A feeling of disappointment fell over the Los Angeles Coliseum as the clock ran out on the USC Trojans attempt to upset their archival, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The Irish retained the Jeweled Shillelagh with a 24-17 win. The loss added to USC’s three game losing streak to close out the season, bringing their record to 5-7. Notre Dame, on the other hand, was able to right the ship after a lackadaisical start, and complete their undefeated season. By finishing 12-0, the Irish have built a resume good enough to be considered a near lock for the College Football Playoff.
USC got off to a hot start, jumping out to a 10-0 lead in the second quarter, and even could have been extended more if not for two first half fumbles. Mistakes, like those two fumbles, kept Notre Dame in the game and prevented the Trojans from really putting the pressure on the undefeated Irish. Notre Dame was able to get some points on the board with a touchdown in the second quarter, cutting the USC lead to three. The second half started slowly, but after back to back punts, Notre Dame running back Dexter Williams hit the hole hard and took off for a 52 yard touchdown, giving the Fighting Irish their first lead of the game. Notre Dame was able to push their third quarter lead to 17-10 after a field goal by kicker Justin Yoon. As Notre Dame was driving down the field, looking to put the game away, a red zone interception by Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book gave the Trojans new life, but on the ensuing offensive drive the Trojans went three and out, giving the ball back to the Notre Dame offense. Book avenged that interception when he withstood the USC pressure on a critical third down and dumped off to junior running back Tony Jones Jr. who than took off for a 51 yard touchdown to seal the game for the Fighting Irish.
Ian Book put together one of his best performances of the season, leading the Notre Dame comeback by throwing for 352 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. Running back Dexter Williams also had a big game, putting up 97 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries, while also catching five passes for 54 yards. Even though this was a rivalry game, Notre Dame came out sluggish, allowing the Trojans to jump out to an early lead, and if it was not for missed opportunities and mistakes by the Trojans, Notre Dame could have found themselves looking for answers after a heartbreaking loss to their archival. The Irish were able to turn the game around and preserve their perfect record, but if the Irish are serious about potentially winning a National Title, their focus and intensity will need to change if and when they make it to the College Football Playoff.
USC quarterback JT Daniels had a great first quarter, but whimpered down the stretch, leading the Trojan offense to only seven points in the second half. Daniels threw for 349 yards and a touchdown on 51 attempts. USC wide receiver Tyler Vaughns had a huge game, catching 12 passes for 120 yards and a touchdown. Wide receivers Michael Pittman Jr. and Amon-Ra St. Brown both had big games hauling in over 90 yard apiece, but their two costly fumbles played a big part in the USC loss. USC will look upon this game as a serious missed opportunity, as they allowed Notre Dame to remain in the game with turnovers and inconsistent offensive play.
After the loss, there was speculation that USC head coach Clay Helton would lose his job after losing to rivals UCLA and Notre Dame and finishing the season up 5-7. USC Athletic Director Lynn Swann surprisingly threw his support behind Helton, as he announced Helton will be returning for the 2019 season. Helton’s return makes the 2019 season a crucial one, as nothing less than significant improvement is needed in order for Clay Helton to stick around the program much longer.