- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- A mistake-plagued loss means less helmet stickers for Notre Dame players, though a few stood out in a 31-17 defeat.
George Atkinson: The freshman has made a huge impact on special teams this season, and his 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the second quarter completely changed the course of the game, which looked like a rout early on. Notre Dame built off the big play and kept within striking distance in the fourth quarter. Atkinson became the first Irish player to have multiple kickoff return touchdowns in a season since Allen Rossum in 1997.
Tyler Eifert: On a night Notre Dame's offense looked like a shell of itself, Eifert kept up his typical production. The junior had a team-high seven catches for 66 yards, including a big fourth-down grab from Dayne Crist in the third quarter.
Harrison Smith: The senior captain finished with a game-high 14 total tackles, delivering a number of big hits up the middle. Unfortunately for the fifth-year player, the rest of the run defense did not play up to par, allowing 219 rushing yards to USC.
Ben Turk: The punter saw more action than usual Saturday, especially early. He punted four times and averaged 42 yards per punt, including a pair of 48-yard punts. The junior took a big step forward with his performance Saturday.