A one-sided football game turned into a close encounter, and despite some sloppy moments, it will be long remembered.
The 81st meeting between No. 6th-ranked USC and No. 25-ranked Notre Dame last Saturday afternoon had the look of a rout when the Trojans built a 20-point lead early in the final quarter.
But the Fighting Irish rallied for two touchdowns and came within four yards of tying and even winning with a successful two-point conversion.
In the end, the Trojans leaned on their vaunted defense, and held on for a 34-27 victory. It was the eighth straight win for Troy over the Irish.
Down by seven points and the ball resting at the USC four, Notre Dame’s junior quarterback Jimmy Clausen faced third down.
With seconds left, Clausen, who attended Oaks Christian High and scored on a two-yard run with 11:13 remaining to make it 34-20, failed to find a receiver, and USC’s sideline erupted.
But the replay booth ruled one second remained. However, just like the previous attempt, Clausen (24 of 43 passes for 260 yards) couldn’t connect.
This time, the Trojans celebrated the hard-earned win before 80,795 spectators at Notre Dame Stadium but it also showed that while the Irish (4-2) aren’t a top 15 team, they’re improving.
As for the Trojans (5-1), they’re still in line for the Bowl Championship Series title game, which will be held at the Rose Bowl.
Top-rated Florida escaped with a 23-20 win over Arkansas, No. 2 Alabama downed South Carolina, 20-6, No. 3 Texas emerged with a 16-13 triumph over Oklahoma, and No. 4 Virginia Tech fell to Georgia Tech, 28-23.
Two items stand out: USC’s offensive line gave freshman quarterback Matt Barkley all the time he needed, and their skilled players are too fast.
Even when the Irish hurried Barkley, he was still able to get the ball to wide receiver Damian Williams (four catches for 108 yards) and tight end Anthony McCoy (153 yards and five receptions).
When Barkley (19 of 29 for a career-high 380 yards and one interception) spotted Williams with a 20-yard laser and 8:47 left in the opening quarter, USC leaped in front 7-0.
Barkley’s 41-yard rocket to Williams with 7:29 left in the third quarter made it 20-7.
Notre Dame used trickery to knot the score at 7-7. With a field goal imminent, wide receiver Robby Parris (92 yards and nine catches) instead caught a 25-yard pass from the holder, and brought the ball deep inside USC territory.
From there, running back Robert Hughes capped a nine-play, 56-yard drive, with a two-yard plunge and 1:04 left in the opening quarter.
USC forged a 13-7 lead when Jordan Congdon nailed a 24-yard field goal, and a 37-yard shot in the second quarter.
Running back Allen Bradford (45 yards and eight carries) made it 27-14 when he scored on a three-yard gallop and 2:35 left in the third quarter.
After tailback Joe McKnight (79 yards and 19 rushes) scored on a one-yard burst late in the fourth quarter, USC pulled ahead, 34-14.
Clausen had a 45-yard scoring bomb to wide receiver Golden Tate (eight receptions for 117 yards) with just over five minutes showing in the third quarter to make it 20-14.
Clausen also hit Tate with a 15-yard toss midway through the final quarter to get within seven points.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a contributor to trufanboxing.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.