Mistakes cost USC 31-16 loss against Notre Dame

Senior running back Keaontay Ingram runs with the ball during USC's game against Utah on Oct. 7.
Senior running back Keaontay Ingram runs with the ball during USC’s game against Utah on Oct. 7. Ingram ran for a season-high 138 yards against Notre Dame Saturday. (Vincent Leo | Daily Trojan)

In previous games, USC’s sideline looked deflated as the game wore on. But, as kickoff approached Saturday in the 92nd all-time meeting between USC and Notre Dame, the Trojans looked bouncy, jumping in unison like teenagers on the dance floor.

Unfortunately for USC, it was the only part of the night different from other weeks. Halfway through the second half, heads were down once again as Notre Dame cruised to a 31-16 victory Saturday night full of Trojan mistakes in South Bend, Ind.

USC has now lost its last four meetings against Notre Dame and has not won in South Bend since 2011. It’s also the Trojans’ first loss on the road this season.

Junior cornerback Chris Steele gave USC life when he intercepted senior quarterback Jack Coan with 11:25 left in the game. The Trojans proceeded to march down the field for a two-and-a-half minute drive capped off by a rushing touchdown by redshirt sophomore running back Darwin Barlow.

Barlow’s score brought USC within one possession, but the Trojans defense couldn’t get a stop as Notre Dame answered back with a touchdown sealing the victory, making it 31-16.

“We made way too many mistakes against a really, really good football team,” said interim Head Coach Donte Williams in a postgame press conference Saturday. “Whether it was special teams, offense, defense, coaching, we all made mistakes.”

Nine penalties for 65 yards hurt the USC, but it was its offense that struggled, especially with finishing its drives — a similar story of the Trojans’ season. USC scored only 3 points through three quarters, even with three red zone appearances.

A 10-play, 52-yard drive to end the first half concluded with no points after junior quarterback Kedon Slovis failed to stop the clock for a field goal attempt. Then, a 10-play, 56-yard drive to begin the second half ended with no points on the board after sophomore kicker Parker Lewis missed a 42-yard field goal.

The Trojans struggled on their first drive of the game, going 3-and-out quickly. But, on its second offensive possession, USC rolled down the field, setting itself up at the Fighting Irish’s 12-yard-line.

Slovis then threw an interception that was returned by Notre Dame to USC’s 5-yard line, continuing the trend of poor trips in the red zone.

The Trojans struggled on third-downs on both sides of the ball. On offense, they only converted 6 out of 13 third-downs compared to 8 out of 12 conversions for Notre Dame. Coming into Saturday, the Irish had a 3rd-down conversion rate of 34%.

Junior wide receiver Drake London continued his Biletnikoff Award case with 171 yards and 15 receptions in the game — a career-high record. Junior running back Keaontay Ingram had another strong game carrying the ball with 138 yards on 24 carries. Ingram opened the fourth quarter with a rushing touchdown — USC’s first points since 7:29 left in the second quarter.

On the other hand, Notre Dame found comfort with the ball in its hands, scoring on its first three of four drives of the game.

Coming into the game, the Irish averaged 97.3 rushing yards a game — tied for 118th best in the country. Against USC, they ran for 170 yards, including 3 rushing touchdowns, on 41 carries.

Coan tested USC’s cornerbacks and targeted passes toward the sideline. He finished with 189 passing yards for 1 touchdown and an interception, but most of his work was done handing the ball off. Junior running back Kyren Williams had 2 rushing touchdowns for a season-high 138 total yards — his first multi-rushing touchdown game of the season.

Notre Dame lived off of long drives, putting more pressure on the USC offense to match them to give the defense some rest. The Irish began the game with a 13-play drive that ran nearly four and a half minutes ending with a missed field goal. Then an 11-play, 70-yard drive and a 9-play, 75-yard drive in the middle of the second quarter.

Notre Dame punted for the first time in the game with 9:49 left in the third quarter but followed it up with another long drive — 13 plays for 80 yards and a rushing touchdown by Williams.

USC will play Arizona at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum next Saturday at 4 p.m.