This chapter of the storied rivalry was a close one. The USC Trojans fought hard all the way to the end but ultimately fell short in the fourth quarter. Here are the hits & misses from their performance.
1) JT Daniels played a stellar game
JT Daniels, after having a very up and down last couple weeks, put on a passing display for the 59,821 fans in attendance. He came firing out of the gate, completing 6 of 7 passes on the first drive, leading to a Vavae Malepeai 14-yard touchdown run. Daniels consistently drove the Trojans down the field, giving the team countless scoring opportunities. While the Trojans were able to capitalize on some of these opportunities, in others they weren’t able to. A lot of this was due to a combination of poor play calling and costly fumbles by Trojan receivers. Ultimately though, the true freshman played well, finishing the game 37-51 for 349 yards, one touchdown and no turnovers.
2) The USC defense did enough to win this game
The USC defensive unit gave up just 24 points to the electric Notre Dame offense, which is well below their season average of 34.6 points heading into the matchup. The defense ended the game with three sacks and nine total tackles for loss. Most notably, the unit was able to force a crucial turnover down seven in the fourth quarter, which gave the Trojan offense a chance to tie it up late in the ballgame. Freshman safety Jordan McMillan made the acrobat play to intercept Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book and get USC the ball back. The offense ultimately didn’t produce when they needed to and that ended up being the team’s shortcoming on their way to defeat.
1) Penalties, penalties, and more penalties
The Trojans committed eight penalties for 71 yards. Notre Dame, on the other hand, committed just three penalties for 38 yards. A lot of this has to do with the players not being as focused as they possibly can be on the field, but most of it is due to the coaching staff not making sure that the players are as prepared and dialed in for the game as they should be. Whether or not a team is committing an abundant amount of penalties all starts with how successful the coaching staff is in their approach to keeping the team as disciplined as possible and penalties as low as they can be. Penalties have been a major issue for the Trojans all year and in very few games was this problem more evident for the team than in this one.
2) Momentum killing fumbles
Ah, fumbles. The classic momentum killer. In this game, that is exactly what they were for the Trojan offense. The first fumble came early and was committed by USC receiver Michael Pittman Jr. It happened in the first quarter, as the offense was successfully driving down the field on their second possession of the game. Quarterback Daniels completed a 10-yard pass to Pittman Jr. in Notre Dame territory and the ball was poked away just as he was making the turn to cut up field. The second fumble was committed by freshman standout receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, and oh man did this one sting for the Trojans and their fans. Up 10-7 at the Notre Dame 29-yard line, Daniels completed a 14-yard pass to St. Brown that looked like it was destined to go for even more. Notre Dame cornerback Alohi Gilman made the heads up play and knocked the ball loose for the Irish to recover it. This fumble came after a Notre Dame touchdown drive, a time where USC needed an answer to put themselves in a better position to win the ball game. These two fumbles killed any momentum that the Trojans had built up and set them back from having any chance of winning. Leaving crucial points on the board due to turnovers is never a good idea if you’re an underdog trying to take down one of the best teams in the country.
3) Once again, a poor second half costs the Trojans a victory
The Trojans’ performances in the second half of games this year, especially the last few weeks, has played a big part in their downfall. Up 14-0 against California Berkeley at halftime, USC got shutout in the second half and lost 15-14. Up 24-21 against UCLA, USC mustered up just a field goal and ended up losing the game by a touchdown. The Trojans were scoreless for the last 22 minutes of that game after that field goal. This game was no different than those two games. Up 10-7 against the Fighting Irish at halftime, the Trojans were only able to score a touchdown at the end of the fourth quarter when the game was already out of reach. The woeful second half performances of many games has cost the Trojans some key victories. Yup, the hardships of being a Trojan fan in 2018.