From Joe Montana to Brady Quinn, a number of former Irish standouts were back on campus for Notre Dame’s contest against USC. Despite the popularity of many former athletes, senior safety Xavier Watts shone the brightest on Saturday night. Here are some of the key moments from Notre Dame’s dominant 48-20 victory over USC.
An early interception boosts the defense’s morale
After the early light show sent Notre Dame Stadium into a frenzy, the Trojans started the game at their own 25. On the drive’s fourth play, Caleb Williams, the nearly unanimous choice to go No. 1 overall in the NFL draft, floated a pass intended for tight end Lake McRee. This pass ended up in the hands of Watts, who returned it 38 yards to the USC 12-yard line. The Irish offense quickly capitalized on Williams’ early blunder. A four-yard touchdown pass from graduate student quarterback Sam Hartman to sophomore running back Gi’Bran Payne gave the Irish an early lead.
Once is nice, twice is better
While the Irish led 10-3 over the Trojans, the offense only mustered 78 yards of total offense in their first four possessions. After a disappointing three-and-out, sophomore punter Bryce McFerson punted deep into USC territory, and the Trojans started their drive at their own six-yard line. On third down-and-short, Williams tested the middle of the field looking for the first down. However, similar to their first drive of the game, Watts read the top-ranked prospect’s pass and stepped in front of the USC receiver to secure another interception. Notre Dame junior defensive lineman Gabriel Rubio helped by altering the pass at the line of scrimmage.
Watts returned the pass to USC’s two-yard line. Junior running back Audric Estimé quickly rushed into the endzone to extend the Notre Dame lead to 14. Williams continued to struggle throughout the first half as star sophomore cornerback Benjamin Morrison picked him off again later in the second quarter.
Price rumbles into the endzone
Following a seven-yard touchdown pass from Williams to Brenden Rice, Notre Dame fans had little (but some) reason to worry a collapse could be in store. Williams threw three picks in the first half. But he seemed poised to lead the Trojans on a second-half rampage. However, Notre Dame fans didn’t have much time to worry about this possibility for long thanks to Jadarian Price. On the ensuing kickoff, the sophomore running back dashed the length of the field. Though he began to slow down around the 20-yard line, Price was able to outlast the would-be USC tacklers and reach the end zone. With 8:50 left in the fourth quarter, this play served as the knockout punch for the night.
Why not three, Watts?
A 40-21 score with 3:36 remaining in the fourth meant that the game was almost certainly over. But that didn’t stop Watts from increasing the margin of victory just one more time. After a short pass to USC wide receiver Mario Williams, senior cornerback Cam Hart perfectly timed a punch on the football. Watts quickly pounced at the opportunity and recovered the fumble.
He stepped over the goal line while the Notre Dame faithful roared with amusement. This play amplified the party in South Bend, culminating with some of the crowd spilling onto the field at game’s end. Through his first, second, and third takeaways, Watts’ impact cannot be understated. It will be what many Notre Dame fans remember about the dominant victory against one of their biggest rivals.