Despite eating up most of the clock in the first half, Notre Dame only has one touchdown and a one-possession lead over USC at the half.
Max Wittek hit Robert Woods from 11 yards out to put the Trojans on the board early in the second quarter. If he looked shaky in his first drive, Wittek looked composed and in control in the second one, taking SC 75 yards in in six plays for the score.
With Notre Dame’s lead cut to three, it is clear the Trojan offense has no intention of laying down for the Irish.
So far, the same cannot be said of the Trojan defense.
Though they play well and look stout on first and second downs, the defense absolutely falls apart on third down, allowing the Fighting Irish to stay on the field longer than Coach Kiffin and his staff would like.
In spite of that, CB Nickell Robey and another defender broke up a pass that would have surely been a Notre Dame TD, and Everett Golson following pass fell incomplete as well. Their kicker took the field for the 29-yard attempt and he got it, sending the Irish up 13-7.
The Irish only had one touchdown to show for their first three trips to the Trojan redzone, so USC’s defense is not playing terribly. But they are giving the Irish entirely too much cushion, which is enabling them to continue to make plays.
The Trojan offense took the field again and RB Silas Redd made his first appearance, picking up 15 yards and then blew up Notre Dame’s secondary for 24 more. The Fighting Irish do not seem to have an answer for SC’s running game so far, something the Trojans will likely continue to exploit.
Max Wittek made his first mistake of the night when he fumbled on 3rd and 9. It was a costly mistake, as the Trojans had to settle for a field goal when they could have made a further push toward the endzone to take a one-point lead. Instead, K Andre Heidari would nail the 40-yard field goal and bring the score to 13-10.
USC went 54 yards in eight plays, and the Notre Dame defense is starting to look a lot more vulnerable than had been expected coming into this game. These rivals could most definitely be in for a shootout with the way both offenses are playing.
Golson started to feel the pressure that USC’s defense is capable of bringing on Notre Dame’s next drive when he and his squad were legitimately forced off the field for the first time. They had to punt and the Trojans took over from their own 25-yard line.
The drive would be short lived for USC though as Wittek made his second and more costly mistake of the night. He heaved it 56-yards to Marqise Lee but it was a bit underthrown and subsequently picked off by Notre Dame.
With just one minute left in the half the Irish surged down the field and tore through USC’s soft coverage, but the defense made a few big plays that kept another Irish TD from happening. LB Dion Bailey almost picked off Golson, and the defensive line swarmed him with pressure on the next play. Golson’s feet got caught and he had to throw it away, pointing to his leg and ultimately hobbling off the field.
Notre Dame’s kicker nailed a career-long 52-yard field goal with one second left in the half, sending the Fighting Irish into the half up 16-10 over USC.
Evert Golson is playing as well as expected, completing 14 of 22 passes for 181 yards. And RB Theo Riddick is just giving USC’s defense a headache, shredding them for 67 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries.
For the Trojans, Max Wittek has looked better in one half of play than Matt Barkley has in the past four games. He has completed seven of 11 passes for 64 yards and a touchdown. Despite two mistakes, he looks ready and able to lead this USC team.
Silas Redd and Curtis McNeal have nearly 70 yards between them, but less than 10 carries on the half. If the Trojans are to pull off this upset, diversifying the play-calling is imperative. We know that Wittek surely has a cannon, but this game will not be won on long bombs and screens alone.
With neither defense playing brilliantly, this one could go down to the wire. The Trojans have nothing to lose while the Fighting Irish have it all, and the second half is shaping up to a contentious fight between bitter rivals.