No. 9 Irish ride Jones' 176 yards to 30-27 victory over USC
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- No. 9 Notre Dame survived upset-minded Southern California by staying grounded in chilly Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday night.
Tony Jones Jr. rushed for a career-high 176 yards, Ian Book scored on an 8-yard run with 3:33 left and Jonathan Doerer kicked three long field goals as the Irish won 30-27 in the 91st meeting of the longtime rivals.
"An exciting football game," coach Brian Kelly said. "Our guys prepared so well for this game. They (USC) were coming off a bye week and we knew there were some things we'd have to adjust to. We took USC's best shot."
It was the third straight victory for the Fighting Irish (5-1) over the Trojans (3-3) and it wasn't easy after USC had drawn within 23-20 behind true freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis.
Book's touchdown ended a 14-play, 75-yard drive that took 6:54 off the clock. The Irish quarterback, who rushed for 49 yards and added 165 yards through the air on 17-of-32 passing, credited offensive coordinator Chip Long's play-calling.
"They were bringing pressure off the edge," Book said, "so I just wanted to bring it up the middle. The line did a good job."
The Trojans' Markese Stepp, who ran for 82 yards, scored from the 2 with 1:04 left to make it 30-27. Notre Dame's Brock Wright recovered the onside kick, and the Irish ran out the clock.
"Notre Dame is a good football team and we are, too, and I can't wait to watch the next six games," said USC coach Clay Helton, who fell to 1-4 against Notre Dame.
Jones' fourth 100-yard game of the season came on 25 carries. He had 12 runs for 120 yards in the first half.
"Coach is letting me out of the cage a little bit," Jones joked. "I've always been like this. To be honest, I saw my line working hard, I saw my tight ends working hard and I just tried to do whatever I could do."
The Irish led 17-3 at half after Book threw a 10-yard TD pass to Cole Kmet, wide receiver Braden Lenzy ran 51 yards on a reverse and Doerer kicked a 43-yard field goal.
Doerer added field goals of 52 and 43 yards in the second half to keep the Irish ahead.
Slovis completed 24 of 35 passes for 255 yards in his first game back from a concussion three weeks ago. He threw touchdown passes of 38 yards to Amon-Ra St. Brown in the third quarter and 5 yards to Tyler Vaughns in the fourth.
USC: Slovis completed 10 of 17 passes for 74 yards in the first half but was sacked three times and hurried on four other occasions by Notre Dame's defense, which switched between three- and four-man fronts. After intermission, Slovis was 14 of 18 for 181 yards and two touchdowns.
"We came away from the first half feeling like we left points on the board that we should have scored," Slovis said. "The second half we were kind of hungry to do what we knew we could accomplish."
Notre Dame: The Irish punted on their first three series but finished the half with 196 yards on the ground. Jones carried the load, bursting up the middle for 43 yards on a nine-play, 97-yard scoring drive that gave his team a 7-3 lead. And when they had to in the fourth quarter, the Irish did their damage running the football.
"They were playing a two-deep zone, and it was important that we ran the football in that situation," Kelly said of his team's last touchdown drive. "Our offensive line and tight ends did a great job blocking. Tony Jones was outstanding again in the fourth quarter."
Notre Dame: The Irish likely won't move up even with South Carolina's 20-17 double-overtime victory at No. 3 Georgia. That's because the Irish lost 23-17 at Georgia last month.
BOYS WILL BE BOYS
As they did here in 1971 during a 28-14 victory by USC, the Irish and Trojans got in a scuffle. When the half ended, USC guard Jalen McKenzie and Notre Dame defensive end Jamir Jones had words at midfield. More players joined in the pushing and shoving while coaches from both sides attempted to break it up.
Each team received offsetting unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.
Doerer, who kicked a field goal last season against Navy when all-time leading scorer Justin Yoon was injured, ended the first-half scoring with a career-long 45-yard field goal. He then topped that on Notre Dame's first possession of the second half with a 52-yarders . He also kicked a 43-yarder.
"We knew the physical abilities when we recruited him," Kelly said after giving Doerer the game ball. "It was about how do we get this young man to hone in to the exceptional skill he has. He is so confident now in what he does. He's unflappable and trusts what he is doing."
THIS AND THAT
Notre Dame has won its last 15 games at Notre Dame Stadium. ... Notre Dame, which had given up just three touchdown passes in five games, surrendered two more to Slovis. . Neither team committed a turnover. ... Notre Dame running backs have not fumbled in 1,247 rushing attempts since Nov. 21, 2015, the longest active streak in FBS.
USC plays Arizona at home on Oct. 19.
Notre Dame has an open date before an Oct. 26 visit to No. 16 Michigan.
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