USC falls in finale


Given the opportunity to upset No. 1 Notre Dame in the 84th edition of the storied intersectional rivalry, USC flashed the talent and explosiveness that emboldened many preseason prognosticators to ticket the Trojans — not the Irish — for a date in January’s BCS national championship game in Miami.

Goal-line stand · After a pass interference penalty gave USC a first-and-goal at the one-yard line in the fourth quarter, the Trojans couldn’t advance the ball on any of their next four plays. – Carlo Acenas | Daily Trojan

Unfortunately, the Trojans were once again bedeviled by inopportune miscues en route to a 22-13 loss before a sellout crowd of 93,607 fans, many of whom were cheering on the Irish’s special season.

“It’s very difficult for everyone in our locker room with so many things not going well this season,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “I was hoping today we would finish different with the backup quarterback and be part of history, knocking [Notre Dame] out of the national championship game.”

Continuing their recent trend of slow starts, the Trojans quickly fell behind 10-0 only a week after digging themselves into a 24-point hole at UCLA in the first half. After Notre Dame kicker Kyle Brindza’s 27-yard field goal on the first series and a fruitless drive for USC on its first possession, Notre Dame rattled off a 12-play, 87-yard drive, which tailback Theo Riddick capped with a nine-yard touchdown scamper after the Irish converted three separate third-down opportunities. On the evening, Riddick rushed for 146 yards on 20 carries and accounted for the Irish’s only touchdown.

“They were powerful today,” sophomore linebacker Hayes Pullard said of the Notre Dame offense. “It was electrifying out there; kudos to most of their offensive linemen. They recognized our defense and got up to the second level and were able to run up and down.”

Undeterred, redshirt freshman quarterback Max Wittek, after missing his first three passes in the previous series, roared back with five consecutive completions in a drive that culminated in an 11-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Robert Woods.

“Woody’s a great receiver, and he’s so smart,” Wittek said. “He knows defenses, so it’s easy to be on the same page with a guy like that.”

During the Senior Day festivities before the contest, senior quarterback Matt Barkley strode out of the Coliseum tunnel in street clothes, stopping to embrace Kiffin, before flashing the victory ‘V’ sign to the Coliseum faithful.

Kiffin momentarily choked up upon describing the scene in his post-game media session.

“It’s just wrong,” Kiffin said of Barkley’s injury. “That shouldn’t have happened to that kid. I just felt for him, my heart just felt for him. That kid didn’t deserve for it to end like that.”

Wittek, Barkley’s replacement, valiantly embraced the steep challenge of facing the NCAA’s No. 1 scoring defense — Notre Dame only allowed 10.1 points per game before Saturday — and subbing in for the fan favorite Barkley.

“Obviously the circumstances with Matt not being able to play in the game is what really sucks about it,” said Wittek, who finished his starting debut 14 of 23 for 186 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. “Looking at him, being with him the past five to six years at Mater Dei and then here … for him to not be able to play in this rivalry game — this last home game — was pretty sad.”

Notre Dame and USC proceeded to trade field goals in their next possessions before USC had the ball with 1:25 remaining in the first half and trailing by three points.

Wittek squandered the opportunity to pull USC ahead, however, as he lofted a pass — intended for sophomore wide receiver Marqise Lee — approximately 70 yards down field that Notre Dame cornerback KeiVarae Russell hauled in for an interception.

The Irish capitalized on the turnover in their subsequent offensive possession. After moving the ball to USC’s 35-yard line with 10 seconds remaining, quarterback Everett Golson scrambled for eight seconds before rifling a pass that fell incomplete. Unluckily for USC, time had yet to expire in the half, giving the Irish the chance to eke a 52-yard field goal over the uprights’ crossbar, which staked them to a 16-10 lead at halftime.

The second half also began inauspiciously, as Heisman Trophy candidate Manti Te’o snared his seventh interception of the season on Wittek’s first pass. The game continued to spiral out of control for USC as the Trojans’ offense failed to find the end zone.

“Notre Dame showed me that they have phenomenal senior leadership,” Kiffin said. “You can see those guys understand the game; they’re not very exotic, but they don’t screw up.”

Following the Irish’s fourth field goal, USC countered with a 13-play, 80-yard drive in which it appeared the Trojans scored a touchdown on a four-yard completion to Lee. Before the play, however, Kiffin called a timeout, thus negating the score. After an unsuccessful third-down attempt, USC settled for a 21-yard field goal.

Further fueling the frustration, USC was set up at Notre Dame’s 1-yard line with four minutes remaining in the game, seeking to score a touchdown to draw the score to 22-20. After two unsuccessful quarterback sneaks and a stuffed run play for senior tailback Curtis McNeal, Kiffin called for a play-action rollout pass to redshirt freshman fullback Soma Vainuku. Vainuku bobbled the pass and the ball squirted between his legs. hitting the ground and effectively sealing the defeat.

“In the second half I thought we didn’t move the ball very well, especially in the third quarter on offense,” Kiffin said. “They’re the No. 1 goal line defense in the country two years in a row for a reason.”

USC must now regroup for its bowl game after losing both of its rivalry games this season and dropping four of five contests.

“No one imagined losing five games with the talent that we have,” Wittek said. “Things didn’t exactly turn out how we wanted them to, but I couldn’t express any more pride in my team — being able to go to battle with them was definitely special.”

 

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  • BB

    Dear Pat (Hayden),
    We know you gave Kiffin your endorsement that he is your coach. We know how hard it is to fire a coach especially when most of the team after today are his recruits. If I had to guess, you are as frustrated as we all are after a season of miscues, excuses and an unwillingness to adjust and learn from previous mistakes.
    We were out-coached in many of our games, especially in the second half’s when the opposing coaches made adjustments to us but we did not adjust to them. Even in the games we won, in many cases we were pretty much shut out in the second half and hung on.
    My other observation is that a team reflects it’s coach. When I see a Kiffin team, I see a team that lacks motivation and tries to play it cool. When I saw a Carroll team, I saw an upbeat, excited, better disciplined team focuses on winning.
    My suggestion is that of many other frustrated Trojan fans who looked forward to going to a nice BCS bowl game this year:
    1. Get an offensive coordinator and stop calling plays from the field (we like the highlight play too much and don’t focus on a sustained drives)
    2. Get a new defensive coordinator because if I had to look, I bet our defense on 3rd down is one of the, if not the, worst in the country (Defense wins championships…not flashy offensives…just look at the Oregon game)
    3. Use our tight-end more when our top receivers are being double teamed and keyed on.
    4. Make adjustments at half-time
    5. Take chances!!!!!!!!

  • Mario

    Let’s recap shall we, We lost by 9 points. The coach called a time out on the second to the last drive and cost us a touchdown. We kicked a field goal. That cost us 4 points On the last drive Marquise Lee caught the ball on the 2 yard lines with 5:40 left on the clock, but Lanie Kiffin could find a play in his laminated sheet of plays so we ran it into the teeth of the defense until the clock basically ran out. That’s 7 points. Now lets do the math, 4+7 =11. Sounds like he was using the same laminated sheet he used in the 2005 National championship vs. Texas.

  • Jason

    Kiffin has to go…he is a crappy coach…having this much talent and this many lossess (especailly against UCLA and not Notre Dame) is disgusting