PASS OFFENSE: Under Rees: B+. Under Hendrix: F. It wouldn’t be fair to group Tommy Rees’s efforts in with whatever Andrew Hendrix tried to do out there, so they get separate scores. If anything, this game should silence a chunk of dissenters who think Brian Kelly has a better option at quarterback than Rees this year. There you have it. That second half is what the Notre Dame offense looks like without Rees in charge. And no, Malik Zaire isn’t the miracle answer. Not yet. Rees was on pace for a 372-yard performance before he went down early in the third quarter. Until its crucial mistake in the third quarter, the offensive line gave Rees plenty of time to find targets downfield. He sputtered a few times in the first half, but found staple targets TJ Jones, Troy Niklas and DaVaris Daniels on separate occasions for the deep connections. Rees, who had struggled with accuracy in recent outings, finished a soild 14-of-21 for two touchdowns. Hendrix, on the other hand, missed on all four of his completions. He had better luck finding receivers’ feet than their hands. Hendrix is now 1-of-13 on the season. Kelly said Rees’s future status will become clearer in the next 24 to 48 hours.
RUN OFFENSE: C. Much like the passing game, the Irish ground attacked clamped up after a momentum-building first half. Cam McDaniel entered halftime on pace with 83 rushing yards, including 23- and 36-yard gains that set the Irish up for their go-ahead score. McDaniel would only gain nine more yards the rest of his game, his yards per carry average plummeting from 7.5 to a still-respectable 5.1. George Atkinson had a few nice early runs but was yanked in favor of McDaniel’s grittier style of running. In a bizarre twist, it was Atkison — not McDaniel — who got called to run the ball late in the game with a close lead. A disappointing outing for Amir Carlisle, who was hyped to make his return against his former team on Saturday. Carlisle dropped a wide-open pass deep in Trojan territory and then smashed into the back of his offensive line. He wasn’t used much after that. Here’s hoping things click for Carlisle soon.
PASS DEFENSE: B. Realizing the complete mismatch with safety Austin Collinsworth, Cody Kessler began to establish a dangerous chemistry with Nelson Agholor early in the game. Collinsworth was burned on several occasions, even allowing a 32-yard connection from Kessler to Agholor. Despite its early stumbles, the secondary kept USC’s talented receivers out of the end zone. A lot of that can be attributed to an improved pass rush in the second half. Everything about Jaylon Smith’s interception was textbook, from his coverage on Agholor to his timing to turn around and look at the ball. Future first-round draft pick Marqise Lee had an uncharacteristic drop in the end zone, but the receiver is still nursing an ankle recovery that kept him sidelined in the second half. Bennett Jackson was exposed throughout the night, something a senior captain can hope to rectify against run-heavy offenses like Air Force and Notre Dame. Welcome back, Stephon Tuitt. Quarterbacks haven’t missed you, something Kessler’s sore bones can probably vouch for that.
RUN DEFENSE: B-. USC was without top back Tre Madden, but Penn State transfer Silas Redd tried his darnedest to make up for that. It worked for most of the first half. It wasn’t so much that USC’s offensive line was anything special as it was Redd breaking tackle after tackle to gain 8- 9- and 10-yard chunks at a time. Redd entered the half with 91 rushing yards, a 6.5 yards per carry average and USC’s only touchdown. By that time, the Irish front seven had come to its senses and held Redd to just 21 more yards in the second half. In the third quarter, the Trojans squeaked out seven yards on seven carries. USC averages 190 yards on the ground per game. Notre Dame held the Trojans to 129, the second-lowest USC ground production of the year.
SPECIAL TEAMS: D. Thank goodness for the Irish defense, which bailed the special teams out on two occasions. Agholor ran back 48- and 34-yard punt returns to set USC up deep into Irish territory. Even Kelly, whose comments on special team usually amounts to somewhere between “It’s a work in progress” to “We’re getting there” was candid about the unit’s performance. “We were undisciplined in punt coverage,” Kelly said after the game. “So special teams really put our defense in some tough situations.” Kyle Brindza wasn’t needed for any fourth quarter field goal heroics, but Brindza and walk-on Alex Wulfeck’s deep punts late in the game kept USC pinned back far enough for the defense to manage.
COACHING: B-. You can’t envy coach Kelly, who had to put it what amounts to be his third-string quarterback in after Tommy Rees came out. But the drop off from Rees to Hendrix was fairly disarming. You’d think someone who once competed with Everett Golson for a starting spot would be better prepared to take full responsibility of the Irish offense. Kudos to Bob Diaco’s defense for holding firm even when the offense couldn’t give the Irish any breathing room. Kelly’s decision to start the game off with an up-tempo offense was the right one. So was the decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 deep in USC territory. The Irish offense set the pace of the game until Rees’s injury, and at that point, it had done just enough for the Irish to move to 5-2.
— Compiled By Rachel Terlep