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Notre Dame-USC: What the Irish Learned

October 23, 2017

By John Heisler

Notre Dame’s resounding victory over USC Saturday night on a perfect fall evening in Notre Dame Stadium resonated nationally. It pushed the Irish into the top 10 of both major polls. It pushed Josh Adams (finally) into the Heisman Trophy conversation. That’s what defeating your most noted rival by five touchdowns does. The bandwagon grows larger now. Brian Kelly’s 2017 squad no longer qualifies as a secret. How the Irish deal with that notoriety-especially considering the high-caliber schedule remaining-will have something to say about how the regular season plays out.

Here are some takeaways from Notre Dame’s triumph over rival USC:

1. Josh Adams no longer toils in anonymity. Irish fans certainly knew what the junior running back has been doing. Now (after 191 yards against USC) everybody knows. Adams averages 9.21 yards per carry (the all-time Irish season record is 8.11 by George Gipp in 1920). Already this season he has had runs of 84, 73 (twice), 59, 65, 64 and 60 yards. And the best part is that he’s still fresh. He’s never carried more than 19 times in a game (he’s done that three times), and he’s sat out multiple second halves due to a combination of minor injuries and Irish leads. He may yet threaten some of the most noteworthy Irish rushing records held by his own running back coach, Autry Denson.

2. Notre Dame continues to keep down the TDs. After seven games Notre Dame has allowed only a single rushing touchdown to its opponents. That’s after allowing 23 in all of 2016. No other team in the country can say that (Alabama, Clemson, Wisconsin and Virginia Tech have allowed two each).

3. The Irish have been very good in the red zone. After going perfect by scoring on all of its first 24 trips to the red zone, Notre Dame finally misfired in that category when Ian Book threw a second-half interception at North Carolina. Then the Irish were credited with a second miss at the end of the Carolina game when they took a kneel-down to end the contest in the shadow of the Tar Heel goal. Still, Notre Dame is 28 of 30 in that category in 2017 to rank 14th nationally.

4. Takeaways on the plus side. Notre Dame a year ago managed only 14 takeaways all season. This time in 2017 the Irish have 17 after seven games (and 13 of those have been translated in Irish TDs). Kelly’s squad currently is fourth nationally in turnover margin (plus-10 overall)-and only two teams have recovered more fumbles than the Irish so far this fall. That trend gets tested in a big way this week since North Carolina State has committed the fewest turnovers (three) of any team in the country and is one of only two teams not to throw an interception so far in 2017.

5. The road ahead remains treacherous. Three of Notre Dame’s final five opponents are ranked in this week’s AP poll-Miami (eighth at 6-0), North Carolina State (15th at 6-1) and Stanford (20th at 5-2). Notre Dame’s overall 2017 schedule ranks fourth in degree of difficulty according to the NCAA-and the remaining slate for the Irish ranks third toughest at .742 (remaining opponents are a combined 23-8), behind only Auburn and Georgia Tech.