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Key Takeaways Of The Notre Dame Defense From The Win Over USC

My four biggest takeaways from the Notre Dame victory over USC

Notre Dame earned a fourth straight win over arch rival USC, and the victory was relatively impressive. It wasn't always pretty but Notre Dame was clearly the better team in all phases of the game. 

The Irish defense held USC to its lowest point total since September of 2019, and the Trojans had just three points heading into the fourth quarter of the game. There were plenty of positives in the game, but also areas that must be improved for the final five games.

Here are my four biggest takeaways from the Notre Dame victory.

1. Defensive strategy was about points, not stats - I would much rather have seen a more aggressive, four-man front based defense against USC last night, but Notre Dame instead went with a bend-but-don't-break philosophy that we saw work so effectively for Clark Lea at times during his tenure. It's similar to what Lea did against USC back in 2019. If you'll remember, Lea used Julian Okwara and his drop ends to, well, drop a lot against the Trojans. 

Notre Dame held USC to 16 points, which was the second lowest point total by the Trojans in the last seven matchups against the Irish. It wasn't a sexy defensive game plan, it was a frustrating defensive game plan and I'll never understand the decision to drop Isaiah Foskey more than you use him to attack.  

But what was obvious to me last night was that as much as I hate it, the game plan from Marcus Freeman was extremely effective at accomplishing the number one goal, keep the points down.

A more aggressive game plan from the defense would have definitely resulted in more sacks and tackles for loss, and perhaps more turnovers. It would have also left the secondary more exposed to one-on-ones and would have created more opportunities for USC to rip off big plays. I think this became even more of a focal point once Kyle Hamilton went down with an injury early on, forcing the defense to play over three quarters without him.

Freeman and the defensive staff knew that USC is an offense prone to making mistakes, and also an offense that can rip off big plays. It appeared to me the staff wanted to force USC to go on longer drives, knowing that eventually the defense would either make a stop or USC would make a mistake, and that's exactly what happened. 

Was it what we wanted to see? No. Was it effective and a major key to the Irish victory? Absolutely.

2. Notre Dame's defensive line remains dominant - I continue to be impressed with what we see from the Notre Dame defensive line. Last night the unit harassed the USC front, coming up with crucial hits and sacks. This was especially true in the red zone. 

A first-down sack from Jayson Ademilola all but ended the first drive before it even started. USC's next drive got all the way down to the Notre Dame 14-yard line, but Isaiah Foskey recorded his first of two sacks, forcing a fumble and a 9-yard loss. Two plays later another pressure from Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa forced a Kedon Slovis pass to float in the air and into the waiting arms of linebacker Bo Bauer.

USC's next possession again got the Trojans to the Notre Dame 14-yard line before a Justin Ademilola pressure forced a third-down miss by Slovis, causing USC to settle for a field goal. 

USC's first possession of the second quarter again got them in scoring range. A first-down edge pressure by Justin Ademilola ended with him breaking up a Slovis pass at the line, and USC wasn't able to gain another yard on the series after that, forcing a long field goal that was missed.

When the defense needed a play it was usually a defensive lineman that stepped up and made it happen.

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3. Run defense was a bit disappointing - The defensive line wasn't quite as good against the run game as I would have liked it to be, but part of that was how frequently they were in three-man fronts. USC was able to run the ball more effectively in this game, which helped it get rolling late in the second half.

The positive for Notre Dame is they limited the long runs, and the reality is anytime the ball is being handed off to Keaontay Ingram it means it is not being thrown to Drake London, which is always a win.

4. Tackling must improve, quickly - Notre Dame continues to miss way too many tackles, especially on the perimeter. The Irish cornerbacks and safeties had opportunities to shut down runs but came up short. We saw it from Clarence Lewis, Cam Hart and Houston Griffith, and it's something both Mike Mickens and Chris O'Leary need to address, and address in a hurry, especially with North Carolina coming up.

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