The culmination of injuries, poor player performances and terrible coaching finally came to a head as USC’s playoff hopes were annihilated in their 49-14 defeat to #13 Notre Dame.
The Trojan defense came out strong in this one, immediately stuffing the Fighting Irish for a three-and-out in their first possession. But the Trojan season-long adage of “This is why we cannot have nice things” reared its ugly head as Sam Darnold fumbled USC’s first offensive snap to give it right back to Notre Dame and ultimately give up the opening score three plays later.
The injures continued to pile up for USC as junior cornerback Iman Marshall went down in the first quarter in clear pain—holding his knee as he received medical attention. Marshall was out the rest of the game and the Trojan secondary clearly suffered without him.
Stepping in for Marshall was sophomore Jack Jones who badly muffed a punt inside the USC ten-yard line—turning the ball over again after a strong USC defensive stand in the second quarter. The grave mistake put USC in a 21-0 deficit.
Another Darnold miscue before the half saw his first interception of the game turn into a Brandon Wimbush touchdown as Notre Dame went into the half with 28-0 lead.
Trojans came storming out of the gates as Ronald Jones II started things off with an 18-yard carry. Darnold started to find a rhythm, and even converted a short pass on a 4th down near half field. Darnold hooked up on a five-yard pass for USC’s first score with Steven Mitchell Jr. and cut into deficit 28-7 with a five-minute drive.
Responding right back was Wimbush and the Notre Dame offense. Trojans just could not get pressure on the QB and got locked up on downfield blocks as Wimbush ran for 30 yards on the final two drives in route to an easy score giving the Fighting Irish a 35-7 lead midway through the third quarter.
Swinging right back was Darnold as he went 4-of-5 in the drive their second drive of the third quarter as he ended the series with a 16-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Burnett.
But it didn’t matter.
On Notre Dame’s ensuing drive, Josh Adams broke for an 84-yard touchdown run—once again killing any momentum USC might have had.
Ultimately, the Trojans were outplayed and outcoached—very similarly to their abysmal 52-6 loss in last season’s opener to Alabama. I wouldn’t anticipate USC completely falling out of the top-25 given the quality of opponent Notre Dame is, but the gap in play will almost certainly see them fall into the 20’s.
The stat leaders for the Trojans weren’t impressive. Sam Darnold finished the game with 229 yards on 20/28 passing to go along with with two touchdowns, and two turnovers(one interception, one lost fumble.) Ronald Jones II had his worst game of the season running for 32 yards on 12 carries—both are season lows. The lone bright spot on this Trojan offense was Deontay Burnett who finished with eight receptions for 113 yards and one score.
USC is going to have to regroup and figure it quickly, as a crucial Pac-12 matchup against Arizona State is next on the horizon.