- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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What we learned from Notre Dame in the Irish's 20-16 win at USC on Saturday night:
1. Tough enough in the clutch: The Irish offense really only produced in the final minutes of each half, but it was enough to get the win. The impressive thing about the performance was that Notre Dame ran the ball late when it needed to, unlike in years' past. Robert Hughes bowled over Trojan defenders during the winning drive in the fourth quarter, while Cierre Wood chipped in some big gains. The Irish finished with 147 yards on the ground, while Wood and Hughes combined for 158 yards. Not spectacular stats, but good enough and tough enough to win.
2. The defense isn't just improved, it's dominant: This is no longer a fluke. The Irish defense has now shut down four straight teams that came in with gaudy offensive statistics. Notre Dame has allowed just two offensive touchdowns in those four games, and USC's lone trip into the end zone came after a turnover set it up on the Irish 2-yard line. The Trojans finished with only 261 yards. Whatever magic potion defensive coordinator Bob Diaco found after the Navy game needs to be stored and reproduced for next season.
3. November to remember: The Irish couldn't have had a much worse September, with those losses to Navy and Tulsa and the Declan Sullivan death that raised the scrutiny around coach Brian Kelly. Nobody saw a 3-0 November coming, especially not with all the injuries the team suffered. But this month's success is a result of the foundation laid in the weeks and months prior as the players learned how to win. A 7-5 season and potential trip to the Champs Sports Bowl now has to be considered a success, and if the Irish do indeed return to prominence under Kelly, this month will be remembered as the turning point in the program's trajectory.
4dSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information
5dTom VanHaaren and Erik McKinney