Notre Dame did what they needed to do on defense and that unit played a key role in the Irish beating USC by a 31-16 score.
*** I must admit, I've gone back and forth about my feelings on Notre Dame playing so much three-down against USC. Part of me hates it because when they use four to rush and turn that unit loose they were dominant and made big plays. I also don't ever like seeing Isaiah Foskey dropping into coverage. But if I'm being honest and taking my personal preference away, I actually get why Notre Dame did what it did tonight, and ultimately it worked.
*** Notre Dame held USC to 16 points, marking the first time since September of 2019 that a Trojan offense was held to fewer than 24 points, and it was over half of USC's season average.
*** So here is what I think Notre Dame was doing tonight. I believe Marcus Freeman and the defensive staff looked at USC on film and came to two realizations. One is that USC has weapons that can hit big plays. Two is that USC is prone to self destructing. Notre Dame could have been more aggressive, made more big plays on defense but also been more prone to giving up big plays with fewer defenders in coverage. But Notre Dame played less aggressively outside the red zone, kept things in front of the defense, limited big plays and relied on making enough stops or USC making enough mistakes to keep the points down.
*** By limiting the big plays Notre Dame forced USC into red zone situations where the fear of the deep ball wasn't as great. It was in those instances that Freeman put four down more frequently and then turned his defense loose, and that's when they made big plays and made stops. An example is USC's first opportunity in the red zone. On first down Foskey rushed and forced a fumble. Two plays later the Irish again attacked the quarterback on third down and the pressure resulted in an interception.
*** When he was allowed to rush, Isaiah Foskey was virtually unblockable against the Trojans. On his first sack he used his left hand to rock back the offensive tackle and his right hand to strip the ball from Kedon Slovis. He put the game away in the fourth quarter with another sack. I've been against Foskey dropping into coverage and to be honest I still am, he's just too good of a rusher. But in this game I also felt Foskey had his best game in coverage of the season. He did a solid job getting under quick routes and tackled well in space.
*** Veteran captain Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa flashed several times during the game, using his quick first step and motor to make plays. He is the defender who applied pressure on Slovis in the first quarter that forced the interception. I'll have to watch more film to see how the tackles did, but Jayson Ademilola and Justin Ademilola both had multiple strong pass rushes in the game, with Jayson sacking Slovis on the first defensive play of the game.
*** Veteran linebacker Drew White had a strong game in coverage. Even if you take away Bo Bauer's interception and return this was one of his better games at linebacker. Bauer was disruptive in the nickel package, an area I've criticized him plenty in the past, not only coming down with the pick but also breaking up a pass. Bauer was active against the run and did a very good job getting depth in the pass game, including running with a couple of seam routes in the win.
*** Cornerback Cam Hart blanketed the USC receivers all night long. They avoided him as much as possible, and the one time he was challenged in the third quarter he rode a USC receiver out of bounds. Hart was solid in the run game but did have another huge missed tackle in the game.
*** Sophomore cornerback Clarence Lewis did a poor job executing Cover 2 coverage on the first long completion to Drake London. Lewis has to do a better job getting depth on that play. His job is the run underneath the vertical route until he's threatened by an inside receiver, but no inside receiver threatened on the verticals play. The tight end seam held Kyle Hamilton on the hash and Lewis allowed London to get free in the hole between himself and Hamilton.
*** Lewis had a tough time hanging with London for much of the game, but in the third quarter Freeman adjusted and started using Lewis to line up inside of London, which took away the ins and slants that worked so well in the first half. London had 9 catches for 109 yards in the first two quarters, but he had just one catch for 0 yards in the third quarter. Lewis bit too hard on an out cut that ended up going for a 44-yard gain and he was beat again in the end zone but the quarterback never saw London.
*** Senior TaRiq Bracy was really good in this game. His coverage of the USC slots was outstanding and he was physical coming up against the run game and screen game. Bracy had a good open field stop on a 2nd-and-6 that brought up a third-down and he held London to 0 yards on a catch in the third quarter by blowing up the lead blocker on a quick screen, therefore forcing London back inside to the pursuit of Drew White.
*** Sophomore cornerback Ramon Henderson doesn't show a great feel in coverage.
*** Safety Houston Griffith didn't get beat in this game but he also didn't make any plays. He had a chance for a huge tackle for loss early in the game but went to high on London, got stiff armed and allowed what should have been a loss to turn into an 11-yard gain.
*** Senior safety DJ Brown did a good job staying over top of routes, he closed well on verticals in those instances and he was solid in the run game.
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