Instant observations: Caleb Williams makes Heisman statement in 38-27 win over Notre Dame football
LOS ANGELES — Three quick thoughts and other news and notes and anecdotes following Saturday’s game between No. 5 USC and No. 13 Notre Dame, won by the Trojans, 38-27, in front of an announced crowd of 72,613 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum...
∎ That last score of the first half was a crusher. A game-changer as USC quarterback Caleb Williams cemented himself as a Heisman threat.
Didn’t matter that Notre Dame was getting the ball to start the third quarter. It didn’t matter that the Irish looked very much in this one after a Michael Mayer touchdown catch made it 10-7 late in the first half.
When USC went 75 yards in 10 plays, culminating with a Caleb Williams scoring scramble, it bumped it back to a two-score game at 17-7. Williams just kind of picked apart the Irish defense with mixes of runs and passes in that drive. A defensive holding penalty also helped. Can’t give a guy like Williams a short field the way the Irish did. He’s too good to not make the Irish pay.
Notre Dame football vs USC highlights:Live scores, results and highlights from Los Angeles
Notre Dame moved 52 yards and into USC territory after seven plays. The Irish seemed like they were rolling. Drew Pyne then fumbled. The Trojans then recovered. And the USC then starting playing again. A game that had been 10-7 with 6:41 left in the first half was 24-7 with 8:21 left in the third quarter.
∎ Didn’t have Notre Dame going early and going often to the passing game on the pre-game Bingo card, but there the Irish were, throwing it around like they usually do at USC.
The thinking heading into this one was that the Irish had to pull out the Clemson game plan and physically manhandle the guys on the other side of the ball. Worked that night earlier this month back in Indiana, but it didn’t work much Saturday. At least, not early.
Of the 143 yards for Notre Dame in the first half, 103 came via the pass game. Instead of runs by Audric Estime and Logan Diggs, it was completions to Deion Colzie (a huge one for 30 yards on third-and-10) and the old reliable Mayer.
The Irish managed only 37 rush yards in the first half — 18 thanks to the only run by Chris Tyree. No other Irish averaged better than 2.4 yards per carry. A 24-yard run midway through the third quarter helped that average. And helped the Irish.
∎ Irish head coach Marcus Freeman stressed late in preseason before any of the tough stuff started that it didn’t matter where he took his team — Penn High School, South Bend Saint Joseph High School, Ohio Stadium — the football field was 100 yards long and 53 ½ yards wide in every single case.
Freeman then took the Irish into the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The Goodyear blimp was overhead. They set off pre-game fireworks. They had a multiple/formation fly-over. They had high-energy theatrics from start to finish. They lit the Olympic flame at the stadium’s east end at the start of the fourth quarter.
They had a really large crowd, a lot of whom couldn’t get in before kick because the mass was TOO big.
Nice problem to have out this way.
It was non-stop energy, unlike anything the Irish experienced this season. Even in Columbus. That’s what’s been missing from this rivalry. It’s good for (our) business when Notre Dame is good, but it’s good for college football when USC is good.
Notre Dame faced arguably the hottest quarterback and one of the country’s most explosive offenses without one of its starting cornerbacks.
Junior Cam Hart was considered questionable — at best — earlier in the week by Freeman. Hart was listed pre-game as one of only two Irish (Tobias Merriweather) unavailable. Hart was wearing a sling across his left shoulder/arm during pre-game. He was hurt in the previous week’s game against Boston College.
Freshman Jaden Mickey started in place of Hart, who had started nine games, including each of the previous five. Saturday was Mickey’s first start. The Irish also were without usual nickel back TaRiq Bracy, listed as the No. 2 corner on the depth chart behind Hart. Bracy was in uniform without helmet (never a good sign) on the sideline. There was no immediate word on his status.
Hart and Bracy were missed, if only it would give the Irish two more defenders with fresh legs to chase around Williams.
Worth quoting II
When Notre Dame tumbled into a 10-0 hole early in the first quarter, it marked the largest deficit the Irish had faced this season since trailing by 11 (26-15) to Marshall way back in Week Two. That’s when Tyler Buchner still was the starting quarterback and we knew very little about this team. Or about Freeman.
By the numbers
∎ 4:24: Game time elapsed after the opening kick before USC was in the end zone on a Tahj Washington 11-yard touchdown reception to cap an eight-play, 75-yard drive.
∎ 5: The Irish entered Saturday having scored at least 35 points in each of their previous five games, something that’s happened only once before in program history. The Irish have never scored at least 35 in six straight.
∎ 7: Different USC receivers that Williams found to start the game before going back to Washington for his second catch.
∎ 8: Drew Pyne completed all eight of his passes in the first half for 106 yards and a quarterback rating of 252.6. Pyne connected on 15 straight before his first incompletion, which didn't arrive until 13:43 remained and the Irish down 31-14.
∎ 8: Mayer’s first-half touchdown catch was his eighth of the season, which broke the record for tight ends of seven, set by Mayer last year.
∎19: Notre Dame had won its previous 19 games in November, which started following a Nov. 2017 loss at Miami (Fla.).
∎ 64: Game time temperature at kick Saturday, also known around these parts as “perfect.”
∎ 80: Jersey number for Irish sophomore reserve offensive lineman Michael Carmody on Saturday. That’s a tight end number, though Carmody worked pre-game with the interior line. Carmody usually wears No. 68
∎ 93: Saturday’s game was No. 93 in the series between Notre Dame and USC.
∎1,826: Days elapsed since USC last beat Notre Dame before Saturday, which was five years to the day of the Trojans’ last victory in the series – Nov. 26, 2017.
∎2,243: Miles between the city where the Notre Dame football season started (Columbus, Ohio) and where it ended (Los Angeles) over the course of 84 days.
To be determined. Notre Dame is going to a bowl game for a sixth consecutive season, but where remains to be seen. Gator Bowl in Jacksonville? Holiday Bowl in San Diego? Back to Orlando and the now-Cheez-It Bowl? All those bowls are in late December.
Unscientific poll in the Coliseum press box before Saturday’s kick? The Gator Bowl. Or a bowl assignment that nobody sees coming (ReliaQuest, anyone?). We’ll find out on Sunday, Dec. 4 when the postseason comes into a fuller focus.
Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI. Contact: (574) 235-6153.