The set up: After eight consecutive years of defeating the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the USC Trojans experienced defeat last season in Los Angeles. Notre Dame hoped to use that victory as a springboard into an extended period of dominance over its intersectional rival. USC, coming off a long week after defeating California on Oct. 13 in San Francisco, and Notre Dame, coming off a bye week, met under the lights in the first night game in South Bend since 1990.
The story: After a year in South Bend, Ind., the Jeweled Shillelagh returns to Los Angeles. The USC Trojans, 6-1 (3-1), soundly defeated the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (4-3) by a score of 31-17 after some tense moments.
After losing last season on a last-second play, the Trojans have now won nine of the last ten meetings against the Fighting Irish.
Redshirt senior running back Curtis McNeal led an invigorated rushing attack as he ran 24 times for 118 yards. Overall, the Trojans rushed 44 times for 219 yards — its highest single-game rushing total of the season.
Not only did the running game vastly improve, the Trojan defense forced three turnovers and shut down the Notre Dame rushing game — 41 yards on 14 attempts — as well as senior wide receiver Michael Floyd. Floyd, who had four catches and 28 yards, was eighth in catches and 15th in yards nationally entering Saturday.
The USC offense was firing on all cylinders, as junior quarterback Matt Barkley completed 24 passes on 35 attempts and compiled a three-touchdown, zero-interception, 224-yard performance.
Sophomore wideout Robert Woods had a 12-catch performance as well as 119 yards and a score.
USC’s first drive of the game featured 13 plays, 11 of which were run plays. Barkley found an open redshirt freshman tight end Randall Telfer to cap off a 66-yard drive that lasted 7:39.
On the ensuing Notre Dame drive, the Irish failed to record a first down, starting the game with two drives that went three-and-out.
On the next Trojan drive, Barkley quickly moved the chains, leading the team down the field 62 yards in six plays for a Woods three-yard touchdown reception.
USC and Notre Dame failed to score points in the second quarter until USC’s freshman kicker Andre Heidari kicked a 25-yard field goal.
On the following kickoff, freshman running back George Atkinson III returned the ball 96 yards for the Irish’s first points of the game with 3:22 left in the first half. The return invigorated a Notre Dame crowd that fell silent after its team fell behind by 17.
At the end of the first half and into the beginning of the second, Notre Dame’s offense was cutting through the Trojans’ defense quite easily. Notre Dame drove 19 plays and 88 yards to the Trojans 1 yard-line when backup quarterback senior Dayne Crist, received a poor snap and fumbled the ball. The ball was squirted backwards, and it was loose until junior safety Jawanza Starling picked it up at the Irish 20 and returned it for a touchdown. After that, it was smooth sailing toward USC’s sixth victory.
Notre Dame scored in the beginning of the fourth quarter by way of a 25-yard Jonas Gray run, but USC responded two possessions later with Woods’ second touchdown of the day, this time a 14-yard diving catch in the back right corner. The final score stayed at 31-17.
The turnover battle: Though the Irish turned the ball over three times, by way of a fumbled snap, and interception, and a failed backwards pass, the Trojans did not once. USC converted the first two turnovers in to touchdowns and ran out the clock after forcing an interception late in the game.
Up next: USC plays host to the No. 4 Stanford Cardinal at the Coliseum Saturday at 5:00 p.m. (PDT). Stanford is coming off a dominating 65-21 victory over then no. 25 ranked Washington. Last season, Stanford beat USC, 37-35. The Cardinal have won ten straight games by at least 25 points. ESPN’s College GameDay will be taping Saturday morning from outside the peristyle end of the Coliseum.