SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP)—Jimmy Clausen and Notre Dame pushed Southern California to the very last second, showing the Fighting Irish could go toe-to-toe with their fiercest rival.
Beating the Trojans, well, Charlie Weis’ team still hasn’t figured out how do to that.
Clausen threw three incomplete passes into the end zone in the closing seconds, and No. 6 USC held on Saturday for a 34-27 victory, its eighth straight win against Notre Dame.
“When it came right down to it we found ways to make plays,” USC coach Pete Carroll said.
Notre Dame’s streak of last-minute victories ended at three, but the Irish (4-2) at least showed they could compete with USC.
“I think anyone that doesn’t realize the fight that’s in the Fighting Irish is missing the boat. It’s evident if you watch the last five games. Every week it’s the same thing,” Weis said. “This team’s a bunch of fighters. I’m proud of the fight. I’m disappointed with the loss, it’s never OK to lose. But they’re a bunch of fighters.”
USC had dominated Notre Dame the past three seasons and led 34-14 in the fourth quarter Saturday. The Fighting Irish seemed on their way to the type of lopsided loss that would have their supporters grumbling about Weis again.
Instead, Clausen and the Irish rallied back, but couldn’t score into the same end zone where the Trojans (5-1) famously scored four years ago on the Bush Push, which gave Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart and USC a 34-31 victory in Weis’ first season.
On Clausen’s first pass into the end zone, Kyle Rudolph made juggling catch but was out of bounds. The second was knocked down by Josh Pinkard and the Trojans started celebrating thinking the game was over.
Clausen and USC quarterback Matt Barkley, pals from southern California, even exchanged what they thought was a post-game handshake.
But the officials ruled there was 1 second left. Clausen fired to Duval Kamara, who slipped and couldn’t get a hand on it.
“Coming up short, one second to go, it’s heartbreaking,” Clausen said.
Barkley was 19 for 29 for 380 yards and two touchdowns to Damian Williams, who had four catches for 108 yards. Anthony McCoy had five catches for 153 yards.
The Trojans appeared to be on the verge of blowing the game open when Joe McKnight dove in for a TD early in the fourth quarter.
“Down three scores, I bet everyone in the house probably figured it’s time to throw in the towel. Not this group,” Weis said.
The Irish closed to 34-27 midway through the fourth quarter on a 2-yard TD run by Clausen and a 15-yard TD pass from Clausen to Golden Tate after an interception by Irish cornerback Gary Gray.
Clausen was 24-of-43 passes for 260 yards and two touchdown passes while facing a strong USC pass rush. He threw the ball away five times and was sacked five times. And in the end, he gave Notre Dame a chance, which is far more than the Irish have had in recent years against Carroll’s mighty Trojans. In the previous three meetings, USC outscored Notre Dame 120-27.
USC linebacker Chris Galippo said the game was more stressful that Southern Cal’s 18-15 win over Ohio State, when the Trojans scored the game-winner with 65 seconds left.
“They just kept getting second chance after second chance after second chance, and penalties. We would rip the ball straight our of their hands, but they fell on it,” Galippo said. “This seems to be a theme for our season, these close games. But our defense came through there.”
Tate had eight catches for 117 yards. The Irish also got a 25-yard completion on a faked field goal attempt by holder Eric Maust that set up another touchdown.
The Irish were aided in their final drive by a couple of penalties by USC. Robby Parris caught a 13-yard pass on fourth down to the USC 16, but All-American Taylor Mays was called for a personal foul on the hit to Parris. That got the ball to the 8. Then Malik Jackson was called two plays later for roughing the passer, placing the ball on the 4.
But the Irish couldn’t get the game to overtime and USC celebrated its 10th straight win against a ranked opponent. The Irish lost their seventh straight to a top-10 team, matching the longest streak in school history set from 1984-1986.
Weis was disappointed, but still proud of his team’s effort.
“If you would have told me before the game, hey you can have the ball on the 5-yard line with a chance to tie it or win, I probably would have taken that. I’m really disappointed for those guys in there because they’re fighters,” he said.
Clausen said the Irish, playing in their fifth straight game decided in the final minute, may have pushed their luck.
“When you live on the edge like that, you’re not always going to come out on the winning side,” he said.
Carroll said he can’t explain USC’s streak against Notre Dame.
“We hope to keep this thing going. It’s a big deal to us. It’s special,” he said. “So we’ve got to hang onto it next time around when they come to our place. We have to get after it and see if we can keep the thing going. Because it’s very special for the SC family to continue to be on top of this rivalry.”