TrojanSports - See how PFF College graded the USC offense vs. Notre Dame
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See how PFF College graded the USC offense vs. Notre Dame

Redshirt freshman running back Markese Stepp was dragging piles of defenders all night Saturday while rushing for 82 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries.
Redshirt freshman running back Markese Stepp was dragging piles of defenders all night Saturday while rushing for 82 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. (Quinn Harris/USA TODAY Images)

The shared sentiment among USC players and coaches walking out of Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday night was one of missed opportunity.

"I feel like we're good enough to win that game. We didn't make enough plays," offensive coordinator Graham Harrell said. "… For sure we could have won. We feel like we could have won any game and we're good enough to beat anyone. They made one more play that we did."

Asked what was most frustrating to him from the 30-27 loss to the Fighting Irish (now No. 8 in the national polls), quarterback Kedon Slovis said much of the same.

"I think just knowing we had opportunities to win this game, especially in the first half and we didn't come away with the win," he said.

While the memorable moments were mostly crammed into the second half -- the rally, the questionable officiating calls, etc. -- that first half indeed unfortunately proved decisive for the Trojans.

They had just 146 yards before halftime compared to 280 in the second half. They punted on five of their first six possessions -- none going more than 32 yards -- and settled for one field goal to head into the break down 17-3.

What was so different from one half to the next? Well, the answers will ring familiar for USC fans -- execution and the Notre Dame defense doing something it hadn't shown on film.

"They played different than anything they've shown on film. I think that's a credit to the guys we have that they were a little bit worried about them, and the second half [we] did a heck of a job. We've just got to score more points in that first half," Harrell lamented.

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said after the game that his top defensive priority was to contain wide receiver Michael Pittman (4 catches for 29 yards).

It wasn't just Pittman, though, early on. USC missed on one big downfield shot as Amon-Ra St. Brown couldn't corral and low and short -- but catchable -- pass from Slovis down the seam near the goal line. But overall, Slovis was a quiet 10 of 17 for 74 yards with only one completion over 10 yards through the first two quarters.

"They did a good job trying to eliminate our explosives by playing a 3 Cloud, so they had guys over the top of every one of our receivers, but that's why we have a lot of success running the ball and underneath we had a lot of success too and eventually we hit some explosives," Slovis said.

Indeed, it was a different story after halftime when the poised freshman QB completed 14 of 18 passes for 181 yards and 2 touchdowns to lead the comeback. That included a beautiful 38-yard touchdown pass to St. Brown, dropped right where it needed to be and hauled in impressively by the sophomore wideout who got his left hand on it first before pulling it in for the score.

Credit Harrell and Co. for the adjustments at halftime -- Slovis started looking more to tight end Erik Krommenhoek (5 catches for 37 yards, all in the second half) in key situations and buying time with his mobility out of the pocket, while running back Markese Stepp (10 carries for 82 yards and a TD) provided the spark on the ground.

The result was a total reversal of fate as USC scored on all four its second-half possessions, with three touchdowns and a field goal. But that only underscored the frustration of the first-half shortcomings.

"I think in the first half we didn't make enough plays, to be honest with you. Plays were there, it's one guy not doing his job, and then you go out in the second half and that's what it's going to look like if everyone does their job," Harrell said. "We've got a special unit and I'm proud of the way they fought. It wasn't a lack of effort, but I think just the second half you see when 11 people do their job what it looks like. ...

"I wish we could have gotten it one more time. I think we only had the ball four times in the second half and scored all four -- one was only a field goal. If you finish that one, you probably win the game. We came up one play short."

Meanwhile, here's how the analysts at PFF College graded the Trojans' offensive effort and what the advanced data shows:


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**PFF College grades every player on every snap and aggregates the data into a game score on a 1-100 scale. Grades in the upper 70s and 80s are very good while anything in the upper 80s or above is elite.**


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