Saturday, November 24, 2012
Grades: Notre Dame 22, USC 13
By Pedro Moura
LOS ANGELES -- The unranked USC Trojans played the top-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish close, but not close enough. Notre Dame held on for the win, 22-13, on Saturday at the Coliseum to earn a BCS title game berth.
USC looks headed for El Paso, Texas, on New Year's Eve, for the Hyundai Sun Bowl. Here's a report card for the Trojans' efforts in their final regular-season game, and final game for at least a month:
Max Wittek didn't really look nervous, but he never quite appeared in command, either. Not a bad effort for a first-time collegiate starter, but the timing with Marqise Lee could've and should've been better for this stage. The two were off more than they were on in Saturday's game. If that was Robert Woods' final home game in college, it was a good one.
Silas Redd had an impressive game battling through an ankle injury, but he and Curtis McNeal still probably didn't get the chances they deserved. Lane Kiffin has consistently shown a preference for the pass over the run this season, even in situations like Saturday, when the Trojans' top two runners were comfortably gaining yards.
IN THE TRENCHES
No good here. Where was USC's defensive line? The only time Morgan Breslin got into the pocket was when he jumped offside. Wittek had some time to throw, but he was also quick to get rid of the ball. He rarely got to the third or fourth players on his progressions -- which is why he didn't complete a single pass to a tight end.
Notre Dame is no offensive juggernaut, but the Irish have talent on offense, so holding them to 22 points is a nice little accomplishment. There were big hits, but no real big plays, and that cost the Trojans. USC actually pulled off the bend-but-don't-break philosophy fairly well. The only problem was the lack of turnovers.
John Baxter's unit is supposed to be a difference-maker. It made very few positive differences on Saturday, mostly negative ones. Allowing Notre Dame to start near midfield on that crucial fourth-quarter drive proved costly. Is Robert Woods really the best punt-return option the Trojans have, considering his lack of explosion this season?
Lane Kiffin got his team ready to play the role of spoiler and didn't do anything to totally sabotage the Trojans' chances, but this wasn't an A-grade coaching effort, by any means. Has Monte Kiffin shown the willingness to adjust his ineffective defensive schemes? It sure doesn't seem like it.