Notre Dame got off to a hot start against the Trojans, earning two big plays that got them within scoring position in the opening minutes of this rivalry match. First, wide receiver T.J. Jones burned Trojan cornerback Anthony Brown (in his first start since Hawaii) for a first down at the 46-yard line. Then, quarterback Tommy Rees hit DaVaris Daniels for a 23-yard gain, out to the USC 20-yard line. The Trojan defensive line stiffened up a bit and forced a stop on third and goal, and Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly decided to go for it. True freshman safety Su’a Cravens read the play perfectly, recording a huge tackle for loss to move the Irish off the field.
The Trojan offense would take over deep in their own endzone, but the goal line stand turned momentum in their favor, and the defense made a statement for itself after an undesirable start.
On its first offensive series, USC quickly got away from its own territory with a strong running effort from Silas Redd. On third down, quarterback Cody Kessler hit wide receiver Nelson Agholor for a seven-yard gain and with it, the first down. USC picked up more yards when Redd took the snap out of the Wildcat formation and earned the first down. A face mask penalty tacked 15 more yards onto the play, and the Trojans were encroaching on Notre Dame territory.
Later, Kessler hit freshman wide receiver Darreus Rogers on the sideline for the first down, keeping the Trojan drive alive. Kessler then found fullback Soma Vainuku on the sideline for another first down. With a new set of downs, Redd again took the snap out of the Wildcat and darted down the sideline to the endzone. A gaggle of Notre Dame defenders dragged him down at the one-foot line, and the Trojans looked poised to score.
Sure enough, they did: Redd punched it in for a one-yard score and gave the Trojans an early 7-0 lead.
USC started the drive at their own four-yard line. The Trojans went 96 yards in 13 plays, turning all the momentum in their favor in doing so.
On Notre Dame’s second drive of the night, the moved the ball well thanks largely to the soft coverage of USC cornerback Brown. Rees found his targets easily, carving out huge chunks of the Trojan defense in the process. A personal foul penalty against Dion Bailey really hurt the Trojans, moving the Irish up to the 12-yard line. On 3rd-and-5, Rees hit Troy Niklas in the endzone to put Notre Dame on the board.
As the first quarter ended, Notre Dame’s kicker sailed the PAT through the uprights, and Notre Dame and USC were tied at 7-7.