USC rains on Notre Dame, 45-27, in ugly regular-season finale

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

LOS ANGELES – Adoree’ Jackson returned a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns and also scored on a TD pass, and Southern Cal’s aggressive defense had some success as the No. 12 Trojans (9-3) were dominant in the season finale Saturday, sending the Notre Dame (4-8) to a 45-27 defeat.

Most of the first half of the game was played in a steady rain, with the temperature cool (for Los Angeles standards) in the low 60s.

Just as soon as a rainbow emerged beyond the confines of the Coliseum, Notre Dame cut the Southern Cal lead to 24-14 five minutes into the third quarter.

The Irish took advantage of a fumble on a punt return by Jackson and went 40 yards for a score. The final 14 yards came on a pass from DeShone Kizer to Chris Finke.

Notre Dame’s second-half momentum was short-lived. Five plays after the ND score, Jackson caught a swing pass from Sam Darnold, followed his blocking and scored from 52 yards to go up 31-14.

Kizer had some success against the USC secondary on the next series. He found Equanimeous St. Brown for 40 yards. Then he cashed in with a 29-yard hookup, on a great fake, with Kevin Stepherson.

Again, the momentum didn’t last long — exactly 14 seconds. Jackson returned the ensuing kickoff — hurdling kicker John Chereson at the end — 97 yards for a 38-21 lead.

A targeting penalty, called by the replay official, was the big play in Southern Cal’s next touchdown march. It gave the Trojans the ball inside the Irish 10-yard line and negated a Trojan fumble recovered by the Irish. A little later, Darnold hit JuJu Smith-Schuster for a two-yard score.

Notre Dame’s 24-7 halftime deficit was hardly as bad as it seemed.

Trailing 10-7 with less than 2 minutes left in the first half, the Irish gave up a 55-yard punt return for a touchdown by Jackson. Then, two snaps later, USC’s Ajene Harris intercepted a pass and ran 33 yards for a TD.

That sudden collapse caused Irish coach Brian Kelly to pull his team together on the sideline after the end of the half and have a heart-to-heart talk with the players.

After Southern Cal started the game with a field goal, Notre Dame answered with a two-play touchdown drive. Running back Josh Adams went 74 yards to set up Kizer for a one-yard TD run.

Southern Cal’s Ronald Jones II put the Trojans back ahead when he went 51 yards for a touchdown.

The Irish had a chance to tie, but Justin Yoon’s 37-yard field goal sailed wide right.

Backup QB Malik Zaire led a late scoring drive, with St. Brown catching a 15-yard scoring pass with 1:02 left in the game.

Southern Cal's Adoree' Jackson (2) runs the ball in front of Notre Dame's Nick Coleman (24) during the Trojans' 45-27 rout of the Irish, Saturday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)