No. 10 USC turns in ugly performance, no longer undefeated following 48-20 loss to No. 21 Notre Dame

All of USC’s warts were on full display Saturday night in South Bend.

The No. 10 Trojans fell from the unbeaten ranks with a 48-20 loss to No. 21 Notre Dame, and all of the sloppiness Lincoln Riley’s team had shown throughout the season finally proved costly.

The Trojans, now 6-1, fell behind early thanks to three first-half interceptions thrown by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Caleb Williams. All three of those interceptions led to Notre Dame touchdowns as the Irish took a 24-6 lead into halftime.

Williams and the offense cleaned up their act for most of the second half. But every time the Trojans threatened to make the game competitive, they would quickly allow Notre Dame to respond with a touchdown of its own.

USC running back MarShawn Lloyd scored from 31 yards out midway through the third quarter to cut Notre Dame’s lead to 24-13. Without field-position advantages gifted by Williams turnovers, the Notre Dame offense hadn’t been moving the ball very well.

Fittingly, the much-maligned USC defense finally showed its true colors after the Lloyd touchdown. As the Irish marched past midfield, Sam Hartman looked deep and found Chris Tyree behind the defense for a 46-yard touchdown, extending Notre Dame’s lead to 31-13 with 3:54 left in the third.

Early in the fourth quarter, USC star freshman Zachariah Branch reeled off a huge punt return to set up a Williams touchdown pass to Brenden Rice. With the score now 31-20 with 9:04 to play, the Trojans were still in striking distance.

Until they weren’t.

On the ensuing kickoff, Notre Dame’s Jadarian Price went 99 yards for a touchdown. That pretty much ended USC’s chances for a comeback.

USC won despite sloppy play — until this game

USC had close calls in its three previous outings and could not avoid a loss this time around. USC had just a seven-point fourth-quarter lead at Arizona State on Sept. 23 and nearly blew a huge lead in a 48-41 win at Colorado on Sept. 30. And then against Arizona last week, USC fell behind 17-0, came back to take the lead and then blew a chance to win the game as time expired by botching a field goal. The Trojans eventually prevailed in triple-overtime, but it was another lackluster outing for a team with so much talent.

USC wasn’t able to exhibit an increased level of focus Saturday in South Bend, and it came back to bite the Trojans, who are now 6-1 on the year. Williams’ performance was especially alarming. USC’s defense was one of the worst in the country in 2022 and Williams routinely had to put on a Superman cape to lead the Trojans to victory.

Early on in the season, it seemed like Williams was getting away with a lot of risky throws. He was holding onto the ball too long and throwing the ball into traffic or across his body. With his level of talent, he’s routinely been able to get away with those types of plays. He entered the weekend with 22 touchdowns and only one interception. He also had only five interceptions last season, so the fact that he tossed three in the first half and then lost a fumble in the fourth quarter versus the Fighting Irish was jarring to see. Perhaps it was overdue.

This wasn’t a Pac-12 game so it won’t affect USC’s chances to win the conference, of course. Could it serve as a wake-up call for the Trojans with so many challenging games ahead? The Trojans will host No. 16 Utah next weekend and have Washington and Oregon on the schedule in back-to-back weeks in November.

A big win for Marcus Freeman, Notre Dame

And on the Notre Dame side, this was a big win for Marcus Freeman on the heels of such an ugly loss at Louisville, a game that had fans questioning Freeman's ability to be a head coach.

This was the fourth consecutive prime-time game against an undefeated opponent. That run started with a heartbreaking last-second loss to Ohio State. From there, Notre Dame scored in the final minute to shock Duke on the road before the 33-20 loss at Louisville.

This has been a grueling eight-week run for the Irish that started with a Week 0 game versus Navy in Ireland. Following Saturday night’s win, Notre Dame finally gets a bye week before the stretch run of the season.

At 6-2, the Irish don’t have much of a chance to contend for a College Football Playoff berth. But a chance to get to 10-2 in Freeman’s second season as head coach is well within sight with games versus Pitt, Clemson, Wake Forest and Stanford ahead.