USC battled and fought against No. 8 Notre Dame Saturday night, however it wasn’t enough as the Trojans failed to complete their comeback in the 30-27 loss. It seems as if road games are always an uphill battle for USC under Clay Helton. Before we turn the page and look towards the homecoming game vs Arizona, here are a few takeaways from Saturday’s game against Notre Dame.
Markese Stepp Deserves more carries
As if it wasn’t clear enough, redshirt freshman Markese Stepp should see more carries moving forward. Stepp had the hot hand Saturday night as it took multiple Irish defenders to take him down, and even that was a struggle for them. The Indiana native had 82 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown rush with the assist of offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker.
While USC does get a lot of production out of their veteran running backs in Vavae Malepeai and Stephen Carr, Stepp is showing that he is very reliable and valuable in the run game as well. His role in the Trojans could very much change with the report of Vavae Malepeai undergoing knee surgery.
If anything was clear against Notre Dame, Stepp was one of the key players of the night.
Defensive line issues against the run continue
The USC defensive line have been amazing against the interior run so far this season, however that tune changed when Notre Dame gashed them between the tackles. While we know that the Trojans have issues containing reverses, outside runs, and mobile quarterbacks, it was the run game in-between the tackles that surprised people.
Notre Dame’s offensive line had their way with the Trojans defensive line for most of the night and created gaps for Irish running backs Tony Jones Jr. and Jafar Armstrong. Even quarterback Ian Book managed to go between the tackles for two key runs to put the game on ice for Notre Dame.
USC defense gave up over 300 yards on the ground with 176 of them coming from Notre Dame’s leading rusher Jones Jr.. The Irish have a legitimate run game and while the USC defensive line has shown that they can create pressure and play the interior run very well, the Trojans defensive line still has a good ways to go before they can be considered elite.
It’s Kedon’s Job moving forward
If Saturday was any indication about the quarterback situation for the rest of the season, then it was that true freshman Kedon Slovis is the guy moving forward. USC has gone through some ups and downs at quarterback since the injury to JT Daniels. Slovis managed the game pretty well despite the 2nd quarter struggles. He threw for 255 and two touchdowns in the loss. One key thing was that Slovis took care of the ball as he didn’t commit a turnover the whole game.
Slovis took what was given to him when the Irish dropped eight into coverage and was smarter with his decision making. During the fourth quarter, Slovis led the Trojans on two scoring drives to put them within three points and gave them a shot to win. Many fans wished the onside bounced USC’s way to see if the true freshman could lead them down the field for a potential game tying/game winning drive.
The performance was a complete improvement from Slovis’ first road start at BYU. Baring another injury to him, Slovis has done enough to keep the starting job for the remainder of the season.
Special Teams not so special
This is an issue that continues to haunt the Trojans time after time. The USC special teams unit has seen a decline in production for the last three seasons and it hasn’t gotten any better.
One example came on the punt team. USC punter Ben Griffiths had his best game of the season Saturday night which was a positive for everyone to see. Unfortunately for him and USC the remainder of the group failed to down the punts which rolled into the end zone. The Trojans had three opportunities to pin the Irish down inside the five. Instead they watched the ball roll into the end zone for a touchback. One came with four Trojans surrounding the ball and failing to down it at the Irish 1 yard line.
Another came when Notre Dame’s Micheal Young returned a kick for 65 yards to open the second half to give the Irish great field position right out the gate. If it wasn't for Young fumbling the return, it might have broken the game open. USC also had an opportunity to recover the fumble but Young was quick enough to recover.