LOS ANGELES – Thanks to a plume of smog engulfing the mountains in the distance, the long-range view from Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was a bit blurred Saturday night. But then neither pollution clouds nor a steady sheet of rain could obscure Notre Dame’s perspective on this visit.
To achieve authenticity, to serve the clearest notice that purpose and determination at long last had taken hold, the Irish had to beat USC. It was simple. And it had been simply unattainable for eight years running, the Trojans winning and winning and delivering the Irish to a new dead end each time.
Now, the path once again is clear. At long last, Troy has fallen.
Notre Dame authored a stirring 20-16 victory over USC before a staggered crowd of 85,417, ending an eight-game losing streak to the Trojans and stamping Year One of the Brian Kelly era as a success when that seemed an unlikely proposition just a month ago.
“Coming all the way out here and beating them,” Irish safety Harrison Smith said, “that’s something we had to do as a program just to turn this thing around.”
Robert Hughes’ 5-yard touchdown run was the go-ahead score with 2 minutes, 23 seconds remaining, recapturing the lead Notre Dame (7-5) had lost just four minutes earlier.
Harrison Smith’s interception with 36 seconds left sealed it, guaranteeing a team beset by injuries and roadblocks and off-field calamities – not to mention four turnovers on Saturday – will end the season as a winner with the Dec. 28 Champs Sports Bowl seemingly the likeliest postseason destination.
“We didn’t flinch,” Kelly said. “That’s part of the character of this team this year. We’ve overcome a lot of adversity.”
In some ways, the Irish had the Trojans (7-5) right where they wanted them, especially after a rousing second quarter produced a 10-point halftime lead. But USC used three turnovers from the right hand of freshman quarterback Tommy Rees to erase that lead and ultimately reclaim it at 16-13 with 6:25 left.
Then came the fateful drive, a resolute, purposeful, 77-yard statement that ended in Hughes’ 5-yard touchdown run and the light officially positioned at the end of a harrowing tunnel.
Notre Dame 20, Southern Cal 16
USC—FG Houston 45, 4:09.
ND—Floyd 1 pass from Rees (Ruffer kick), 2:39.
ND—Kamara 1 pass from Rees (kick failed), :07.
USC—FG Houston 23, 11:02.
USC—Mustain 1 run (Houston kick), 5:40.
USC—FG Houston 37, 6:25.
ND—Hughes 5 run (Ruffer kick), 2:23.
|Time of Possession||28:25||31:35|
RUSHING—Notre Dame, C.Wood 15-89, Hughes 11-69, Team 1-(minus 2), Rees 4-(minus 3), Riddick 1-(minus 6). USC, Tyler 17-48, Gable 7-19, Woods 1-6, Baxter 1-4, Havili 2-2, Mustain 2-1.
PASSING—Notre Dame, Rees 20-32-3-149, Team 0-2-0-0. USC, Mustain 20-37-1-177, Baxter 1-1-0-4.
RECEIVING—Notre Dame, Floyd 11-86, Eifert 3-36, Toma 2-15, Hughes 1-8, Riddick 1-6, Kamara 1-1, C.Wood 1-(minus 3). USC, Woods 8-81, Johnson 6-40, Ellison 5-38, Havili 2-22.