USC: Dayne Crist

Film study: Notre Dame

August, 15, 2012
Here’s the seventh post in our "film study" series.

Every other day from now until Aug. 25, we’re watching one of the games USC played last season and putting up a set of pertinent-to-this-year notes, going of course in chronological order from the Minnesota season opener to the UCLA season finale. At the end, we’ll have one last post with our overall takeaways from the re-watching. By then, it’ll be the week of this year’s opener.

We’ve already done USC’s 19-17 win over Minnesota, 23-14 win over Utah, 38-17 win over Syracuse, 44-23 loss to Arizona State, 48-41 win over Arizona and 30-9 win over Cal. Here, now, are our five notes -- four big things and a bunch of little ones -- from USC’s 31-17 win over Notre Dame on Oct. 22, 2011.

Matt Barkley, NFL quarterback

It might not look all that spectacular in the statistics file, but this was a masterful performance from one Matt Barkley.

The Trojans' signal-caller faced unusual (read: nighttime, loud music, gold helmets) conditions in South Bend and came through with arguably his best game to date. With Marqise Lee playing at less than 100 percent due to an injured shoulder, Barkley targeted Robert Woods again and again and kept finding him open -- or open enough to sneak a throw into him and gain five or six yards.

Barkley also did something he hadn't done all year: He gained legitimate yards on the ground. Four times against the Irish -- and twice on the same play call -- Barkley took off running when he found nobody open and advanced the Trojans' offense. Two of those four rushes went for first downs; the other two came on first downs and resulted in two more firsts later on.

There were certain levels of command and creativity Barkley put on display in this game we hadn't seen from him at the college level. USC's profile began to rise after this win, and so did Barkley's, as it should have.

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Top 10 moments, No. 1: Starling's fumble return

December, 9, 2011
Our series of the top 10 moments of the 2011 USC football season concludes today with No. 1. Catch up on moments Nos. 2-10 here, including more than one Robert Woods touchdown catch and an especially courageous fourth-down call from Lane Kiffin.

Here's our top moment of the year: Jawanza Starling's 80-yard fumble return for a touchdown against Notre Dame.

This one had everything -- big consequences in the game, a crazy scene on the football field and monster long-term implications for the 2011 season as a whole.

Notre Dame was mounting a big comeback from a 17-0 deficit and on the verge of tying the game. Dayne Crist was in at quarterback for the injured Tommy Rees and the Irish had the ball inside the USC five-yard line.

Then Crist dropped the snap from center Braxston Cave and all hell broke loose. Crist dove to try to recover it but was stifled by a combination of teammate Michael Floyd and USC corner Isiah Wiley, who both tried to grab it and knocked it back a good 10 yards.

Starling had it the whole way, video replays show. Coming up from his strong safety slot, he ran directly toward the ball as soon as it fell from Crist's hands. He continued to run as the two Trojans and two Irish fought for it around the 10, and, when it was hit further back, he was in perfect position to grab it on the run.

With Wiley and McDonald flanking him on either side, Starling picked the ball up at the 20 and ran it all the way to the endzone for six. That made it 24-10, Trojans -- a lead the Irish couldn't come back from, although it got pretty close again later on before Chris Galippo recovered a key fumble.

It's funny to watch a number of the Trojans jumping and running along with Starling on the sidelines as he got closer and closer to the end zone. All things considered, this was the play that really turned the Trojans' fortunes around this season and started them on the path to finishing fifth-ranked in the country.

As Lane Kiffin said in his passionate postgame press conference in South Bend afterward, this was when the dark clouds surrounding the program started to move away for the first time.

It didn't erase them entirely, but it clearly started the process.

That concludes our top-10 moment series. Check back next week for the beginning of our top-1o performers series.

Grades: USC-Notre Dame

October, 22, 2011
A solid game from Matt Barkley, including a picture-perfect pass to Robert Woods in the fourth quarter that sealed the game. Marqise Lee didn't get targeted much, but rebounded to have a much better game, making last week's Cal performance look like an aberration.

Marc Tyler and Curtis McNeal proved to be an exceptional tandem in the backfield for the Trojans, combining for more than 175 yards despite both leaving the game with injuries at various points. George Farmer had one nice run but didn't get any other chances.

Barkley was pressured quite a bit by the Notre Dame defensive line. And USC's D-line continued to fail to produce consistent pressure. Dayne Crist's big third-quarter fumble was mostly his mistake and had little to do with push from the four up front.

Sure, they produced three turnovers, but two of them were gifts, really. The defense did take advantage, though, and it has to get credit for that. And the Trojans pretty much stopped Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray cold, except for one solitary long run by Gray.

This might not even have been a game if the Trojans didn't give up the 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to George Atkinson III in the third quarter. Andre Heidari missed his second field goal of the season, but he was clearly hurt.

Lane Kiffin's team was as well prepared for this game as it has been for any in his tenure. The Trojans simply knew what to expect from the Irish, like when running quarterback Andrew Hendrix came in the game and USC keyed in on him out of the backfield.

Horton opines on Crist situation

October, 21, 2011
Midway through August, Notre Dame quarterback Dayne Crist was named the starting signal-caller for the Fighting Irish by head coach Brian Kelly, beating out precocious sophomore Tommy Rees.

And then he lost his job a half-game into the season when he started off badly against South Florida and Kelly called for Rees in the second half after severe weather forced the teams into a two-hour halftime delay. Now, Rees is the full-fledged starter and Crist is the backup, a talented fourth-year junior sitting behind a second-year player.

As USC and the Horton brothers -- Shane and Wes -- come into town this week, it's a fitting time to look back on what happened and what remains for Crist's collegiate career. The trio played together at Sherman Oaks Notre Dame and have kept in touch throughout college, meeting up during Notre Dame's bye last week when Crist came back to town.

They talked plenty, but not about the situation back at school, Wes Horton said Thursday. Still, the USC defensive end offered some perspective on the whole situation.

"It sucked," Wes Horton said of Crist's position. "He was kind of on a short leash and he had that one bad game, but that doesn't take away from the fact that he's a great quarterback and he can get the job done. It was a smooth transition, Tommy Rees is their guy now, and they've been winning a lot lately with him.

"It is what it is."

As for the Trojans themselves, Horton's aware of what the game against Notre Dame means for USC. If the Trojans win, they're guaranteed a spot in the top-25 and a 6-1 record heading into a big home date against Stanford. If they lose, they're 5-2 and vaulting downward.

Then there's the defensive line, too -- the unit that has performed OK over the first half of the year but hasn't quite met expectations.

"This is a huge game for us," Horton said. "Seeing them on film, knowing what we gotta do up front, this could really be a breakout game for us.

"If we can prove that we can constantly get pressure on them and make plays in the backfield, that's gonna say a lot and boost us as we go into the later part of the season."



C. Kessler100718468
J. Allen603185.31
J. Davis26602.31
N. Agholor232129.23
J. Smith1117015.50