Latest NFL injury news:

Spander: Irish stand up to challenge

The SportsXchange

LOS ANGELES -- The kid, a freshman making his debut as a starter, didn't have much of a chance. Against that Notre Dame defense no one had much of a chance. USC went with freshman quarterback Max Wittek. The Irish went off to the national championship game.

The echoes are awake and inescapable. Like the Irish defense. That Notre Dame has a linebacker who's a Heisman Trophy candidate is only proper.

Manti Te'o is the heart of a team that is relentless. And unbeaten.

USC, the Trojans, the school of Reggie Bush and Carson Palmer, of Marcus Allen and O.J. Simpson, the school that makes you think of offense, couldn't score from the two-inch line Saturday night. Not the two-yard line, the two-inch line.

So it was no surprise the top-rated Irish would beat the Trojans 22-13, end their regular season 12-0 and get ready to head to the BCS Championship Game on Jan. 7, 2013, in Miami.

John McKay, the Trojans coach in the 1960s, offered the ultimate explanation why defense wins football games. "If the other team doesn't score," McKay said, "the worse you'll get is a 0-0 tie."

The worst this 2012 Notre Dame team would get was a perfect season with a nearly perfect defense.

Nine plays from the 2-yard line for USC. One play from the two-inch line. All nowhere.

"I was thinking," Te'o said, "they're not going to score."

They didn't, and the huge Notre Dame segment from the sellout crowd of 93,607 at the Coliseum screamed: "Let's go Irish, Let's go Irish."

And Te'o jogged off the field thinking, "I told you they were not going to score."

A strange game, except for Notre Dame, which played this way all season, if not specifically, with one touchdown -- by Theo Reddick -- and five field goals, by Kyle Brindza.

Stuffing the other team (USC had only 281 yards) and managing your own game (Notre Dame gained 439). Twice intercepting freshman QB Max Wittek, starting for the first time because of the shoulder injury to Matt Barkley, showed promise and inexperience. Getting in front and always staying there.

"We come up big defensively some time during a game," said Brian Kelly, the third-year Notre Dame coach. "We did that again. That was an unbelievable goal-line stand.

"We ran the ball effectively in the fourth quarter when we needed. We made big plays and ran the ball. Our quarterback managed the run game for us. This was another clear example of how we got to 12-0."

Too clear for Lane Kiffin, the beleaguered coach of a Trojans team that lost four of its last five games -- remember, it started out No. 1 in the AP poll -- and finished 7-5.

"They are not very exotic," Kiffin said of the Irish, "but they don't give things up. You could see that today. They went 69 plays without allowing a turnover.

"And defensively, it's so hard to score touchdowns against them. We had the ball on the two-inch line."

And Wittek threw incomplete on fourth down with 3:17 remaining.

"Our plan didn't work," Kiffin conceded. "Our plan was to pass outside. We weren't able to convert with the fullback on the flat-out."

And he wasn't thinking of a field goal.

"You're not going to beat the No. 1 team in the nation," Kiffin insisted, "kicking field goals instead of getting touchdowns."

But the No. 1 team in the nation beat USC by getting field goals and the same total of touchdowns as the Trojans, one.

"The entire game was managed how we manage each game," Kelly said. "Our guys have incredible resolve regardless of the circumstances, of coming up and finding ways to win. That's all we talk about. We don't talk about style points or anything else, just finding ways to win."

They've found a way in 12 games so far. They had to go overtime against Pittsburgh, but as they say in golf, it ain't how, it's how many. It's making plays. It's keeping the other team without a point even when it gets to the two-inch line.

Notre Dame snuck up on people this year, when the forecasters picked USC or Alabama or LSU. The Irish just kept creeping along as others stumbled and fell. And now, for the first time since 1988, they're unbeaten.

"It feels great," said Kelly, one of those sky-is-blue quotes. "We really focused on the game and what we needed to do. We're not there yet. When we start clicking in the red zone, we'll be really good."

Then how much chance will opponents have?
Sign up for Yahoo Fantasy Football
View Comments (0)