USC Loses 14-10 To Notre Dame Thanks To Second-Half Struggles
USC's roller-coaster season took another bumpy turn on Saturday, as the Trojans fell to Notre Dame 14-10. Neither team scored in the second half, and despite USC's defense holding the Irish offense to 47 yards of total offense over that span, they still managed to lose in South Bend.
This was USC's first road loss to a non-conference opponent since 2002, and their first loss at Notre Dame Stadium since 2001. In an ugly second half which featured several missed chances and penalties, USC's offense clearly sputtered down the stretch.
Penalties and their inability to convert on third-down ultimately doomed the Trojans. USC had 11 penalties for 95 yards, including several holding penalties by the offensive line. They also gave up two sacks, both to Notre Dame defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt.
"We made some mistakes. But they fought," said Coach Ed Orgeron on his offensive line, following his first loss as USC head coach.
After converting two third-downs on their opening drive, USC failed on 11 straight third-down opportunities and on both of their fourth-down plays. Additionally, kicker Andre Heidari missed 40 and 46 yard field goals. Heidari has made only one field goal this season between 40-49 yards, while missing four.
The Trojans got off to a quick start, beginning with Su'a Cravens' tackle on 4th and goal at the USC four-yard line. USC then followed that with a 96-yard drive that ended with Silas Redd punching it in from the one-yard line.
That ended up being the Trojans only touchdown of the game.
Both teams suffered major injury losses during the game. Notre Dame lost their senior quarterback Tommy Rees in the second half, and the offense was stagnant after backup quarterback Andrew Hendrix took over.
USC wide receiver Marqise Lee suffered a left knee injury, and was seen in street clothes at the end of the game. Freshman running back Justin Davis was seen in crutches after the game. Wide receiver Darreus Rogers said that he re-injured his sprained ankle, and was seen limping out of the locker room. Safety Dion Bailey was also seen in a sling over his left arm after the game.
Rees played well when he was healthy, completing 66 percent of his passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns. He engineered six- and 10-play touchdown drives in the first half, thanks to Notre Dame's strong short and intermediate passing attack. Wide receiver TJ Jones and tight end Troy Niklas came up with the touchdown receptions for the Irish.
USC's defensive backs played off the wide receivers at the line of scrimmage, since they allowed a plethora of big plays the previous two games. The Irish took advantage, and routinely had easy completions.
However, both offenses could not move the ball in the second half. USC had three drives that started in Notre Dame territory and another one on their own 48 yard-line, and couldn't end with points on any of them. One of those drives came after a turnover, only USC's second takeaway in their past five games. Hayes Pullard stripped Notre Dame running back Cam McDaniel, and Cravens recovered on the Notre Dame 34 mid-way through the fourth quarter.
There were certainly nightmarish flashbacks of the Washington State game and the second half of the Utah State game for Trojans fans. The offense has been very inconsistent this year, and haven't really been able to get into a rhythm despite all the talent they have on the unit.
There were some bright spots on USC's offense though. In his second game, Redd carried the ball 19 times for 112 yards. Before he got hurt on USC's final offensive play, wide receiver Nelson Agholor tallied six catches for 89 yards. Rogers, a freshman wide receiver, had his best game of the season with six catches for 60 yards.
Yet, the Trojans now fall to 4-3, and they may have trouble even making a bowl game with a tough schedule that includes Stanford and UCLA. They will face Utah, coming off a loss against Arizona, at Los Angeles Coliseum at 1 p.m. PST next Saturday.
Reach Senior Sports Editor Max Meyer by email.