major MAJOR development for Notre Dame as Kyle Hamilton landed awkwardly falling out of bounds. He grabbed his knee on the ground and needed to be helped off to the sideline after the play. Hamilton was a Midseason All-America pick for us at CBS Sports, a surefire first round pick the 2022 NFL Draft and one of the most important players in this game with Drake London as USC's top offensive weapon.
No. 13 Notre Dame caught a late push from USC, but the Fighting Irish were ultimately able to hold off the Trojans with an impressive overall performance in a 31-16 win. It was one of the best showings of the season for Notre Dame's offense with running back Kyren Williams leading the way with 138 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries. The offensive line that has been re-worked several times throughout the first half of the season did a good job of protecting quarterback Jack Coan in addition to opening space for Williams and the rest of the Notre Dame rushers.
Brian Kelly credited the offense's tempo and offensive coordinator Tommy Rees' game plan for what the Notre Dame coach called "the first time we've played close to a complete game offensively." Post-game comments from both Coan and Williams reflected a tone of confidence that makes this 6-1 team even more dangerous as we enter the second half of the season.
The Fighting Irish did not reach the end of Saturday night without some serious cost, however, as star safety Kyle Hamilton went down with a right leg injury in the first half and did not return. In Hamilton's absence from the secondary, USC star wide receiver Drake London totaled 171 yards on 15 catches. Despite how successfully the Trojans moved the ball, though, they were not able to capitalize on scoring opportunities.
In total, this game was decided by the hidden yards on which Notre Dame just seem to end up this season. USC outgained Notre Dame 424-to-383, and even performed better on a per-play basis (6.1 to 5.4). But two turnovers, one missed field goal and bad clock management at the end of the first half all represent reasons why those yards didn't turn into more points for the Trojans in this historic rivalry clash.
Three things to know about the game:
1. Kyren Williams is the key to Notre Dame's playoff push
While Kelly credited the tempo and Rees' game plan for a more successful and well-rounded offensive performance, the biggest takeaway is how different the team looks when Williams is biggest star on offense. Coming into the season, the assumption was that Notre Dame's offense was going to built around the rushing attack with Williams, the ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2020, as the focal point of the offense. But the offensive line struggled early on, and as the team slowly settled into its new identity, it took some time before Williams finally took on that role that was expected heading into the year. Saturday's performance suggests that Notre Dame is just now turning into the playoff contender that some expected coming into the year and Williams is reason why.
2. Hamilton's potential absence is going to be huge
If Hamilton is going to miss time, even if it's only a couple of weeks, then it could play a huge role in how Notre Dame tries to continue this playoff push. The next opponent up is North Carolina. While the Tar Heels have fallen well short of preseason expectations, they still boast a very potent passing attack with quarterback Sam Howell and receiver Josh Downs, who is having a breakout season. Two weeks after that on Nov. 13, the team travels to Charlottesville to face Virginia, which, while leaky on defense, has been prolific through the air with QB Brennan Armstrong. Neither of those two teams are consistent enough to pinpoint the game as trouble based exclusively on Hamilton's potential absence ,but it's worth noting as we try to project Notre Dame's path to a potential 11-1 finish.
3. USC faces narrow road to a bowl game
Now 3-4, every game has become a must-win if interim coach Donte Williams is going to lead USC to a bowl game. It may seem easy to pencil in both Arizona and Cal as victories, but Washington and Oregon can tell you that the Wildcats and Bears aren't going to go down without a fight. Then even with those wins, USC will have to win at least one against a trio of Arizona State, UCLA and BYU -- and the Trojans might find themselves as underdogs in all three. While much of the college football conversation is focusing on who the next coach will be in Los Angeles, this team is going to have a series of gut-check moments coming down the stretch if the locker room wants to participate in the postseason.