NOTRE DAME, Ind. - The rain fell,, Tommy Rees was injured and in the end Notre Dame did something Saturday night in South Bend that it had not done in a dozen years: beat USC at home. The Fighting Irish defense surrendered 209 yards in the first quarter, but came up tough time and again in a game that saw Rees miss most of the second half after taking a hit to the head in a 14-10 victory.
Head coach Brian Kelly said after the game that Rees suffered a neck sprain.
"He's pretty sore right now," Kelly said of his quarterback, adding the next 24-48 hours will provide a more accurate gauge of the extent of Rees's injury and possible return to action.
The Irish looked like they were ready to come out and strike first. They used a no-huddle offense and short passes by Rees to briskly move to the USC one yard line on the game's opening drive, but Cam McDaniel was stuffed for a three-yard loss on 4th and goal from the one.
USC wasted no time cashing in on the opportunity. The Trojans marched right down field in 12 plays to score the first touchdown on a one-yard run by Silas Redd, who touched the ball on have of the plays on the possession.
Notre Dame didn't squander its second trip to the red zone. Rees hit seven short passes on a 77-yard drive to march the Irish downfield in 3:57. He connected with Troy Niklas just before the end of the first quarter to tie the score 7-7.
The Trojans squandered a golden opportunity after a three-and-out by the Irish. Nelson Agholor returned a Kyle Brindza punt 48 yards and got five extra yards thanks to an illegal formation by the Irish on the punt and started with the ball at the ND 20. They moved the ball 17 yards before settling for a 22-yard field goal by Andre Heidari to take a 10-7 lead with 7:50 to play in the first half.
After punts by both teams, the Fighting Irish their first lead of the game when Rees hit T.J. Jones with an 11-yard touchdown strike with 1:13 to play in the half. The Irish drive covered 91 yards in just five plays. Cam McDaniel gained 60 of the yards on carries of 24 and 36 yards. The latter carry came a play before the touchdown that put ND up 14-10.
Rees knocked from the game after he was decked by USC's Lamar Dawson for a loss of eight yards on Notre Dame's second drive of the second half. He was replaced by Andrew Hendrix, who handed off to Cam McDaniel on the next play and then threw an incompletion to force a punt on 4th and 17.
Rees went to the locker room with members of the Irish training staff shortly afterward and never returned to the game. Both teams traded punts for the bulk of the rest of the half. The Irish allowed a season-low 32 yards in the third quarter, but the offense, with Hendrix at the helm, managed just 25 yards of its own in the half.
Heidari missed a 46-yard field goal five minutes into the fourth quarter, giving the Irish the ball at their own 28. Cam McDaniel fumbled on Notre Dame's sixth play of the drive to give the Trojans the ball back at the Irish 34. It was just Notre Dame's second fumble all season.
The Fighting Irish defense came up big yet again though with its back against the wall. The Trojans gained 16 yards on their third play of the drive, but moved backward after that thanks to a pair of penalties and a Stephon Tuitt sack on 4th and 20 from the 31 to give the Irish the ball back with 2:49 remaining and the Irish still clinging to the 14-10 lead they had at the half.
Notre Dame went three-and-out to force a punt and USC took over at its own 25 with 1:35 to play. Cody Kessler hit Agholor for a 32-yard gain to the Irish 43 on first down, but the ND defense stonewalled the Trojans once again after that. A short gain to Agholor on the next play was followed by three straight Kessler incompletions and Notre Dame was able to run out the final 54 seconds for the victory.
USC was 2-for-2 on third downs on its first drive of the game that resulted in a touchdown, but they were 0-for-12 on third down conversions the rest of the way.
Hendrix failed to complete any of his four pass attempts after entering the game. He ran the ball six times for a total of five yards. Rees was 14-of-21 for 166 yards and two interceptions before leaving with injury. McDaniel led the Irish with 92 yards on 18 carries.
Kessler was 20-for-24 for 201 yards and an interception. Redd finished with a game-high 112 yards rushing on 19 yards with USC's only touchdown.
The Fighting Irish totaled 295 yards of offense in their first home win over the Trojans since Pete Carroll was head coach in 2001. They had just 47 total yards in the second half. USC gained 330 total yards, with 121 in the second half.