The week of departure should have been good for USC. It was a chance to reboot, show my best qualities, and the last six weeks are behind us. Perhaps a week in the mirror can help shake off a new sense of hope in the second half of the season.
But when defender Kedon Slovis stared at his watch in bewilderment, inexcusably following the final seconds of the first half, while he and the USC attack stood helplessly near the red zone, unable to stop him, it became clear that the week ahead was not over. served only to numb the pain of what was about to happen.
What followed a busy night in Notre Dame was both painfully familiar and equally perplexing for USC, a 31-16 defeat at the hands of a fierce opponent, marking his fourth double-digit defeat in seven games this season. Since the USC fell below 0.500 for the first time since the 2018 season, many of the problems were too serious to be solved in one weekend.
If Saturday was any indication, it may be some time before USC (3-4) can do the Freudian excavation needed to understand what went wrong. Again, there were unfortunate penalties and poor time management. Again, there were problems in attack and problems at all levels of defense. And again the disks stalled in the red zone.
“Too many mistakes in all aspects,” said interim coach Donte Williams. “We’ve all made mistakes, and we took turns making them. This is where you find yourself in the fourth quarter, and we have no time. “
With all the self-inflicted injuries, USC still had a pulse in that final quarter as corner-back Chris Steele jumped into the air to intercept the dispute. A few games later, Drake London had his own jump ball, making a 46-yard pass. A touchdown from Darwin Barlow reduced the lead to a touchdown, only kicker Parker Lewis missed an extra point, leaving the Irish in the lead with an eighth lead.
But that was too little, too late for the Trojans, whose penchant for unnecessary mistakes would return, to bite their backs again on crushing fines on a crucial trip to Notre Dame.
“They’re hard to swallow,” Defense Coordinator Todd Orlando said of these latest, debilitating mistakes.
Another phenomenal performance from the sprawling Drake London, who had 15 catches per 171 yards, went unnoticed. Even the breakout performance of Keontey Ingram, who had 131 yards and a touchdown, could go so far.
The Irish had their own problems. They played three quarterbacks and each had a mixed record. The fast-paced attack that made it to the playoffs a year ago was just a shell of what came before in the first six weeks of the season. And their attack line, on the fourth starting left tackle, was largely unfinished, to put it mildly.
But this season hasn’t had a catalyst like the USC that helped kick off the seasons to two Pac-12 opponents in their last two defeats. It was now a fierce contender who stepped over his questionable defense, starting with a couple of methodical 70-yard runs to open the game.
The moment the USC seemed to find its own momentum, the pocket collapsed again and Slovis consumed it as he dropped. The ball jumped into the air and was intercepted by Irish midfielder Bo Bauer, who almost returned it, if not for the energetic Slovis, who ran almost all over the field, chasing him.
The USC spent the rest of the game chasing Notre Dame to no avail, shooting itself in the leg every time it approached.
With 39 seconds remaining in the first half, USC made the most egregious mistake. He announced his last time out in the fourth and second. After the first visit of Ingram, the clock continued to move, only the Trojans started it again. Williams will later say that he hopes USC will raise him. Offensive coordinator Graham Harrell said he had no idea what caused the misunderstanding.
As time passed dangerously, Slovis dropped his pocket and ran after the first beat, instead of throwing it away to stop the clock. He tried to collect a grudge, but the time was up.
“This is a situation where we need glasses,” Harrell said. “It hurts”.
It was a showcase episode for USC. But in a season full of such mistakes, this pain takes some getting used to.