Run disparity among keys to defeat

Run disparity among keys to defeat

It was a quiet night for the Notre Dame running game, and a disturbing one for the Irish run defense.

On the run

Notre Dame threw the ball 43 times and ran just 14. Cierre Wood gained 5 yards on five carries, though he did catch 6 passes for 41 yards. Backup Jonas Gray scored on a 25-yard touchdown run in the second half, but for the game the Irish netted only 41 yards on the ground.

"We were running the ball in the third quarter and were very effective in mixing things up," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. "Early on, we didn't get in that kind of rhythm because we got down 14-0, started throwing the ball. We are best operating offensively with that kind of balance. And I think we only had it for spurts in the third quarter."

USC gashed a previously stout Notre Dame run defense for 219 yards on 44 rushing attempts.

The Trojans' Curtis McNeal, just 5-foot-7 and 180 pounds, ran for 118 yards on 24 carries, and Marc Tyler added 67 yards on 13 attempts.

USC coach Lane Kiffin was pleased with how the Trojans closed out Notre Dame. USC took over with a two-touchdown lead and 6:43 left on the clock, rushing for 47 yards in 10 plays to run out the clock, with Notre Dame not stopping the action by using any timeouts.

"I think they really wanted it and it was good to see, for the game to end in that fashion, go out there and there's all that time on the clock. I don't know what it was exactly, but it felt like forever. I think it was six or seven minutes on the clock and we had the ball. And then to just go on and first down and run, offensive line, play well, and really just end the game on offense -- that's a dream if you can end the game on offense," Kiffin said.

Ouch.

The Hendrix experience

Backup quarterback Andrew Hendrix, who starred in spot duty against Air Force, saw limited action on Saturday night in Notre Dame's 31-17 loss to visiting USC.

The 6-foot-2, 220-pound sophomore got in with 10 minutes to go in the first half. He gave to Cierre Wood on second and short for a first down, ran for two yards on first down, and threw an incomplete pass in a drive that led to a punt.

Late in the third quarter, with Dayne Crist subbing for injured starting QB Tommy Rees, Hendrix entered again. On second and goal from the 3, he rushed on a keeper and just failed to make it into the end zone. Crist re-entered on third and goal from the 1, and we all know what happened next: botched snap, fumble, touchdown Trojans.

Start to finish

Freshman running back George Atkinson II is making quite a name for himself on kick-return duty. He broke free for a 96-yard touchdown that brought the Irish out of a 17-0 deficit, and funk, and energized the home crowd with 3:22 to go in the first half.

Atkinson outraced the USC cover team down the left sideline, keyed by blocks from Steve Filer and classmate Cam McDaniel, among others.

Besides the big TD return, Atkinson and the kick return team were effective all night, with one exception. He had a 25-yard return to the 32 in the first quarter, followed by a short return marred by a penalty that put the Irish in a hole at their own 8.

Atkinson had a 23-yard return to the 38 near the end of the third quarter, and a 24-yard return to the 36 in the fourth.

Substantial mistakes

It might have been lost in the shuffle as the action picked up in the second half, but a first-half penalty was noted by Kelly in the postgame press conference. Notre Dame linebacker Carlo Calabrese clearly taunted a USC receiver, leading to a 15-yard penalty that helped USC convert a field goal.

"We gave them three points on a penalty, that kept the drive alive," Kelly said. "We lacked some poise that is necessary."

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