This weekend Notre Dame and Southern California will stage the 87th renewal of a rivalry that began in 1926. The series is unique in that it is the only rivalry that has no conference or geographic basis (South Bend and Los Angeles are 1,800 miles apart).
When the series began it was always staged as a season-ending contest. The match-up was always a highly anticipated game! The most intense period of the rivalry came between 1964 and 1974. In those 11 games, 17 of the 22 squads entered the game ranked in the top 10; of those 17, ten were in the top-10 with four being ranked number one!
Just ten years ago, the two rivals produced one of the most exciting games in the history of the series! The Irish gave an astounding finish that was further aided by the arrival of ESPN’s College Game Day broadcast that morning. As further means for inspiration, Notre Dame wore green jerseys as they had done in their 1977 upset of Southern Cal. They also had a three game win streak against SC wearing green.
With the number of All-America players on the offenses on both teams, the game looked to be a high scoring affair. Pete Carroll had dual Heisman Trophy winners Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush in his backfield along with third-team All-America LenDale White. Dwayne Jarrett was a near unanimous All-America at wide receiver while lineman Taitusi Lutui, Sam Baker and Ryan Kalil also gained All-America status. For the Irish, quarterback Brady Quinn was a third-team pick while his primary receiver Jeff Samardzija was a consensus All-America.
36-yard run by Bush opened the game’s scoring and a 53-yard catch and run by tight end Dominque Byrd would set up another score. Yet Notre Dame would find enough big plays of their own to match SC!
Although over-matched, the ND defense intercepted Leinart twice to end long Trojan drives, but a 45-yard scoring run by Bush tied the game at 21-21 early in the third quarter. Late in the fourth quarter, the Trojans marched 80 yards with Bush gaining the final nine to give SC a 28-24 lead! However, ND responded with their own late drive with Quinn scoring to give the Irish a 31-28 lead with two minutes to play.
The deciding drive of the game began with a set of downs that included a ten-yard sack of Leinart which helped put SC in a fourth and nine situation from their own 26 with 1:32 to play. Leinart completed a pass at the 50 and raced all the way to the ND 13 before being tripped from behind to complete a 64-yard play. Bush ran twice to get the ball to the Irish two and with 23 seconds left and no time outs, Leinart rolled left and tried to dive into the end zone. He was hit in mid-air along the side line causing the ball to fly out of bounds inside the one. The clock continued to run to zero causing thousands of Notre Dame fans to stream onto the field celebrating an apparent victory!! The officials were able to restore order and re-set the clock to seven seconds. The Trojans were given another chance at the line of scrimmage, where Leinart was to quickly spike the ball to stop the clock and set up a tying field goal. The motion was a decoy as Leinart took the snap went to his left, spun with his back facing the end zone and fell forward after being aided by a push from Bush for the winning score in the 34-31 victory!!