It seemed like almost ever play in the second half of Saturday's win over USC was big, especially the ones the Notre Dame defense was able to make. We looked at five first half plays on Monday and now we take a closer look at five second half plays.
Smith's First Pick
Just a minute has ticked off the clock in the second half and USC has already converted a first down. It is now 1st and 10 for the Trojans at their own 41.
USC has quarterback Cody Kessler under center with one back in the backfield with in-line tight ends on both sides of the offensive line and receivers on each side as well. Nelson Agholor, who was USC's most productive receiver in the game with six catches for 89 yards, is split to the right.
The Irish defense, which is in zone coverage on this play, has four down linemen and drop linebacker Jaylon Smith playing in a two-point stance to USC's left. Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese are at inside linebacker.
Kessler looks to his right when the ball is snapped and shows play-action. Smith initially engages tight end Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick on USC's left, but the freshman linebacker quickly realizes Kessler is going to pass and drops into coverage.
Smith spots Agholor running a crossing pattern and ends up dropping 19 yards deep into coverage. Kessler has already thrown the ball by the time Smith has positioned himself in front of Agholor and he is able to turn and make the easy interception - the first of his young career.
Tuitt Gets A Sack
Despite the good field position Smith's interception gave the Irish, they were eventually forced to punt. USC now faces 3rd and two at its own 14 on the ensuing possession.
Kessler is in the shotgun with a running back to his right. The Trojans have two receivers split to the left, an in-line tight end and a receiver split to the right.
The Irish have three down linemen, including Stephon Tuitt in a four-technique directly across from USC left tackle Chad Wheeler. The Irish show blitz just before the snap and Ben Councell, who is in for Jaylon Smith on this play, is picked-up by Wheeler when he comes off USC's left edge. This leaves Tuitt one-on-one with Trojan left guard Max Tuerk, who sees Tuitt shift to a three-technique just before the snap.
Tuitt uses just a shoulder thump to power past Tuerk and knocks the 285-pound guard to the ground when he pops him on the back of his left shoulder. Tuitt looks almost surprised at the clear path he now has to the Southern Cal quarterback after making the move. By this time, Prince Shembo and Carlo Calabrese are bringing pressure in Kessler's face and Tuitt is able to easily drop the QB for a nine-yard loss.
It is one of many failed 3rd down opportunities (USC was 0-for-13 on 3rd downs after going 2-for-2 on its opening touchdown drive) in the game for the Trojans.
Rees Goes Down
This is Notre Dame's first offensive play after the USC punt that followed Tuitt's sack. It's 1st and 10 at the Trojan 47. Rees is in the shotgun with Cam McDaniel in the backfield. The Irish have two receivers to the right and one to the left as well as tight end Troy Niklas as an in-line blocker to the left.
USC has just two down linemen with outside linebackers in two-point stances on each side of the line. They have two inside linebackers, Hayes Pullard and Lamar Dawson, as well as safety Su'a Cravens in an outside linebacker position covering Niklas.
The two defensive tackles slant to Notre Dame's left when the ball is snapped, while Morgan Breslin, who is across from right tackle Ronnie Stanley, makes an outside move up the field. Meanwhile, Rees play fakes to McDaniel, who runs into a huge hole on the right thanks to freshman guard Steve Elmer blocking one of the tackles back toward center Nick Martin.
McDaniel blocks Pullard, who is blitzing in the hole to Rees's right, but as McDaniel makes the block Dawson flies through the hole and hits Rees head-on. Rees was looking to his left, but his receivers were covered and the ND quarterback never saw the hit coming.
As NBC analyst Mike Mayock points out, the hit from Dawson is high, but he never appears to make helmet-to-helmet contact with Rees. Dawson wraps his right arm up around Rees's neck to make the sack and the biggest impact seems to come when Rees topples directly backwards when he is slammed to the ground.
Nix Gets A Knockdown
This is one of the many plays that show why, despite lacking gaudy statistics, Louis Nix's NFL draft stock remains in the first round. USC has the ball on 1st and 10 at its own 48 after a Notre Dame punt at the end of Andrew Hendrix's first full offensive series.
Kessler is in the shotgun with two running backs with him in the backfield, one receiver split to the left and two receivers on the right of the formation.
Notre Dame has four down linemen, with Nix in a two-technique shaded to the inside of USC right guard Aundrey Walker. Nix is double-teamed by Walker and center Marcus Martin and he is trying to work his way to Kessler's right.
Running back Silas Redd has just scrapped past Nix coming out of the backfield and Nix has just fought away from the double-team when he sees Kessler cock his arm to throw to a receiver on a short crossing pattern. Nix simply reads Kessler's eyes and arm and jumps to knock the pass down with his left arm. It is the first play of a three-and-out for the Southern Cal offense.
A Physical Run For Hendrix
Obviously, not a lot went right for Andrew Hendrix Saturday when he was forced into extended action after Rees left the game. This was probably his biggest highlight of the night and it is an example of what he could bring to the table against an inferior Air Force team if Rees is not able to play this weekend.
Notre Dame faces 2nd and nine from its own 39 with 2:40 left in the game. Hendrix is in the shotgun with T.J. Jones split to the right and George Atkinson initially split to the left. Cam McDaniel is standing to Hendrix's right in the backfield. Atkinson slides into the backfield just before the snap, leaving USC with 10 defenders in the box when Atkinson's cornerback, Kevon Seymour, slides over and the safety slides up.
Hendrix fakes a handoff to Atkinson, who along with McDaniel and all seven Irish blockers (five offensive linemen and two in-line tight ends) runs right. The play is either a complete attempt at deception by the Irish or Hendrix does not read his key right and gets completely lucky with the result, because USC outside linebacker Morgan Breslin is in Hendrix's face on the fake to Atkinson.
The proper read would have been to give Atkinson the ball, but Hendrix keeps it and runs to his left past Breslin. The 175-pound Seymour sees this and slides over in the flat to make the tackle on the 225-pound quarterback. Hendrix drops his shoulder on Seymour at the 39 and then bulls his way through the smaller defensive back to the 46 before he is finally tackled from behind by Breslin.
USC uses its final timeout of the game after the play, which brings up a makeable 3rd and two for Notre Dame. Cam McDaniel gains just a yard on 3rd down and the Irish punt for the sixth time in their last seven possessions. The defense comes through again though to preserve the 14-10 victory.
CLICK HERE to read Five From The First Half of Notre Dame's win over the Trojans.