No. 1 Notre Dame, in a 22-13 win, keeps Trojans at bay

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.

Razan Al Marzouqi | 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 — a week after digging themselves a 24-point hole to UCLA in the first half. After 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 faced the steep challenge of facing the NCAA’s No. 1 scoring defense — Notre Dame only allowed 10.1 points per game entering the game — and subbing in for the legendary 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 ensuing possessions before USC possessed 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 and continued to deteriorate as USC’s offense failed to find the end zone despite numerous red zone opportunities.

“Notre Dame showed me that they have phenomenal senior leadership,” Kiffin said. “You can see those guys understand the game, very physical, very old school; 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 had to settle for a 21-yard field goal.

Further fueling the frustration, USC was set up at Notre Dame’s one-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, negative run play for senior tailback Curtis McNeal, Kiffin called for a play-action roll-out pass to redshirt freshman fullback Soma Vainuku. Vainuku bobbled the pass, as the ball squirted between his legs and hit the ground, 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, but you gotta make the plays in those situations,” 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.

“I’d say we’re all disappointed,” Wittek said. “No one imagined losing five games with the talent that we have. 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.”

10 replies
  1. ronald
    ronald says:

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  2. ztrojan92
    ztrojan92 says:

    Kiffen must go! This is an absolute embarassment of a season…picked to be in the BCS champioship game at the start of the season and then to finish 7-5 and lose to ND and FUCLA!!! There is no reason at all to keep him!! My 8 year old son asked “why do they keep running into the middle where alll of the players are?” He is 8!!!!!! Look back at the season and all signs point to a problem with the head coach!!! Please Pat do not put the fans of this great University though anothre embarassing season both on the field and off!!!!

  3. Jason
    Jason says:

    Like I have said all semester…Kiffin needs to be fiered…and I guess since Haden wants to keep him and his brother…maybe Haden needs to retire

  4. TommyTrojan71
    TommyTrojan71 says:

    The USC football program is a precious gift that belongs to the USC Family. For Pat Haden, who should understand as much as anyone what the SC tradition is, to turn OUR program over to a mediocrity like Lane Kiffin is a travesty. Kiffin has never achieved ANYTHING to warrant his being named head coach at Mater Dei, much less at USC. For those who point to a 10-2 record last year, those were Pete Carroll’s kids. We started this season #1 in the land, with a Heisman candidate at QB, only to finish 7-5, with losses to UCLA AND Notre Dame? This on top of defensive failures by Monte Kiffin in every game over the apst two seasons where the failure to make one key stop made the difference between winning and losing?

    There was time when Daddy Kiffin would have been fired at halftime of one of the game where his “defense” ended up surrendering 600-700 yards. Lane Kiffin would have been fired immediately after making the disastrous game management decisions that handed Notre Dame a BCS Championship spot last night. It’s time for Pat Haden to acknowledge that he is a stand-in for every USC student, alumna/us, and fan. He must show some leadership and responsibility for his role by subsuming his own ego and firing Lane Kiffin NOW. Failure to do so, will only delay the inevitable and allow for the continued degradation of the Trojan football program.

  5. Mario
    Mario says:

    7-5 are we going back to those days? Is this what your selling our incoming recruits? This is really scary. How do we expect to keep the top recruiting class in the nation if we put this pathetic product out on the field. This is a direct reflection on the coaching staff. I’m scared for next season. How badly do we have to play before our AD sees what everyone else sees. Offense, defense, they both suck so bad. We’ve become so predictable. I thought that the best way to keep the defense off guard was to spread it around. I know that Norv Chow was very successful with it. So why are we so damn predictable. and our defense lacks teeth. No intensity no fear is felt by the other team. Play down hill on both sides of the ball. Even if one or a couple of plays go bad we know we’re going to punch it in. We have the players to dominate, so why aren’t we? If all the quality player are in place why are we getting our asses kicked by teams like UCLA (the softball school). Mr. AD swallow the reality pill. The sooner the better for our program.

  6. Thekatman
    Thekatman says:

    Any decent OC could’ve won more,with the talent USC has, and would’ve beaten ND lt night. Aweful, mind boggling, play calling from Kiffin, lost this game. Some of you might not remember, 4th and 1 call back in the USC v Texas BCS title game. Same thing happened. No changes to the play calling. Not using the best personnel on the field to MAKE the play….. Ad we lost. This hs been gong on all year. You do not play to gain stats for a player. You play to win and utilize all personnel. Why weren’t the TE used last night at the goal line? Why run the same play that stuffed every other team this year at the goal line? Our offense line isn’t that dominant.
    Ys we can armchair QB all day, but everyone knew the run was coming, so why not show it and do play acton, or a run to the outside? Kiffin, Haden and his coaching staff deserved 7-5, but not the players. The players were let down by these folks all year.

    • another USC parent
      another USC parent says:

      Or how about lofting another pass to Lee on third or fourth down at the ND 6 inch line? Given there were two prior pass interferences to stop Lee, either a Lee catch or another interference call (and four more downs from inches to pay dirt) seemed likely. We have seen the fullback bobble before in games to know it too well. A few more passes from the 6 inch line with Lee/Woods as extremely talented receivers and a crushing ND goal line defense against the run are hard to dismiss as the greatest odds plays and clock preservers.

      There is a rigidity in play calling, almost as if Kiffen or whoever is calling plays becomes anxious–like the dash to call a timeout when the players had the situation under control and a touchdown was negated.

      With all due respect, it seems Kiffen has an understanding of the game and high regard for his players, but also a performance anxiety problem. If he stays, i hope he seeks assistance from a sports psychologist or a clinical psychologist specializing in performance anxiety at least for an evaluation. Such assistance for coach (if needed) could make a world of difference for the mighty Trojans.

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