The opening drive of the night went according to plan so to speak, stopping Notre Dame inside the five-yard line and immediately driving the ball 96 yards down the field.
Thanks largely to monstrous running from Silas Redd, who finished the game with 112 yards rushing on 19 carries, the offense was off and running but left South Bend banged up and in a much worse state than when they started.
"We have a hurt team, but we have a special group of men," said head coach Ed Orgeron, describing the emotions post game after looking down the sidelines at a nearly decimated roster, adding "I'm very proud of my men."
From that point forward the entire offense went stagnant, much to the similar tone it had against Washington State. The worst part of the performance however was that fans could not lean on "Fire Kiffin" chants to send the team home.
Among other frustrating things from Saturday night, dropped passes across the board and in-opportune penalties cost the Trojans a chance for redemption falling to Brian Kelly for now the third time in the last four seasons.
In the second half alone, USC started four straight drives at their own 48, Notre Dame's 33, ND 47, and ND 34 yet were unable to put up points in a rather gutless and disappointing performance from the offense.
What may have come as the ultimate dagger to the Trojans chances, Aundrey Walker was called for a holding penalty that eliminated what would have been a 19-yard run from Cody Kessler to move the chains. The next play, the offense was sacked by Stephon Tuitt, who played like the powerful force we saw all last season.
Here is the complete breakdown of what went down for the Trojans after failing to score in the second half for the second game this season, leaving more questions than answers around another up and down performance on the road.
SECOND HALF DRIVE BREAK DOWN:
15:00 3rd Quarter---3 plays, INT Cody Kessler
11:23 3rd Quarter--3 plays, -1 yards (9-yard Sack) Punt
8:21 3rd Quarter--3 plays, 3 yards (1 Penalty) Punt
4:39 3rd Quarter--3 plays, 5 yards Punt
2:14 3rd Quarter--3 plays, -6 yards (Holding Penalty Aided) Punt
12:25 4th Quarter--4 plays, 19 yards (Holding Penalty On 1st Down) Missed Field Goal
6:27 4th Quarter--6 plays, -4 yards (15 Yards of Penalties, One Sack) Turnover On Downs
1:35 4th Quarter--5 plays, 34 yards (False Start Before 3rd and 3) Turnover On Downs
The Trojans got their last chance to score after creating a tremendous three and out, but a slew of injuries, poor blocking and weird exchanges made matters nearly impossible for a come from behind touchdown drive.
Despite the disappointing performance on offense, the intersectional-rivalry game which started sky high but ended with countless bodies limping off the field in pain, players left Notre Dame Stadium with heads held high under Orgeron's watch.
"We made some mistakes. But they fought," the interim head coach said after the game, addressing his physically worn down roster that is seriously wreaking the effects of scholarship sanctions at this point.
They started the half with the football, and they also ended the half with a drive typical of the entire night. It began with sharp completions to Nelson Agholor, seemingly the only healthy receiver left on the roster, and ended with two tight-fitting passes into third-string tight end Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, who became the leading target in Notre Dame territory.
The final score may speak novels about USC's recent struggles on offense, yet the injury situation that will further unfold in the coming days, may reveal how dire straits have become (4-3, 1-3) needing to win three of the next six games on the season if they hope to qualify for a bowl game this December.
Thanks in large part to an 0-7 clip on third down in the futile second half, the Trojans offense failed to capitalize on excellent field position, strong punt returns from Agholor and its patented run-stuffing defense.
This while completely negating the Irish passing game after suffering a fair share of worries, especially with starting cornerback Anthony Brown (seven tackles) struggling to mark any receiver in coverage against Tommy Rees.
The biggest story of the night however had to come in the penalty department, where USC raked in 11 yellow flags to the tune of 95 yards on the night, including a crucial false start in the final drive. Failing to capture their sixth-straight win in South Bend, the Trojans return home to face a Utah squad that defeated Stanford last week before falling to Arizona on Saturday.