Instant Observations: Notre Dame gets physical when it matters in conquest of USC

Eric Hansen
ND Insider

Bottom Line

In the most critical moments of Notre Dame’s fourth straight series win over USC Saturday night, the 13th-ranked Irish turned to what had been their weakness over the first half of the season.

And flexed.

A 75-yard, fourth-quarter drive quelled a Trojan comeback and helped keep the Irish in the New Year’s Six conversation with a 31-16 victory. The Irish (6-1), behind an offensive line growing out of its growing pains, ran the ball seven times in the clinching eight-play drive.

► Scoring summary: No. 13 Notre Dame 31, USC 16

► No. 13 Notre Dame football vs USC live updates: scores and highlights from Saturday night

Freshman quarterback Tyler Buchner tagging in and covering the final three yards on a keeper with 4:52 left. Junior Kyren Williams did most of the damage in his most productive game of the season.

USC (3-4), with the 93rd-ranked rushing offense nationally, got an unexpected boost from its ground game behind transfers Keaontay Ingram (Texas) and Darwin Barlow (TCU), but the Irish defense came up big in big moments and most of them with All-America safety Kyle Hamilton on the sidelines.

Notre Dame’s Jayson Ademilola (57) celebrates during the Notre Dame vs. USC NCAA football game Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

Hamilton left the game late in the first quarter with a knee injury and didn’t return. The Irish were leading 7-0 at the time.

It was the 37th successive victory over an unranked team by Notre Dame, the longest such streak in the FBS. 

Big Picture

A faster tempo on offense by the Irish for most of the game seemed to suit both the offensive line and starting quarterback Jack Coan. Notre Dame will likely push toward the top 10 in the polls Sunday if not crack it.

Questions Answered

The Irish defense rose to the occasion Saturday night without Hamilton, but can they do so for the long term if the situation dictates? Is the running game back for good?

Questions Lingering

The Irish defense was stingy with the points, but gave up a lot of yards. Is there another level for that unit with some prolific offenses coming up on the schedule.

My Game Balls Go To

Offense: Kyren Williams. The junior running back ran for a season-high 138 yards and two TDs on 25 carries. He also led the Irish in receptions, with six for 42 yards.

Notre Dame’s Kyren Williams (23) tries to move by USC’s Isaac Taylor-Stuart (6) during the Notre Dame-USC NCAA college football game on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

Defense: Safety DJ Brown and junior defensive end Isaiah Foskey. Brown had a team-high seven tackles in relief of the injured Hamilton. Foskey collected five tackles, with two sacks and two forced fumbles.

The Road Ahead

Notre Dame hosts North Carolina (4-3) Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium. The Tar Heels will be coming off a bye week.

Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer (87) gets brought down by USC’s Drake Jackson (99) during the Notre Dame-USC NCAA college football game on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.