By Dennis J. Freeman
Special to the BVN
LOS ANGELES -- Eventually the USC and Notre Dame football game at the Los Angeles Memorial Stadium was going to come down to some sort of defensive stand by the Irish. It was just a matter of time. You knew it was coming, but when it would come was a different story.
Notre Dame put the finishing touches on an undefeated 12-0 record and No. 1 ranking with a 22-13 win in front of a raucous sellout crowd.
The signature point of the game came late in the fourth quarter with USC standing at Notre Dame’s goal-line, six inches standing in the way of a sure touchdown. USC had four shots at piercing through the seemly impenetrable armor of Notre Dame’s defense. Notre Dame’s vaunted defense rebuked the Trojans on four consecutive plays, effectively dismissing any lingering doubts about the heart of the Fighting Irish.
Notre Dame would likely move on to play in the BCS national championship game, while USC scrambles to earn a bowl bid and self-respectability. The climax ending for USC is a far different view that fell unceremoniously to earth since quarterback Matt Barkley was picked as the nation’s Heisman Trophy frontrunner, and the Trojans was ranked No.1 in just about every poll during the summer. So much for predictions, and so much for USC’s dream season.
This is the first time that Notre Dame has reached the top of the college football world in 19 years.
Notre Dame, which has put teams as Oklahoma, Michigan and Michigan State on their backs enroute to its undefeated season, laid it all on the line with a redshirt freshman in Everett Golson and a tough-as-nails defense, led by hard-hitting linebacker Manti Te’o. Te’o said Notre Dame’s defensive unit wasn’t too worried about that last series mounted by USC. They knew they had to stop the Trojans-and they did.
“It doesn’t matter,” Te’o said. I kept telling my guys it doesn’t matter. When they were on the one-yard line it doesn’t matter. As long as they don’t cross that white line, it doesn’t matter. Our guys folded up, and they just came out fought for every inch. I’m just proud of the way my guys came out and played.”
Te’o said the Trojans weren’t able to punch in the touchdown because the Fighting Irish’s defense prides itself on getting stops with a big physical presence.
“We’re physical,” Te’o said. “We don’t like being scored on. Although it happened, we come back and we bounce back to insure that it doesn’t happen again. We demonstrated that tonight.”
What was also on display was the strong arm of Golson, who threw for 217 yards, and led Notre Dame on scoring drives on the Fighting Irish’s first three possessions of the game. Notre Dame running back Theo Riddick kept the Trojans off-balanced all night, rushing for 146 yards and a touchdown.
On the flip side of the ball, USC, without the services of the injured Barkley, couldn’t muster any real sustained drives and challenge to the Irish. USC coach Lane Kiffin went with Max Wittek at quarterback for the game. Wittek threw for 186 yards and two interceptions. The drop-off for the Trojans was they usually, come-to-expect a spectacular game by Heisman Trophy contender Marqise Lee.
Although he caught five passes for 75 yards, Lee couldn’t really shake free from Notre Dame defenders to have a big night, which the Trojans badly needed him to do if they had any chance of upsetting their visitors.
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