The Trojans fell to Notre Dame Saturday in as frustrating and ugly a game as you’ll see this season. The 14-10 scoreline tells the story of a game that saw zero second half points and more penalty flags than first downs in the final half. As games go, it was one to forget. As rivalry games go, it was one to scrub from your brain with bleach.
Before you do that though, here’s a look at the best, the worst and the ugliest performances of the night…
Stud: Nelson Agholor
Agholor was the spark USC’s offense needed in the second half. They just never caught flame. With six catches for 89 yards and an additional 100 yards on punt returns, Agholor showed off all the reasons he was so highly touted coming into this season. He was particularly effective finding space in the middle of the field, ripping off a couple big receptions, including the 32-yard catch and run that gave the Trojans some life on their failed final drive.
Dud: Anthony Brown
Anthony Brown took Torin Harris’ starting spot, but it seems he inherited Harris’ propensity for being burned as well. Notre Dame made the clear decision to target Brown, who was returning from injury for his first game since the season opener. Brown helped that strategy yield big results. Tommy Rees’ first pass was a 26-yard completion over Brown’s head and it didn’t get much better from there. Brown’s troubles got so bad, he picked up a pass interference penalty for giving up on covering TJ Jones in favor of simply tackling him to keep him from another catch.
Stud: Silas Redd
Watching him run, you wouldn’t guess that Silas Redd was playing just his second game since returning from offseason knee surgery. Redd finished the first half with 14 carries for 91 yards. He finished the game with 19 carries for 119 yards and it is one of the great mysteries of this season that he didn’t see more time in the second half as one of USC’s more potent weapons. His carries were hard fought, with the burst, cuts and power that Trojan fans have become accustom to seeing from the veteran running back. Tre Madden spent the first chunk of the season solidifying himself as USC’s number one back, but against the Irish Redd certainly made a case for more of a featured role.
Dud: Offensive line
The Trojan offensive line started out alright, giving Redd and the running backs plenty of room to run effectively in the first half. The second half was a different story. Pass protection for Cody Kessler took a nose dive and key penalties stalled nearly all of USC’s late drives. Two holding calls on Max Tuerk put the Trojans in early holes on two drives, while a hold on Aundrey Walker and a false start on Chad Wheeler set USC up in the fourth and twenty that would become the most clear example of the line’s ineptitude. On a do or die play with Notre Dame rushing just three, Wheeler was left alone against Notre Dame’s most formidable defensive lineman, Stephon Tuitt, while everyone else double and triple teamed the other two rushers. Naturally, Tuitt bullied his way through Wheeler’s block and sacked Kessler.
Stud: Soma Vainuku
The much maligned Soma Vainuku became famous for dropping a touchdown pass against Notre Dame last year. This time against the Irish he proved that he can be involved in the passing game, to great effect in fact. He caught two passes for 16 yards, both of which resulted in first downs. On top of that, Vainuku was an essential part of USC’s stellar run game and in pass protection he was consistently stout. USC has lacked an impact fullback since Stanley Havili departed for the NFL. While Vainuku has a long way to go before reaching the heights of the former owner of his #31 jersey, he went a long way towards increasing his role in the offense.
Dud: Andre Heidari
It feels like forever and a day since Andre Heidari was a freshman All-American. Since sustaining a knee injury early last season, Heidari has been anything but effective. With two missed field goals that would have been the difference in the game, the junior kicker instilled so little confidence in his coaches that they were more comfortable attempting a fourth and 20 instead of letting him attempt a kick to put USC within one point of the Irish. He has made just six of his 11 attempts this season.
Bonus Dud: Pac-12 Refs
After Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees went down with injury in the third quarter, the flags thrown against the two sides became noticeably unbalanced. The Irish saw one flag go against them. The Trojans saw seven. While several of those flags spoke to the lack of discipline among the USC ranks, more than a few were of a questionable nature and more than a few wiped away key Trojan gains. Making it all the worse, said refs missed a blatant pass interference on USC’s final drive which would have given the Trojans a first down on the set of downs that turned out to be USC’s last.
Bonus Dud: Hands
Marqise Lee had it in his hands. And he dropped it. The pass was perfectly thrown, but because of Lee’s lack of concentration, what could have been the game deciding touchdown never made it on the scoreboard. Agholor, who had an otherwise bright game, also saw his hands fail him — once over the middle on what could have been a big game and then in the key moment on the final fourth down when he had the first down within his grasp but dropped the ball after a crushing hit. He’s forgiven for that however because the hit was brutal and because on third down Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick dropped the pass that should have given the Trojans a new set of downs. The point being, USC’s receivers need to have a talk with their hands after tonight.
Have studs and duds of your own? Sound off in the comments below.