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Playoff ticket punched: No. 3 Notre Dame rallies to beat USC and cap off 12-0 regular season

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LOS ANGELES — They never said it was going to be easy, but the wins all count the same.

No. 3 Notre Dame trailed by double-digits for the first time all year but completed a second half comeback against rival USC 24-17 to cap off an undefeated regular season for the first time since 2012.

The Irish, who trailed by 10 early in the second quarter, slowly but surely chipped away at their deficit as the game wore on despite not really firing on all cylinders on either side of the ball. Though the defense allowed just 10 points, they were shredded in the first half by a short passing game that allowed true freshman quarterback J.T. Daniels to throw for 349 yards (one TD) while completing over 70% of his passes. The group did force two key turnovers (all fumbles) to keep the team in it with the offense not finding a groove until well after halftime.

That said, when Notre Dame needed a big play, they found one as they have all season long during this remarkable run. Dexter Williams recorded over half of 97 yards rushing on a 52-yard burst up the seam to give the visitors from South Bend their first lead of the game. After a few up-and-down drives, Justin Yoon tacked on a 46 yard field goal late in the third quarter while Tony Jones Jr. put the exclamation point on the season with a weaving 51 yard catch and run touchdown that clinched the game.

Irish signal-caller Ian Book was far from his best on the night but still finished with 352 yards and two scores (one interception) while picking up another 16 on the ground.

Though Williams was able to break that big run, neither side could do much at all running the football. Aca’Cedric Ware led the way for the Trojans with 68 yards but it was other wise too little, too late for the cardinal and gold as they miss a bowl game for the first time since 2000 at 5-7 overall.

That final record will also lead to plenty of speculation over the future of USC head coach Clay Helton, whose team was almost shutout in the second half and faces an extremely unhappy fan base that even flew a pre-game banner from an airplane over the Coliseum urging athletic director Lynn Syann to fire him.

Opposite number Brian Kelly won’t have to worry about that at all as he completed his second undefeated regular season in seven years. The Irish, who came into the night ranked No. 3 behind No. Alabama and No. 2 Clemson, will assuredly be in a College Football Playoff semifinal next month and will await who they might play on Selection Sunday next week.

There will be plenty to clean up between now and then for the Irish coaches but, deep into a perfect Southern California night, first will come just a little celebrating from the golden domers.

No. 8 Notre Dame passes biggest test yet, top No. 7 Stanford as Irish remain undefeated

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Wake up the echoes, Notre Dame is for real.

The No. 8 Irish passed their biggest test of the young season to remain undefeated on Saturday night, using several big offensive plays to scoot past No. 7 Stanford 38-17 in yet another fantastic rivalry game under the lights in South Bend.

Quarterback Ian Book picked up where he left off last week against Wake Forest, making his first home start and quickly winning over the crowd with pinpoint passes all game long. He finished an efficient 24-of-33 for 278 yards and four touchdowns in an offense that really felt like they were hitting on all cylinders at times. Just as important as the signal-caller’s arm were his legs too, with Book scrambling for several nice pickups and extending many more. Miles Boykin had a breakout game with 144 receiving yards and a score but Chase Claypool, Alize Mack and Nic Weishar all found the end zone as well.

Those kinds of plays were helped in part by another impressive effort by the offensive line up front. They allowed only one sack and opened up several big holes for Irish backs to run through. Senior Dexter Williams made the most of his first touches of the year in the absence of Jafar Armstrong, rushing for 161 yards and breaking off a 45-yard touchdown run on the second series of the game. Tony Jones added a further 40 yards as the Irish recorded 272 yards on the ground all told.

The fast pace that Notre Dame got off to was nearly matched by the Cardinal before falling off as the second half wore on. QB K.J. Costello made several big-time throws in keeping his team in the game but began to falter once the clock ticked over to the final quarter. He finished the game with only 174 yards and a touchdown, while his late interception seemed to seal the result as his team failed to pull off a magical comeback for the second week in a row.

Maybe more concerning to head coach David Shaw was the status of his star running back Bryce Love, who limped off injured early in the fourth quarter. Last year’s Heisman runner-up rushed for 73 yards and showed his trademark burst on a touchdown run, but injured his ankle down the stretch and was taken to the locker room for further evaluation.

The victory now will see even more national attention focused on Notre Dame as they can put two of their toughest tests of the year behind them in wins against Michigan and, now, Stanford. The Irish do have a tricky trip to Blacksburg next week at Virginia Tech but the only ranked teams left on the docket could be late November tests against Syracuse and USC.

Some will say it’s still too early in the closing hours of September, but it’s very much time to start talking about Notre Dame making a run at the College Football Playoff in 2018.

No. 8 Notre Dame moves to 3-0 after avoiding upset bid by Vanderbilt

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No. 8 Notre Dame (3-0) won once again, but concerns about the offense are not about to go hiding just yet. Fortunately for Notre Dame, the defense and running game remain strengths as they managed to hold off Vanderbilt (2-1) in Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday, winning 22-17.

Looking to push their lead to eight points in the fourth quarter, Notre Dame called on kicker Justin Yoon for a 32-yard field goal. After knocking down his three previous attempts for nine points, Yoon saw his fourth field goal try bounce off the bar, no good. Vanderbilt took over at their 24-yard yard line, needing a touchdown to win in the final moments.

Two plays later, Vanderbilt reached midfield with a 26-yard pass from Kyle Shurmur to Jared Pinkney. But the drive stalled soon after that with a run for no gain and two straight incomplete passes to set up a fourth down with 10 yards to go. A defensive penalty on Notre Dame allowed the drive to continue after an incomplete pass on fourth down. Three plays later, it was once again fourth down for Vandy. Shurmur connected for a big play to Kalija Lipscomb, but Lipscomb was unable to maintain possession of the football as he fell to the ground on the leaping catch.

Lipscomb had 11 catches for 89 yards in the game, but it will be what could have been the 12th that will haunt him after this one. Notre Dame managed to run off a good chunk of the clock after taking over on downs.

Brandon Wimbush was 13-of-23 for 122 yards with no touchdowns thrown, although this week he avoided throwing an interception. Ian Book got some opportunities in certain situations and cashed in on one with a touchdown pass to Nic Weishar to put the Irish up 12 in the fourth quarter. The pass came at the end of a drive with Wimbush leading the offense, but it was Book who ended it with a score and took a shot at a two-point conversion (which was no good). Book was effective in extreme moderation, and it remains to be seen if Kelly will begin giving him more opportunities. Wimbush had success running the ball, however. Wimbush rushed for 84 yards and a touchdown.

Shurmur passed for 315 yards and a touchdown with one interception for Vanderbilt. Notre Dame running back Tony Jones Jr. led all players with 116 rushing yards.

Notre Dame will go on the road next week to play at Wake Forest. Games against Stanford at home and at Virginia Tech follow.

Vanderbilt opens their SEC schedule at home against South Carolina in SEC East action.