USC had the ball to start the second quarter. Silas Redd got things going by making several Fighting Irish defenders miss, en route to him earning a first down. Then Kessler found Nelson Agholor over the middle for 25 yards, and the Trojans moved within Notre Dame’s 20 yard line.
USC saw what should have been a second touchdown fall incomplete when Kessler hit Marqise Lee in the endzone, but the wide receiver bobbled and dropped it out of bounds.
Kicker Andre Heidari took the field for a 40-yard field goal attempt, and it sailed wide right.
This time it would be the Trojans that came up short, with the Irish taking over on downs.
The Trojan defense did a good job containing the Irish this time around, and swept them off the field in three downs. Su’a Cravens again made the big play to kill the drive.
On the punt return, Agholor returned the punt for 49-yards, shaking defenders and breaking outside to give USC great field position. A penalty on Notre Dame added five more yards to his brilliant run, and the Trojans began their third drive of the night at Notre Dame’s 20-yard line.
Kessler rolled out of the pocket and found Lee on the sidelines for 11 yards and another first down. True freshman Justin Davis took the subsequent handoff and earned three yards on his first rush of the game. Defensive lineman Louis Nix got sufficient pressure on Kessler, forcing him to throw it out of bounds on 2nd-and-goal. Then, center Marcus Martin drew Nix offsides, and the Trojans moved five yards closer to the endzone. Buck Allen couldn’t reach the endzone on 3rd down however, getting swallowed by Nix in the process.
Heidari took the field again for a 22-yard chip shot, and this time he nailed it. USC took a 10-7 lead with eight minutes left in the half.
On Notre Dame’s next drive, the Fighting Irish looked to carve up the Trojan secondary once more. Cornerback Anthony Brown got burned on a play once again, and gave up nearly 20 yards in the process. But on third down, USC defensive end Morgan Breslin and outside linebacker Devon Kennard sandwiched Rees and absolutely rocked him, forcing an intention grounding penalty along the way.
The defense got off the field, and the Trojan offense would take over on downs deep in their own territory once again.
As USC was building its next drive, offensive lineman Aundrey Walker went down. After a few minutes, Jordan Simmons came onto the field in his place, and he played a few downs before Walker came back in. Kessler hit Soma Vainuku for another first down to keep the drive moving and shortly after that, Redd bounced off a number of Notre Dame defenders to earn a first down himself.
Vainuku, who has shown very good blocking skills this season, is also showing that his ball-catching abilities have vastly improved from 2012.
Kessler’s pass was batted down on 3rd down, and they had to punt it away. Kris Albarado’s punt dropped inside the 10-yard line, giving the Irish challenging field position for their next drive.
A 20-plus gain coupled with a 35-yard game brought the Irish deep into USC territoy. Later, Rees found T.J. Jones on a fade route for an 11-yard score.
While the defensive line plays strong, the Trojan secondary continues to be an egregious liability.
Notre Dame took a 14-10 lead with just over one minute to go in the half.
At the half, Cody Kessler is 8 of 13 for 88 yards, while Tommy Rees is 12 of 17 for 148 yards and two touchdowns. Trojan Silas Redd leads all rushers with 91 yards and a touchdown. USC’s passing game is leaving much to be desired, with only 88 yards amongst four receivers. Nelson Agholor leads them all, with 32 yards. Notre Dame’s passing game on the other hand is alive and well, largely thanks to soft coverage provided by the Trojan defense. TJ Jones, Troy Niklas and DaVaris Daniels have 46, 45, and 44 yards, respectively. Jones and Niklas also have scored a touchdown apiece.