Notes, quotes and video from USC's 20-16 loss to Notre Dame on Saturday night at the Coliseum:
One Ronald Johnson catch and the Trojans are 8-4, Notre Dame is 6-6 and we're talking about USC rebounding from a tough loss to Oregon State to tough one out against a big rival. But Johnson didn't catch the ball in the open from Mitch Mustain -- then Mustain forced a second-down throw from the Notre Dame 23-yard line with 36 seconds left and was intercepted by Irish safety Harrison Smith. Now Notre Dame is 7-5, USC is 7-5 -- worse than last year -- and the Trojans have another losing streak on the books.
A couple of solid-insight quotes, one from each side: USC middle linebacker Chris Galippo, who had six tackles, an interception and a fumble forced in one of his best games for USC, on the loss: "As a competitor, you want to win every game. We all want to win every game. It is tough to fight that hard and come out on the losing end, but sometimes you learn more when you lose than when you win." And Smith, a senior leader for Notre Dame who has played linebacker and safety in his career, about his game-sealing pick: "When I saw it I knew I was in good position. I just thought to myself: 'I've got to come down with this and the game is over.'"
The Trojans' offense has failed them twice in a row now, a week ago putting up only seven points at Oregon State and this week putting up 16. You could argue, too, that none of the 16 points were of the offense's doing -- all came directly off turnovers produced by the defense. USC had a plus-three turnover differential on Saturday, a margin that rarely leads to a loss. Said Coach Lane Kiffin postgame: "If you had told me before we would be [plus-three] on turnovers, I would have expected a different result."
Making his starting debut for USC, Mustain (20-of-37, 177 yards, no touchdowns) wasn't great. But it wasn't like he was consistently failing at executing what he was asked to do; it was more like USC didn't try to do much because of his presence in the game and the failure of the run game. Said Kiffin: "We didn't ask him to do much today, but we didn't support him with the running game at all."
Tommy Rees was a solid game-manager for the Fighting Irish for the third consecutive game, but Notre Dame got great end-of-game production from its pair of running backs, Cierre Wood and Robert Hughes. The two combined for 158 yards on the night, 62 of which came on the Irish's game-winning 77-yard drive that ended with a little more than two minutes to play. And, on the other side of the field, USC's run game was simply horrific. Marc Tyler had his worst game of the season in terms of yards per carry (17 rushes for 48 yards, good for 2.8 ypc), and C.J. Gable's numbers were even worse. Freshman Dillon Baxter, eligible again after missing the Oregon State game because of a golf-cart ride with a student-agent, had one carry for four yards and one completion for four yards.
Injury updates: Sophomore safety T.J. McDonald suffered what Kiffin described as a separated shoulder in the first quarter and did not return. He'll undergo further examination ahead of the season finale against UCLA. Right tackle Tyron Smith was not available to play and was replaced by Butch Lewis, who was pushed around a bit early. Cornerback Brian Baucham, USC's nickel corner, wore a neck brace as he walked out of the locker room but said it was only a shoulder sprain.
Walk-on Tony Burnett replaced McDonald at free safety and performed admirably, recording 10 tackles, including a shared tackle-for-loss with Armond Armstead. Burnett had been listed as a third-string cornerback in USC's latest depth chart, but assistant coach Monte Kiffin said afterward that the coaching staff had moved him to safety a while back after being impressed with his special-teams play. It looks like Burnett is the early favorite to start in McDonald's spot against the Bruins.
Final notes: One such cliche from Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly: "We brought the fight back in the Fighting Irish."... Attendance at the Coliseum was announced as 85,417. Plenty of fans had fled for cover by the middle of the fourth quarter, though. ... The second-half interceptions by linebacker Devon Kennard and safety Marshall Jones were the first career picks for each.
Earlier this year, Monte Kiffin tended to get defensive when asked after losses about his defense. After this one, his attitude was a bit different -- probably because his defense played just fine and couldn't be blamed for the loss.
See what he had to say:
Senior cornerback Shareece Wright has been the go-to guy for the media all year long because of his ability to put things into perspective. He did it again Saturday, talking with depth about the difficulty of the situation for Johnson, his near pick-six and a few other topics.
See all of what he had to say: