USC vs. Notre Dame: Another Coach, Another Emerald

Notre Dame vs. USC
October 17, 2015 at 4:30pm
Notre Dame Stadium: 80,795 (of 80,795)
Total Time: 3 hours 23 minutes

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An empty trophy case. Another emerald for the Shillelagh.

The greatest intersectional rivalry in college football was a competitive and exciting match-up…for three quarters. At least the Trojans didn’t lay down and die after the Irish took the 24-10 lead. That’s already improvement in and of itself. Kind of like opening a Pringles can and seeing it’s not half empty. Don’t you dare make a joke about how it’s half full.

Through some deception and amazing feats by Adoree’ Jackson, USC pulled themselves back into a tie. The forced fumble by Jackson saved the defense from giving up another score down at the goal line. Next, Helton reused a well-designed trick play of Cody Kessler throwing a lateral to Jalen Greene, who then threw finally to Juju Smith in the endzone. That play gave USC some momentum and life after a first quarter lull. On the next Trojan possession, Jackson struck again on a screen pass, taking it 83 yards for the touchdown.

They even had a chance to take the lead before the end of the half. However, Alex Wood’s 36-yard field goal veered left and bounced off the upright, leaving the halftime score at 24-24. Maybe I jinxed it in my last post by saying that the special teams would be next to fail. Along with the missed field goal, the Trojans allowed the Irish to block a punt and return it for a touchdown. The twist of the knife was that it was scooped up by former Trojan running back, Amir Carlisle. The first line of the punt team left seven Notre Dame special teamers unblocked, allowing them to reach the 3-man wall unimpeded. It’s not something that happens for Notre Dame reguarly. According to the NBC broadcast, it was the first punt block by Notre Dame in five years. Those two special teams mistakes alone accounted for 10 points. The Trojans only lost by 10 points, by the way.

As bad as those two plays were, special teams cannot be singled out. The offense and defense both had their share of struggles. Both of them probably did worse in the second half than the first. Beyond the first touchdown on the first drive of the half, USC’s offense could not score in the second half. Perhaps electing to receive the first half every game shows a lack of commitment to adjustments.

With or without adjustments, the Trojans were getting in their own way with 10 penalties for 105 yards. Five of those penalties came from the offensive. There would’ve been a sixth on Chad Wheeler for holding, but it was declined in favor of a fourth down stop. Three of them were false starts (Talamaivao, Wheeler, Banner), one was holding (Banner), and the last was a personal foul (Lobendahn) for hands to the face. The offensive line continues to a penalty factory.

Two offensive linemen alone account for 5 penalties each. It may not sound like much, but with 45 penalties on the season, each accounts for 11.11% of the team’s penalties. In total, the offensive line has been flagged 17 times for 160 yards. That is 37.8% of the team’s penalties and 36.6% of the team’s penalty yardage. That isn’t even counting the negated potential yards of the plays nor is it counting the penalties that were declined. Combining these issues with not giving Kessler enough time on most plays, the Trojans stall out of so many drives.

No USC drive this season lasting 10 or more plays ended in a touchdown. USC’s average touchdown drive lasts for 1:56 in 5.45 plays for 66.76 yards.Yet, they cannot score a touchdown in a 2-minute drill. When trying to score a touchdown in the final minutes against Stanford, Washington, and Notre Dame, USC looked sloppy and were unable to come away with anything. Each of those drives were chock full of penalties, sacks, and no completions. In those 31 plays, USC only managed to get five plays over 10 yards and one play over 20 yards. This Trojan offense lives and dies by the explosive play—and in those three final drives, they certainly died without an athletic play to bail them out.

If you can’t depend on the offense to score consistently, then you need to depend on the defense to make stops more consistently. That’s not happening either. Notre Dame’s starting quarterback and running back have been out for the season, but nobody said anything, it might’ve been hard to notice. After Malik Zaire (QB, fractured ankle) and Tarean Folston (RB, torn ACL) went down with injuries, DeShone Kizer and C.J. Prosise picked up right where they left off. Kizer threw for 227 yards and 2 touchdowns and ran for another 47 yards. Prosise carried the ball for 143 yards and his very own pair of touchdowns.

The defense had some occasional stops on the Notre Dame defense, but ultimately, they still allowed the Irish to score 34 points (not counting the punt block return). It was sad to see that two corners had to resort to pass interference to stop potential touchdown receptions. For some plays the defensive backs got beat and other times it was perfectly placed passes that were near indefensible. The Trojans also had trouble stopping the runin the second half of the game. In the end, it comes back down to the defensive line not being able to penerate the offensive line. The sacks that the Trojans did pick up were coverage sacks. Lots of missed tackles also allowed Irish players to slip out for huge chunks of yardage. Fans want to blame scheme, front 7 talent, player development, or game preparation. At this point, it’s hard to tell which is the biggest issue, as it’s likely some combination of all of these.

Regardless of whether or not the Trojans can fix everything up for the rest of the season, they are stuck at a 3-3 record for the first six games of the season. The last Trojan team to have three losses through six games was in 2001, Pete Carroll’s first season. They were 2-4 before finishing the season on a 4-2 run.

CommBro Breaker

I could go on forever about the negatives I see about this team, but I’ll let other people say it for me. I don’t want to make it seem like I’m unreasonably negative or anything like that. Take these positives and maybe have a drink…just as long as it’s not too much:

Two plays Ronald Jones’ big 65-yard run, the Trojans did something unfamiliar (at least for the past 2 years). My mind was blown—in a good way. The play started out with a huddle. Then Kessler lined up under center with a fullback behind him in (22 personnel) and finished with a play action pass to tight end, Taylor McNamara. It really made me miss all those aspects in our offense.

In addition, the downfield blocking continues to be a bright spot on this offense. The offensive line and especially the receivers get to the second level and more. One standout among standouts is Deontay Burnett. He followed the play and managed to level someone on Jones’ 65-yard run. If you go back to the video above, he’s #80 at about the 2:09 mark. Burnett contributed in the passing game as well, with catches of 19, 28, and 6 yards. His performance in this game better have earned him more playing time!

Misleading Stat of the Week: 

USC has scored exactly 31 points and allowed exactly 41 points against teams that are currently ranked in week 8 of the AP and Coaches polls.
Context: USC only played two teams that are still ranked. Not much of a sample size.

USC is rank #3 in the nation in fumbles. USC players have only fumbled 4 times.
Context: USC is #118 in rushing attempts with only 198 attempts. Even air raid, pass happy Washington State has almost as many as the Trojans with 143 attempts.

Depressing Stat of the Week: USC is rank #98 in penalties per game at 7.5 and is rank #115 in opponent penalties per game at 4.67 per game. The 2.8 penalties per game differential is the 3rd highest differential in the nation. Only TCU (3.7) and San Diego State (2.9) are worse. That would land the Trojans at #126.

Ball State, on the other hand, has the highest negative differential. They average 3.9 less penalties than their opponents per game.

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