It started off so well.
For a game that was predicted to be a rout, a celebration for the many Irish fans gathered in the Coliseum, things couldn’t have started much better for the Trojans who took the opening drive and marched down the field for a Vavae Malepeai touchdown run and an early 7-0 lead.
There was another long drive, unfortunately it ended with a Michael Pittman fumble at the ND 33-yard line but it didn’t seem to halt the Trojan offense much, as J.T. Daniels was hitting everything in sight and soon it was a 10-0 USC lead. The Irish did add a touchdown to make it 10-7 but there was another USC drive toward the end of the first half that appeared headed for a score right up until Amon-Ra St. Brown got the ball stripped at the 15-yard line and the Irish recovered to go into halftime only down by three.
It was the second turnover that gave pause for Trojan fans. Playing well in the first half hasn’t been the issue this year, it’s the second half that has given USC their share of problems. And with the two turnovers, and eight penalties compared to only one for the Irish, there was a sense of opportunities lost because the Trojans had played as well and with as much energy as any point this year.
As it turned out, those fears were realized in the second half when Notre Dame came out and took things up a notch by scoring 17 unanswered points to take a commanding 24-10 lead. They were simply more crisp in their execution and took control of the line of scrimmage in a way that was tough to see but wasn’t really surprising considering how many times we’ve seen it happen to the Trojans this year in the second half of games. There was some brief life at the end when walk-on safety Jordan McMillan was able to intercept a pass in the end zone, and USC was able get a late touchdown pass from Daniels to Tyler Vaughns, who had an impressive 12 catches on the day, but once the final onside kick was recovered by Notre Dame that was the end of any comeback hopes.
Was it as bad as predicted? Certainly not. It’s fair to say that was the best performance of the year by the Trojans, at least the first 30 minutes. And if the team had played like that more often there probably wouldn’t be the anticipated coaching change that dominated the pre-and-post game chatter for USC fans. Because everywhere you went around the Coliseum, on the radio shows, all anybody wanted to talk about was the status of Clay Helton, and that shouldn’t take away from some pretty good performances that we saw from players like Daniels, Vaughns, Cameron Smith, Palaie Gaoteote, Iman Marshall and Chase Williams. There was enough solid play to remind you that there is some good talent on the USC roster, despite what a 5-7 record would indicate. But in the end, it wasn’t good enough, and that’s why a change is likely to come sooner rather than later.