SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Coach Brian Kelly expected 13th-ranked Notre Dame to win big against No. 11 Southern California. He even wrote it down on a piece of paper in the locker room before the game.
“I said if we didn’t win really big, I would be disappointed,” he said.
He wasn’t disappointed, and neither were his players who doused their coach with water following a dominating 49-14 victory over the rival Trojans on Saturday night.
Brandon Wimbush passed for two touchdowns and ran for two more, Josh Adams added three touchdown runs and the Irish took advantage of three USC turnovers in what was a surprisingly easy win in the storied series that dates to 1926. It gave the Irish (6-1) their first victory against USC (6-2) when the Trojans were ranked since 1995.
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Wimbush credited the Irish defense with getting the offense going.
“When they take away the ball, you just get so excited, and [offensive coordinator Chip] Long wants to be aggressive and call a play, usually,” said Wimbush, who was coming back after missing a game with a right foot injury.
The turnovers came on a fumble and interception by Sam Darnold and a dropped punt by Jack Jones.
“We helped them by mistakes,” USC coach Clay Helton said.
Adams had an 84-yard touchdown run and finished with 191 yards on 19 carries. Wimbush ran for 106 yards on 14 carries as the Irish amassed 377 yards on the ground. Notre Dame led 28-0 at the half.
“The turnovers were key for us in the first half and being opportunistic, which really we’ve been all year offensively,” Kelly said.
Kelly was asked about Adams possibly not getting the attention he deserves nationally.
“He’s one of the best players in the country,” Kelly said. “I’ll let others make that decision. Here’s what I know. We’re going to play some really good football teams the rest of the year. Maybe everyone should just wait until the end of the year and vote for the Heisman.”
It was the fifth 100-yard rushing game of the season for Adams, quickest to 2,000 rushing yards in Notre Dame history at 316 carries. It took George Gipp 323 carries to set the mark. It was the third 100-yard rushing game for Wimbush, coming back from missing a game with an injured right foot.
Wimbush still wasn’t sharp passing, completing 9 of 19 passes for 120 yards. But he came up with key passes when needed.
Linebacker Te’Von Coney got the Irish going on a strip-sack of Darnold on USC’s first play from scrimmage after Darnold bobbled the snap. Wimbush threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Equanimeous St. Brown three plays later.
Darnold completed 20 of 29 passes, but could not overcome the turnovers or USC being held to 76 yards rushing, including minus-4 in the first half. He threw two touchdown passes, the first cutting Notre Dame’s lead to 28-7.
Kelly said beating rival USC and recapturing the Jeweled Shillelagh trophy were big, but said he expects the Irish to keep playing at this level.
USC: The Trojans continue to shoot themselves in the foot with turnovers, with 19 on the season. Darnold is responsible for all but three. USC can still win the Pac-12 title, but a playoff berth appears nearly impossible.
“Got a sad football team in there right now. We’ll live and learn from this,” Helton said.
Notre Dame: The Irish, just a season removed from an embarrassing 4-8 season, showed they deserve to be back in the national discussion and kept alive their hopes of ending a 29-year title drought.