Notre Dame is already capitalizing on the Trojans’ weak defensive effort, moving the ball with ease to go up 10-0 in the first quarter.
Notre Dame drew first blood early, striking quickly at the USC defense and making them look out of sorts from the very first play. The Fighting Irish picked up 12 yards on their first play from scrimmage, and from their they made it look easy as the moved the ball into the Trojan red zone. 66 yards later, the Trojan defense toughened up, with LB Dion Bailey forcing the stop that would keep the Irish out of the endzone. Notre Dame’s kicker nailed the ensuing 27-yard field goal attempt to give them an early 3-0 lead.
The spotlight then shifted to redshirt freshman and backup QB Max Wittek, who took the field for his first collegiate start. He handed the ball off to RB Curtis McNeal, who ran through a huge hole and found daylight after getting the first down. The Trojan offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage and McNeal just kept pounding it into Notre Dame to lead the Trojans past midfield. Four handoffs later, Wittek fired his first pass to WR Robert Woods and, chalk it up to being a bit overzealous, the pass went over Woods’ head. Wittek dropped back on the next play and we got to see his arm strength for the first time when he heaved a deep ball to WR Marqise Lee. Lee couldn’t bring it down though as he lost site of the ball in coverage, and the Trojans’ next attempt at a screen play would be broken up, forcing USC to punt.
The Trojan defense came alive a bit on the following Notre Dame drive, but it was short lived. LB Hayes Pullard lowered the boom on RB Cierre Wood, and did the same to QB Everett Golson on the next play when he tried to scramble to the sideline. The Trojans were on the verge of forcing Notre Dame off the field when backup QB Tommy Rees took the field in play of Golson, but USC DE Morgan Breslin was too anxious to get after him and was flagged for being offsides, giving the Fighting Irish a new set of downs.
Notre Dame got back into a rhythm and again chipped away at the Trojan defense, which was putting up no resemblance of a pass rush. Golson had targets open all over the place, picking up first down play after first down play with precision. They reached the Trojan endzone again and this time punched in a touchdown when Theo Riddick ran it in from nine yards out.The extra point was good, and just like that, USC was in a 10-0 hole.
Wittek recorded his first completion on the Trojans’ next drive, settling down and hitting Marqise Lee for three yards, and then Robert Woods for the first down. He hit Woods on a slant and go on the next play for 18 yards, a Woods made a spectacular grab on the sideline to bring it down. He found Lee over the middle after that for another first down. Wittek displayed confidence and poise, setting into a groove and connecting with his receivers.
The Trojans had the ball as the clock ran out in the first quarter, and they could find themselves on the board with the way this drive is looking. The defense however, is already looking to be a liability for USC, so keeping it off the field as long as possible is critical.
More than once in this game and multiple times throughout this season,the Trojan defense failed to force a team off the field on third down, and they have paid for it. If the Trojans continue to fail to make necessary adjustments–and with the way this season has gone, consider it likely–USC will struggle to contain this Notre Dame offense.
The Fighting Irish have 153 yards of total offense to USC’s 63, and 10:32 minutes of possession to USC’s 4:28.