When one thinks about it, this was actually a close game played between two evenly matched teams.
After all, both the USC Trojans and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish had identical 4-2 records going into their renewal of their storied cross-sectional rivalry, which began in 1926 and is the type of game that students, fans, and especially alumni regard dearly and have cherished and not-so-cherished memories about.
Neither team was ranked as they met for the 85th time, and they both had issues with missing stars and below-expectations play.
Not that it matters in a rivalry game, as the difference was Irish quarterback Tommy Rees’ touchdown passes in the first and second quarters and Trojan kicker Andre Heidari’s two missed field goals in Notre Dame’s 14-10 win over ‘SC before the usual sellout crowd – 80,705 – at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, IN.
It was the Irish’s second win in a row and third in their last four meetings with the Trojans, who are now 4-3, interim coach Ed Orgeron losing his first game as the head guy.
It was also the first time that Notre Dame, now 5-2, beat ‘SC in South Bend since 2001, snapping a five-game losing streak to their rivals in the house that Knute Rockne built.
The biggest factor in USC’s setback, besides Heidari’s two field goal tries that went wide right, were the Trojans’ 11 penalties that killed several opportunities, five in the fourth quarter alone that effectively cost ‘SC the game.
Their four first downs earned in the second half didn’t help things, either.
Even though the Trojans outgained the Irish in yards 330-295.
Notre Dame did no better on offense in the last 30 minutes, particularly after Trojan linebacker Lamar Dawson ended Rees’ night with a hard sack, straining his neck and leaving the Irish with a backup quarterback, Andrew Hendrix, who looked like he was called up from Pee-Wee football as he completed none of his four pass attempts.
I don’t think anyone at Notre Dame Stadium thought that Rees’ scoring throw to T.J. Jones with 1: 11 left in the first half would be the last score in the game; both teams moved the ball well at the onset as after the Trojans stopped the Irish with a goal line stand, they marched 96 yards to take the first lead on a run by Silas Redd, who led everyone with 112 yards on 19 carries.
Cody Keesler had an okay night as the USC signal caller threw for 201 yards with an interception, completing 20 of his 34 pass attempts.
And the Trojans (4-3) had a chance to win at the end when they got the ball with 1:35 left, but after they got to the Notre Dame 36, but two penalties and a 4th-and-8 pass attempt to Nelson Agholor – who had a good game with 209 all-purpose yards – that fell incomplete ended that last hope.
The game took a toll on the health front as well, as Marqise Lee watched the second half in a sweatsuit after injuring his knee again.
Defensive back Su’a Cravens summed it up best when the Trojan freshman said, “We played our hearts out…That’s all we can really say. It just didn’t come out the way we wanted it.”
Utah Utes (4-3, 1-3 in the Pac-12 Conference)
PLACE: L.A. Coliseum
DATE & TIME: Saturday, October 26, 1:00 p.m. PT
TV: Pac-12 Networks
LAST MEETING: USC won, 38-28, in Salt Lake City
ALL-TIME SERIES: USC leads, 8-3
Just like the man behind the curtain in the land of Oz, pay no attention to the 1-3 conference record that these Utes from Salt Lake City currently have; this is a very good football team that is extremely scrappy, extremely tough, and fears no one.
UCLA and especially Stanford will gladly attest to that, the #12 Bruins barely beating the Utes earlier this year and the 6th-ranked Cardinal suffering their only defeat to this point in 2013 to them in a stunning, 27-21 upset.
Utah is coming off a disappointing 35-20 setback in Tucson to the Arizona Wildcats, where they gave up 15 points in the fourth quarter and 236 rushing yards to star Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey, who scored the winning touchdown.
Plus they’re not sure if starting quarterback Travis Wilson will play, after he sat out the second half against the Wildcats with an injury.
Whether Wilson plays or not, USC needs to be ready to face this Utah team, led by running back Bubba Poole and linebackers Jared Norris and Trevor Reilly as well as Wilson, because it’s a guarantee that these Utes will be upset-minded.