LOS ANGELES -- Notes, quotes, and anecdotes from the Coliseum after the USC Trojans (8-4, 6-3 Pac-12) defeated Notre Dame (7-5) 49-14.
USC head coach Steve Sarkisian comments:
For openers: “For our team I keep singing the praises of our resiliency, our leadership, and our ability to get back up off the mat, get back on the horse and keep riding. They did it again. They keep showing me more and more stuff. I can think about games and trying to explain the last two minutes, and those are some gut-wrenching losses. I can think back to a week ago when we just didn't play our brand of football. You go back to next Monday, give them the message and they work their tails off. For them to come back and play the way they did today in all three phases that was just tremendous. The way we held them down defensively was amazing.”
Offensively speaking: “Offensively, I thought our tempo was good. We ran the ball much more effectively this week, and Cody [Kessler] was on. He was throwing the ball to the right guys at the right time. When it wasn't there, he was able to extend some plays with his feet. On third downs, 13-of-18 is a tremendous number. It made for a great day, and it was a fantastic way to close our regular season. We understand what we are capable of moving forward. Now we figure out which bowl game we will go to, prepare like crazy and try to get win number nine.”
Teachable moments: “Some of these defeats we have had are good for us. We will be better for it. Do I wish Hayes [Pullard] could have gone out playing in the Pac-12 Championship game? Sure I do. But some of those losses (Arizona State, Utah, UCLA), those are as valuable of lessons as today's win. We will learn from it. It will start Jan. 12 when these guys come back to school. I do reflect on that stuff, I do think what-if, but there are some valuable lessons in those games that will help us in the years to come. We have to find the positive and build."
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly comments:
The assessment: “We made too many mistakes on offense, had some drops. Uncharacteristic. I was just praising our wide receiver group this week and they come in and dropped way too many balls. I was disappointed in their play today from an offensive standpoint and we didn't get the kind of play from the quarterback early on that we needed on the road. We loaded up against the run and were in man coverage all day. We knew it was pick your poison today, and we just don't have a lot of answers in that situation."
On changing quarterbacks: “We tried to get a spark offensively and Malik [Zaire] gave us that spark. We had a couple drops on one drive and missed a field goal. I don't think we punted when he was in the game, so he did some good things. He made some mistakes, which is to be anticipated on it being his first time.”
On Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler: “His efficiency is outstanding. He came in with 30 touchdowns and four interceptions. He's smart and he plays well within the offense they run. Today he threw six touchdown passes. On merit, 36 and 4, I think those numbers stand up with all the quarterbacks in the country.”
The Fighting Irish’s woeful defense: “We knew we were shorthanded. We've lost a lot of players on defense over the last five weeks. It's been a difficult run for us, with key players on defense (hurt) and having to play so many freshmen. We just haven't been able to stop anybody and it's been a difficult run for us. We knew that it would be an uphill run when we lose as many key players and playing as many freshmen as we have on defense.”
More notes and anecdotes
Key(s) to victory: Kessler connected on three first-quarter touchdown passes (48, 16, and 31 yards), and the Trojans never looked back. Kessler established a new Notre Dame opponent single-game record for touchdown passes with six.
The offensive explosion: The Trojans scored 49 points against the Irish on Saturday. Prior to the Notre Dame game, the Trojans were averaging 33.8 points per game.
The Buck stops here: Trojans running back Javorius Allen, who had 93 yards rushing, said, “We had to attack. Coach called the plays and we had to execute. We knew that it took Notre Dame a long time to huddle (on defense) and get their signals in. Our (young) offensive line has a great future. They have so much experience. They’re going to be great.”
Defensive stops: The Trojans defense allowed 14 points to the Irish on Saturday. Prior to the Notre Dame game, the Men of Troy were allowing 24.6 points per game.
J.R. did it: Trojans senior rush end J.R. Tavai was a force on the edge for the defense and said afterward, “Coach [Chris] Wilson had a good game plan for us. We needed to get into the quarterback’s face with a shorter quarterback and contain. We let the inside linemen force pressure up front. This was one of my better games and probably the most fun I’ve had in a game.”
Sacking out: USC quarterbacks were sacked four times, while the Trojans sacked Notre Dame QBs four times.
Offensive dominance: The Trojans had 577 yards in total offense against the Irish on Saturday. Prior to the Notre Dame game, The Men of Troy were averaging 441.5 yards per game.
JuJu: Freshman wide receiver JuJu Smith was to the point afterward. Smith said, “Our passing game today was great. We’ve had our ups and downs this season, but it’s how we finished like when we beat Stanford.”
Receiver’s analysis: Smith said, “George [Farmer] really stepped it up today. We studied them (Notre Dame) a lot and took advantage of their corners. They blitzed a lot and we took advantage of it when they were also in man-to-man.”
Defensive stoppage: The Trojans defense allowed 349 yards to the Irish. Prior to the Notre Dame game, the Trojans were allowing 402.6 yards per game.
Giving credit: On the Trojans defensive game plan, Pullard said, “Coach (Justin) Wilcox had a great game plan for us today.”
Rush hour fast lane: Against the Irish on Saturday, the Trojans rushed for 205 yards. Prior to the Notre Dame game, the Men of Troy were averaging 153.9 yards rushing per game.
The red zone: The Trojans were 5-of-6 in the red zone.
The big man: Massive freshman offensive left guard Damien Mama said, “We knew that tempo would be a factor. We told them on the sideline let’s run the ball. We were physical, and coach [Tim Drevno] said this week we had to compete. Notre Dame was physical and had a good front seven.”
More big man: The Trojans other huge freshman O-lineman, right guard Viane Talamaivao, said, “We really worked hard on being physical this week in practice. We put in a lot of work in preparation. We corrected the errors we made last week against UCLA. Notre Dame is a good team, they fought hard, and they’re very physical.”
Brick wall: The Trojans defense allowed 104 yards rushing. Prior to the Notre Dame game, the Men of Troy were allowing 135.1 rushing per game.
Counting the house: Saturday’s announced attendance was 79,586.
Passing the test: The Trojans passed for 372 yards per game on Saturday. Prior to the Notre Dame game, the Trojans were averaging 287.5 passing yards per game.
In retrospect: Trojans junior wide receiver Nelson Agholor (120 yds/ 1 TD) reviewed the season by saying, “We’re a good team. We found a way to continue to fight on and we had our ups and downs. We just don’t like losing and we learned from it.”
An Irish point of view: Of the Trojans wide receiver corps, Notre Dame sophomore corner Cole Luke said, Obviously they're good all-around and have a lot of depth. They're fast receivers. Obviously we'll find stuff tomorrow on film. It's mostly technique. When you're 1-on-1, it's really technique. Besides that, I don't think we could've done anything better. We just played our game."
Air defense: The Trojans defense allowed 245 passing yards on Saturday. Prior to the Notre Dame game, the Trojans pass defense was allowing 267.5 yards per game.
Flag improvement: The Trojans were penalized six times for 45 yards on Saturday. Prior to the Notre Dame game, the Trojans were averaging 80.1 yards in penalties per game.
Back to college: Former Trojans Heisman winning quarterback Matt Leinart turned his popular Dish Network commercial into real time on Saturday, as he “returned to college” to lead his alma mater onto the field against Notre Dame prior to kickoff. The Trojans are now 2-0 when Leinart leads them out of the Coliseum tunnel
Scouts honor: NFL scouts in attendance included reps from the Bears, Bills, and 49ers.
Bowling alley: Representatives from the Sugar, Holiday, and Las Vegas Bowls were in attendance to watch the Trojans and the Irish.
Next game: The Trojans will participate in a bowl game to be determined.