Final Reflections on the Notre Dame-USC Matchup The Impact of Xavier Watts


Final Reflections on the Notre Dame-USC Matchup: The Impact of Xavier Watts

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“SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Nine Takeaways from Notre Dame’s Season Restart and the Impact on Caleb Williams’ Heisman Trophy Aspirations, as well as the Program’s Future.

  1. Holding two truths.

The Notre Dame defense had an exceptional performance, while Caleb Williams had a terrible one.

Al Golden’s game plan against USC was nothing short of brilliant. The Irish unveiled unique coverage strategies that confounded Williams. They also managed to contain him in the pocket, improving on last year’s performance, and resulting in six sacks and intense pressure. USC failed to produce a pass play exceeding 21 yards, and their running backs had only one rush over 10 yards, a 31-yard carry by MarShawn Lloyd.

Golden didn’t explicitly state it, but Notre Dame prioritized defending against the pass, which left them vulnerable to runs like Lloyd’s. USC, however, couldn’t or wouldn’t exploit this, and Notre Dame capitalized on Lincoln Riley’s pass-oriented strategy. The Irish’s cornerback play, deemed more suitable for facing USC and Ohio State, proved effective, as anticipated.

Thus, when Williams made mistakes, Notre Dame turned them into major setbacks for USC.

  1. A step forward.

Against USC, there was an improvement in the offensive execution compared to the game against Louisville, where they struggled under pressure. Sam Hartman’s touchdown pass to Gi’Bran Payne was a key moment, showcasing effective blitz recognition. This was one of just three third-down conversions in the game for Notre Dame.

  1. The Xavier Watts show.

Xavier Watts had a game-changing performance, reminding fans of Maurice Crum Jr.’s spectacular display 16 years ago against UCLA. Watts recorded seven tackles, two interceptions, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, and one defensive touchdown. His versatility and performance exemplify the kind of player Notre Dame needs to challenge for a national title under Marcus Freeman.

  1. Unsung heroes.

Javontae Jean-Baptiste and Thomas Harper have been instrumental to Notre Dame’s defense. Jean-Baptiste has developed into the defensive end Notre Dame had hoped for, while Harper has been an exceptional nickelback. Their contributions have made a significant impact on the program.

  1. Special teams excellence.

The special teams unit, under coordinator Marty Biagi, had a stellar performance. Notre Dame’s kickoff return game was creative, resulting in a 99-yard touchdown return by Jadarian Price and a 28-yard return by Devyn Ford. Kicker Spencer Shrader and punter Bryce McFerson also performed exceptionally well.

  1. Offensive struggles.

Notre Dame’s offense struggled against USC, managing just 251 yards of total offense. The run game showed some promise, but the passing game remains a challenge. The responsibility for this performance likely falls on Sam Hartman, the receivers, and the offensive coordinator Gerad Parker.

  1. Unique circumstances.

While Notre Dame’s dominant performance against USC may not be replicated in every game, the improvements in offensive line protection may continue. Notre Dame’s offensive line seemed comfortable under pressure, allowing zero sacks against a defense that had averaged 3.7 per game.

  1. The deep ball question.

Sam Hartman’s deep ball performance has been inconsistent. While he had a 46-yard touchdown pass to Chris Tyree, his overall deep pass game has lagged in recent games.

  1. Capturing the audience.

Notre Dame’s games have consistently drawn high television viewership, indicating the program’s strong appeal. This presents an excellent opportunity for incoming athletic director Pete Bevacqua to leverage the team’s renewed fan base and capitalize on the current success under Marcus Freeman.”

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