What we learned: Week 8

Here is what to take away from Notre Dame's 14-10 win Saturday over USC, as the Irish improved to 5-2 on the season with a trip to Air Force awaiting them this week:

1. No Rees = big problem. Notre Dame's offensive woes were evident when Tommy Rees went down in the third quarter with a neck strain. The Irish totaled just 30 yards (including penalties) and netted one first down on six drives (not including a seventh in which Hendrix kneeled twice.) Notre Dame better hope that Rees heals quickly, as it simply could not move the ball without him Saturday against USC.

2. Defense steps up when called upon. This looked like the Notre Dame defense of 2012 on Saturday, with the Irish playing big in the second half when the offense needed to be bailed out. USC punted the ball four times, missed a field goal, turned it over on downs twice and had a pass picked off by Jaylon Smith -- all in the second half. The Irish brought pressure up front and defended the run much better late, limiting the Trojans' chances of making something happen in a tight game.

3. Atmosphere doesn't get to newcomers. Smith had a pick to open the third quarter, Cole Luke played well in the secondary and Joe Schmidt stepped up big late in his first real extended action with the Irish. The noise level was very loud and USC had a number of false-start penalties. But after last season's eight-total-turnover game against Michigan and Saturday's offensively-challenged second half, perhaps we could all use a break from home night games, at least from a football perspective.