was really pleased with was the mental performance of this football team. That was the best mental performance we’ve had where we go out and from a mental standpoint just wanted to dominate our opponent,” Kelly said. “That was as good as I’ve seen, not just here, anywhere I’ve been as it relates to their mental preparation and how they handled themselves today.”

USC’s Jack Jones muffed a punt at its own 9-yard line, where Notre Dame captain Drue Tranquill fell on it to recover.  Just three plays later, Notre Dame’s Josh Adams found the end zone on a 3-yard touchdown run— his sixth of the season.

Darnold’s pass was intercepted by Nick Watkins, and the Irish proceeded to convert the turnover into another scoring opportunity. The scoring drive was highlighted by a 24-yard rush by Wimbush, who broke a tackle and hurdled a Trojan defender on the play. Wimbush tacked on another touchdown for Notre Dame when he split USC’s defenders and scored from four yards out.

The Trojans scored two touchdowns in the third quarter, but would not be enough as Wimbush found the end zone on the ground for a second time with a 7-yard run in the middle of the third quarter. The score gave Wimbush his tenth rushing touchdown on the season, which tied the Notre Dame single season record for a quarterback set by DeShone Kizer in 2015.

Josh Adams electrified the home crowd with an 84-yard touchdown run through the middle of the Trojan defense. A few minutes later, Adams added his third touchdown of the night to push the lead to 49-14. Adams finished the game with 191 yards of rushing on 19 attempts.

“Obviously, I think he’s the best back in the country because he plays for me. But if you really look at his production for a team that is doing what we’re doing right now, he’s one of the best players in the country,” Kelly said. “Maybe everyone should just wait for the end of the year and vote for the Heisman.”