Trojans unable to deal final blow to the Fighting Irish

Mitch Mustain, the senior backup quarterback starting in replacement for injured sophomore Matt Barkley, acknowledged feeling a little frustrated while walking off the field of a rain-soaked Los Angeles Coliseum Saturday night.

On a third-and-seven play from his team’s own 47-yard line, Mustain heaved a pass down the sideline toward a wide open Ronald Johnson, but the ball slipped through the hands of the senior wide receiver, all but dashing the Trojans’ hopes of notching their ninth consecutive victory over their intersectional rivals.

“That one probably would have changed the outcome,” Mustain said. “It was unfortunate that [Johnson] dropped it.”

Tim Tran | Daily Trojan

If completed, a touchdown would have likely ensued, giving USC (7-5, 4-4) a late lead; yet, the Trojans, instead, were outlasted 20-16 to Notre Dame (7-5) for the first time since 2001.

“He cleared the guy before I let it go,” Mustain said, referring to the dropped pass. “I knew he had a chance to beat those guys.”

Instead, the incompletion remains a microcosm of a USC offense that simply could not capitalize on a multitude of opportunities.

Facing a Notre Dame offensive attack led by an 18-year-old freshman quarterback in Tommy Rees, the Trojan defense forced three interceptions and a fumble, but the offense managed to produce just one touchdown in response – a one-yard quarterback sneak from Mustain on 4th down after originally fielding the ball at the two-yard line.

“If you had told me before that we would be plus-4 turnovers, I would have expected a different result,” said USC coach Lane Kiffin. “We have to score more points off turnovers.”

A running game, which was largely nonexistent for four quarters, didn’t help. Instead of scoring touchdowns, USC found itself settling for field goals with senior kicker Joe Houston converting three, ranging from 23 yards to a career high of 45.

Primarily featuring a running back tandem of redshirt junior Marc Tyler and senior C.J. Gable, the ground game amassed just 80 yards on 30 carries, an average of 2.7 yards per gain, much to the chagrin of Kiffin.

“I don’t know why the running game didn’t get going,” said the Trojans’ first-year head coach. “We weren’t able to do it.”

The loss serves as stark contrast to USC’s previous eight wins over Notre Dame; eight games in which the Trojans averaged 40 points per contest and seemingly dominated one helpless Irish team after another.

Saturday, instead, marked a new twist in the rivalry, with Kiffin losing his initial matchup with the Trojans’ storied archrival, which coincidently, also happens to be led by a first-year head coach in Brian Kelly.

“I am very disappointed in the outcome,” Kiffin said. “It is a very special game for a lot of people and we let them down today. We worked hard to get that eight-game streak.”
But despite its offensive ineptitude, the Trojans were presented with chances; opportunities late in the game that could have otherwise allowed them to walk away with a victory in hand.

Leading 16-13 with 6:25 remaining in the fourth quarter, USC failed to stop Notre Dame’s two-man rushing attack of Cierre Brown and Robert Hughes, which totaled 57 yards on the team’s game-winning seven-play, 77-yard drive, resulting in five-yard touchdown from Hughes.

Faced with an opportunity to respond with over two minutes remaining, USC’s efforts were futile, as the dropped pass from Johnson was eventually succeeded by an errant throw from Mustain, leading to a game-ending interception.

Outside of pride, however, there isn’t much left for the unranked Trojans to play for. Ineligible and largely unqualified for a finish in the USA Today coaches, all that remains for the Trojans, who are also barred from playing in a bowl game, is a Dec. 4 road contest with crosstown rival UCLA.

But the players insist they don’t view their final stretch as “insignificant.”

“It’s tough. As a competitor, you want to win every game,” said redshirt junior linebacker Chris Galippo. “It is tough to fight that hard and come out on the losing end, but sometimes you learn more when you lose than when you win.”

4 replies
  1. GK
    GK says:

    @Dr. Macot’s comments are “right on the money”. Either you adjust your play calling to take advantage of what the defense is giving you or you’ll run into problems. Now that this year’s team has lost more games since 2001, our onlyu salvation is to win the UCLA game at The Rose Bowl. If SC loses that game, Pat Hayden had better have a short little chit chat with Kiffin and Company…… one more year to get this program back on track or you’re gone. There’s something wrong with this coaching staff, which is purported to be the best in the land, yet they are continually being outcoached by the opposition. As in the Texas game back in 2006, you don’t run a running play on 4th and 2 when the defense is expecting it. You show run up the middle and do something else. ND shut down the run and we don’t let the QB run or pass downfield until it was too late? I don’t get it Coach.

    You had better call a winning game plan on Sat against the bRUINs; otherwise, the SC fan base is going to be very unhappy and will call for changes in the coaching staff.

    Fight On.
    Beat THe bRUINs.

  2. Neal Marcot
    Neal Marcot says:

    I have been watching USC football for 55 years as I grew up in LA. I remember my father fondly taking me down to the field after many Trojan victories; our family would gather behind the marching band after the game and strut through the Coliseum tunnel to the sounds of “Fight On.” Those were memorablel times that you never forget. Of course, I have stuck with the team through thick and thin all these years, and yes as a teenager .there were memorable victories over ND and humilating defeats, just look at 1964 and 1966…So RJ everyone,and I mean everyone gets knocked down in life. You can wallow in pity or you can be a man and pick yourself up and get back in the battle just like the legend, John McKay, did after the 1966 walloping. (Yes even legends get knocked down!). Coach McKay vowed he never again would lose to the Irish and his teams never did..Look I can take defeat with victory but what I cannot tolerate is a half hearted effort. My major complaint with this year’s USC-ND game was that we came out so flat. I mean in a game with this much tradition, history and importance, it seemed like .we were sleep walking throughout the first half. I couldn’t believe it what I was seeing. We were going through the motions!!!The Coliseum was packed but it was like a morgue at times. .A critical job of the coaching staff is to motivate the young men you go into battle with to play .60 minutes of football, not 30 min. Yes, we woke up after half time, but we wasted half the game. Mr. Kiffin may I please make some other suggestions: 1) Never criticize a player to the media!!! if you cannot make a positive statement about a student athlete don’t make any statement at all. If there is a legitimate criticism to be made do so in the privacy of your office not before the LA Times. Instead of saying you were shocked RJ dropped the pass, you should have said he has been terrific all season and has made some wonderful plays for us to help us several games. These things happen all the time in the heat of battle, just look at the NFL So called greats are dropping passes left and right every week. Mr. Kiffin. I also particularly did not like the comment you made about Mr. Houston and that fact that Pete Caroll left the team with a walk-on at that position. For pity sakes, Houston made three field goals and kept us in the ND game, including a 45 yarder in a driving rain storm. He was our most valuable player!!! 2) When players come off the field Mr. Kiffin look them in the eye and give them encouragement. Let them see you care!!!! Don’t stand there impassively; whether you like it or not I believe your seemingly indifference begins to rub off on the players. 3) Change your game plan to fit your talent; don’t try to fit your scheme if you don’t have the players to run it or if it is too complicated and is not working.. You even admitted that Mitch Mustain much preferred to run from shotgun; yet 85 percent of the plays you ran for him were with him behind the quaterback; also,. just because the so-called Tampa defense worked in the pros doesn’t necessarily mean it will work at the collegiate level. 4) Be willing to make changes/adjustments when something is not working. Certainly you could see that the Irish were putting 8 and 9 men in the box, yet you didn’t even try a vertical pass during the first half. During this game you had to do the unexpected, yet you were very predictable. Bottom line, Mr Kiffin, you have the talent right here, right now!!! You showed that against Stanford, Ariz, Ariz St, Cal etc. What concerns me is the team, for whatever reason, seems to regressing the last couple of weeks. I had hope for continuing improvements. After each of these last losses, you continually use the phrase “We have a lot of work to do” Maybe you should rephrase that to, “I need to do a better job of coaching.” Believe me, the talent is there my friend, it just needs to be brought out. That’s where you come in. Let’s finish strong against UCLA!!!!!

    Fight on Men of Troy, Fight On

    Dr. Neal A. Marcot

  3. Tommy Trojan 71
    Tommy Trojan 71 says:

    After Kiffin was named coach, one of the ESPN anchors predicted that the new SC coach would bring the Trojan Program low “in two years.” Oh how wrong he was–it has only taken the no talent Boy Wonder one year.

    Of courses, it was probably the NCAA probation that allowed Washington, Stanford, and a third rate Notre Dame team to run over Daddy Kiffin’s SC defense for last minute game winning drives–with Boy Lane standing on the sidelines looking like the lost boy he is. It was likely the fact that there are no bowl games ahead that led to blowouts by both Oregon schools, including a thrashing by the Beavers that was greater than any issued by OSU in more than 100 years!

    All of these losses may be worth it if they become the weight that sinks this loser to coaching a community college or high school team that is worthy of his experience and leadership.

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