USC Football: 5 Takeaways vs. UCLA and What They Mean For Notre Dame

Sam Darnold led USC football to victory over UCLA.

Nov 19, 2016; Pasadena, CA, USA; USC Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold (14) scrambles past the reach of UCLA Bruins defensive back Randall Goforth (3) for a first down in the second quarter of the game at the Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

USC football completed the Pac-12 conference slate by taking care of business against UCLA, with exciting performances from youth and veterans.

The Trojans notched their seventh-straight victory of the season on Saturday night, fending off an early push from the Bruins before scoring 29 unanswered points for an easy victory.

It was a complete performance on USC’s end despite a few notable mistakes. In the end, the Trojans’ quality on offense, defense and special teams undid UCLA at the Rose Bowl.

Here’s five things we learned against UCLA and what they mean for Notre Dame:

Shoe’s On The Other Foot

For three years, Brett Hundley did to USC what Sam Darnold did to UCLA on Saturday night. Now the shoe is on the other foot.

Darnold’s performance was far from his best. In fact, with two interceptions and a passer rating of 138.96, it was statistically the worst outing of the redshirt freshman’s starting career.

Despite that, Darnold was at his most effective. The Bruins could not cope with the quarterback’s escapability and heads up play.

Nothing shows it better than Darnold’s ability to extend Trojan drives. He was 10-of-15 on third down, converting eight first downs. When plays broke down, he was a nightmare on his feet, gaining 49 yards on the ground and converting three first downs.

What does that mean for Notre Dame?

Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer made life difficult for the Trojans last year, but this time around USC has a weapon of their own to unleash on the Irish.

Cody Kessler’s deficiencies in clutch moments were on display as the Trojans failed to close out the game strong in 2015. Darnold, meanwhile, has given every indication that he can produce magic in the big moments.

He was electric in USC’s local rivalry game of the season and he’ll be looking to reproduce that in the national rivalry game.

Nov 19, 2016; Pasadena, CA, USA; USC Trojans wide receiver De

It’s Never Too Late To Make An Impact

When De’Quan Hampton joined the Trojans last year as a junior college transfer, there were some big expectations for the 6-foot-4 receiver. However, he never became the downfield and redzone threat that USC hoped for in 2015, catching just 15 passes for 165 yards.

It was possible to shake off those disappointing numbers because the Trojans simply didn’t spread the ball around that much. This spring, Hampton lauded Max Browne and Sam Darnold for being more willing to hit other receivers, but when the 2016 season launched and USC did indeed share the wealth, he was not one of the ones eating.

On Saturday, Hampton became a poster boy for the saying, “Good things come to those who wait.

The senior caught his first two career touchdowns against the Bruins, finally looking like the player advertised during the recruiting process. His 31-yard score drew comparisons to Dwayne Jarrett as he found the ball at its highest point over a UCLA defender.

What does that mean for Notre Dame?

Hampton reaped the benefits of an injury which knocked JuJu Smith-Schuster out of the game and made the case for more involvement as USC closes out the season with the starter carrying multiple knocks.

As with most teams, Hampton would present a mismatch with the Irish defensive backs, most of whom stand under six-foot.

Nov 19, 2016; Pasadena, CA, USA; USC Trojans wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (9) UCLA Bruins defensive back Nate Meadors (22) after a first down in the first quarter of the game at the Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Zombie JuJu Rises

The 2016 season has not played out the way anyone expected for JuJu Smith-Schuster. Hampered by injury and no longer targeted as USC’s one and only option, he didn’t advance as Biletnikoff candidate and it is unlikely he’ll receiver All-American accolades.

Still, the junior receiver continues to grow his legend by playing through new and varying injuries. Last year, Smith-Schuster impressed by suiting up with a broken hand. This season he has been slowed by back spasm and was knocked out of USC’s game against UCLA with a hip problem.

Despite that, Smith-Schuster returned to action and led the Trojans with eight receptions for 76 yards.

Nor were those meaningless contributions. Smith-Schuster set up Ronald Jones II’s first touchdown run, gaining 16 yards on a third-and-17 then catching a 28-yard bomb to put the Trojans at the goal line. In the third quarter he converted a third-and-3.

What does that mean for Notre Dame?

Since it is widely expected that Smith-Schuster will declare as an early entrant for the NFL draft, he has just a couple more opportunities to leave his mark at USC.

Unfortunately, the injury he suffered at the Rose Bowl could limit his participation against the Irish, but based on his track record, he will do everything possible to suit up.

Nov 19, 2016; Pasadena, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins quarterback Mike Fafaul (12) scrambles past USC Trojans defensive tackle Rasheem Green (94) in the second quarter of the game at the Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Rasheem Green’s Impact Being Felt

For the second game in a row, Rasheem Green made the big play on special teams, reaching up high to block a field goal which would have given UCLA a three point lead in the second quarter. Green is now the only player in the Pac-12 with two blocked kicks to his name in 2016.

Special teams contributions aren’t the only way Green has emerged as the impact player USC hoped he could be when he was recruited as a five-star prospect. Finishing with four tackles, the sophomore was pivotal towards crushing any UCLA comeback hopes.

In the third quarter, after USC increased their lead to 16, Green pounced to hold Bolu Olorunfunmi to no gain on second down, then led the charge through a double team as a swarm of players stuffed Jalen Starks on third and short to force a punt.

What does that mean for Notre Dame?

Green was a non-factor for USC against Notre Dame last year, but the player has come a long way since his freshman season.

Having emerged as a true impact player, the Trojans will need Green to continue his upward trajectory back at the Coliseum in another rivalry match up.

A third blocked field goal of the season would be a welcome contribution, but disruption on the defensive end would surely suffice.

Nov 19, 2016; Boulder, CO, USA; Colorado Buffaloes mascot Chip reacts following a turnover fourth quarter against the Washington State Cougars at Folsom Field. The Buffaloes defeated the Cougars 38-24. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Colorado Controls USC’s Destiny

When USC’s players found out that Oregon had pulled off an improbable, last-second victory over Utah, their celebrations in the team hotel felt like an earthquake.

The Ducks completed one part of a three-part equation USC needs to return to the Pac-12 Championship Game.

First, Utah needed to lose. Check.

Next step, the Trojans needed to finish off the conference slate with a win over UCLA. Check.

For a moment on Saturday, it seemed as though Washington State would drop the final domino, handing Colorado the loss USC needs them to suffer. However, the Buffaloes pulled away and nabbed the W.

Now, it all comes down to Colorado. If they beat Utah, they’ll complete their fairy tale run to the conference title game. If they lose to Utah, they’ll send USC to Santa Clara.

What does that mean for Notre Dame?

The annual rivalry game with Notre Dame is, as always, meaningless for USC’s pursuit of the Pac-12 title.

However, it is not without meaning, even outside of the usual bragging rights on the line.

A win over the Irish won’t guarantee the Trojans a chance to play for a Rose Bowl berth, but it could set up a return to Pasadena either way.

Should Colorado beat Utah, then go on to lose to Washington in the championship game, the Huskies would conceivably punch their ticket to the College Football Playoff. That would open an at-large bid to the Rose Bowl, one which would go to the highest ranked Pac-12 team. One which could go to a 9-3 USC.

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