Five things we learned: USC 45, Notre Dame 27
LOS ANGELES — The end is here. And it looked, for the most part, like the rest of it.
Notre Dame’s 45-27 loss shared all too many similarities with their other seven defeats. Special teams blunders. A devastating stretch before halftime that altered the game’s outcome. And a mostly gutty effort that ended with the Irish losing because they gave away much more than they took.
The Irish showed plenty of fight on Saturday. Unfortunately, they showed just as much charity. Two special teams touchdowns for Adoree Jackson. A DeShone Kizer gift-wrapped pick six. Add them together and three scores were just too many to spot the hottest football team in the country.
The Irish end their season with four wins. They leave behind many more unanswered questions. Let’s find out what we learned.
Adoree Jackson against Notre Dame’s special teams was an unfair fight.
Notre Dame knew Adoree Jackson was one of the country’s most dangerous return men. They kicked to him anyway.
Jackson’s 55-yard punt return and 97-yard kickoff return were two more touchdowns given up by Scott Booker’s special teams, a fitting end to a nightmarish season where the five return scores allowed only covered a fraction of the damage done.
On a day where the Irish special teams needed to be clean, they were anything but. And when Jackson picked up a bouncing punt and sprinted to the end zone, he turned a field goal-game into a 10-pointer. And when Jackson answered his coverage blunder with a hurdling, highlight reel return touchdown, he all but ended the game.
“Unfortunately today, special teams was a huge deciding factor in the game and we gave up two touchdowns there to a very talented player,” Kelly said postgame. “But we knew how talented he was going into the game.”
That talent presented omnipresent problems, the Irish unwilling to kick away from Jackson when they knew playmakers like Ronald Jones and JuJu Smith-Schuster awaited. And with Jackson’s lone catch going 52-yards for a touchdown, the All-American candidate left Irish defenders grasping at air as the all-purpose weapon scored three times—with Irish fans hoping they’ve seen Jackson for the last time with a stay-or-go decision coming soon.
(Speaking of those…)
DeShone Kizer may well be a high first-round draft pick. But before he makes his final decision, he’d be wise to look at all the information on hand.
DeShone Kizer hasn’t made any decisions. That was the message from the quarterback after he faced a swarm of tape recorders, all hoping to get something from a football player far too smart to offer anything.
But if this is indeed it for Kizer, he’ll leave a resume far less convincing than the one he had entering the season. As NFL teams looks for a quarterback to change the future of their franchise, Kizer will need to prove that the player showing up on tape is the real deal, not a signal-caller who regressed in his second season as a starter.
Kizer’s final Saturday of the season was another mixed bag. His 17 completions included some throws that’ll make football men nod with approval. But his 15 misses included some head-shakers, none more confounding than Ajene Harris‘s interception, the throw into coverage breaking Notre Dame’s back.
Kizer’s receiving corps was undermanned, with Corey Holmes struggling in a featured role and Chris Finke supplying most of the playmaking. Add in challenging weather conditions, and it was difficult to tell if Kizer struggled or merely fought an uphill fight.