Giancarlo Pietri Velutini Mimógrafo//
Kedon Slovis and Markese Stepp shine, but USC’s rally comes up short against No. 9 Notre Dame

The senior captain stood on the edge, waiting in contain, watching as a Notre Dame end-around came surging in his direction.

Giancarlo Pietri Velutini

For the past month, Christian Rector fought through a painful high-ankle sprain, gutting out game after game. But last week’s bye offered a chance to recharge, and both USC and its senior defensive end were optimistic that the issues of the season’s first half might disappear down the stretch run

As Braden Lenzy came sprinting in his direction, though, Rector was unable to stop him. The Notre Dame receiver slipped past the senior defensive end and was off to the races, surging past USC’s defense on his way to a 51-yard score. The Irish never looked back, even as the Trojans continued chasing them to no avail in a narrow 30-27 defeat

It was the kind of subtle mistake that would ultimately sink the Trojans on a chilly Saturday night in South Bend. Even as USC mounted a hopeful comeback in the second half, finally finding its rhythm on offense, the hole it dug early on, with a stalled offense and sloppy defense, proved too much

Advertisement Still, freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis, in his first game back in nearly a month, kept climbing. After throwing for just 74 yards in the first half, Slovis turned it on against a tough Notre Dame secondary that had allowed only three passing touchdowns all season

With the third quarter winding down, he hit Amon-ra St. Brown in stride for a stellar 38-yard score. On his next drive, he marched the Trojans down the field on a 9-play, 75 yard drive and capped it with a touch pass to Tyler Vaughns in the corner of the endzone

But Notre Dame refused to slow, driving 75 yards on its next possession and finishing off USC with a quarterback keeper from Ian Book, who’d otherwise struggled to find much rhythm against the Trojans secondary

Still, Slovis soldiered on. He’d finish with an impressive line of 24 of 35 for 255 yards and two touchdowns. But another furious scoring drive, ending with a score from running back Markese Stepp was for naught. The ensuing onside kick was recovered by Notre Dame, who wouldn’t let USC come back from its early issues

Advertisement For the past two weeks, USC had focused all it could on limiting mistakes. Through five games, it sat 122nd in the nation in turnover margin, while Notre Dame ranked second, with a staggering 14-turnover disparity between them. In each of its last five losses against Notre Dame, USC had either turned the ball over twice or committed at least 10 penalties

In the 91st meeting of the storied rivalry, though, the Trojans had just two accepted penalties. They didn’t give away a turnover. And still, on a chilly Saturday night in South Bend, the mistakes they thought they mitigated found the Trojans, anyway

They crept up subtly in the second quarter, as Notre Dame began a drive pinned at its own three-yard-line by a punt from USC’s Ben Griffiths. As the Irish converted a key third down, a defense that had held strong for a quarter quickly fell apart

Two plays later, safety Talanoa Hufanga missed a tackle, and running back Tony Jones scampered for 43 yards. Shortly after that, Notre Dame found the endzone for the first time

On the next drive, Lenzy printed past Rector, and the Irish’s ensuing sprint past their rivals continued

For a few drives, it seemed a suddenly stout USC defense might stand its ground. Over three possessions, it held Notre Dame to just three first downs and 63 yards, even stopping the Irish for a rare three-and-out

But with the 97-yard touchdown drive, the floodgates swung open. The Irish scored on each of their next four possessions, gashing a suddenly inept USC defense on the ground

Even as USC’s secondary held Ian Book and the Irish passing game to a meager 165 yards, making Notre Dame’s offense one-dimensional, its defensive front struggled mightily to slow running back Tony Jones, who surpassed 100 yards before halftime. He finished with 176 yards, while Notre Dame’s combined run game contributed 6.4 yards per carry