Posted on October 22, 2017, by Travis Pulver
When the 2017 season began, the USC Trojans were supposed to be one of the four teams in the College Football Playoffs at the end of the season. With the golden arm of Sam Darnold leading the way, they were going to blaze through the competition and bring the national title home. Notre Dame, on the other hand, was just a bad season away from getting rid of Brian Kelly and moving on to their next head coach.
But as both teams prepared for their Week Eight contest, their respective situations had changed. Darnold was no longer the Heisman shoe-in he began the season as and the Trojans were hanging onto their playoff hopes by a very thin thread.
Instead, it was Notre Dame looking to make a case for the playoffs— and they did.
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Things had to line up just right for the Trojans to win. They needed Sam Darnold to have a great day and keep the offense on the field. That way, they wouldn’t have to worry about the Notre Dame run game mashing its way through their defense. It would help if the Trojan run game could come back to life, of course (which it didn’t). But at the least, they needed their superstar to play like a superstar.
He did not.
Darnold was sacked by Te’von Coney on USC’s first play from scrimmage and fumbled the ball (which Coney recovered. Three plays later, Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush hit Equanimeous St. Brown with a 26-yard touchdown pass to give the Fighting Irish an early 7-0 lead.
It never got any better for Darnold or the Trojans. A fumbled punt return midway through the second quarter set Notre Dame up on the USC nine-yard line. Three plays later it was Josh Adams taking the ball across the goal line for his first of three touchdowns. A Darnold interception on the next drive gave Notre Dame the short field again. This time it took seven plays to score it was Wimbush carrying it in from four yards out.
“The turnovers were key for us in the first half and being opportunistic, which really we’ve been all year offensively,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said after the game (ESPN).
USC was able to generate some momentum with a 12-play, 77-yard drive to open the second half that cut the deficit to 28-7. Notre Dame responded with a touchdown drive of their own, but then USC cut back into the lead with another score on its next possession.
At this point, down 35-14, it didn’t look good. But if the Trojans could stop Notre Dame on its next drive and then score again, they could have a shot at pulling this one out. But then Josh Adams put a dagger into the hearts of Trojan fans everywhere with an 84-yard run for a touchdown.
Adams scored his third touchdown of the night on Notre Dame’s next drive to cap off the scoring for the night, 49-14.
“He’s one of the best players in the country,” Kelly said (ESPN). “I’ll let others make that decision. Here’s what I know. We’re going to play some really good football teams the rest of the year. Maybe everyone should just wait until the end of the year and vote for the Heisman.”
Notre Dame should move from No. 13 into the top ten this week after demolishing the No. 11 Trojans. But they still have a ways to go before they can be called a final four team. They’ll continue to make their case next week when they take on No. 16 North Carolina State.
USC can forget about the CFB Playoffs, but they can still win the Pac-12. But to remain in that race, they will need to take down Arizona State next week.