LOS ANGELES – Notre Dame had to travel from South Bend, Ind., to South Central Los Angeles to earn a trip to South Beach and the Irish did just that with a 22-13 victory over USC, capping a perfect 12-0 regular season and sending them to their first-ever BCS National Championship Game.
Notre Dame will play the winner of next Saturday’s SEC Championship Game between #2 Alabama and #3 Georgia on Jan. 7th.
Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson didn’t have a touchdown, but managed the game and completed 15 of 26 passes for 217 yards. He also ran for 47 yards on nine carries. Theo Riddick rushed for 146 yards and a score on 20 carries and had three receptions for 33 yards. Tight end Tyler Eifert caught four passes for 69 yards.
USC had a chance to get closer in the final minutes, but the Irish defense wouldn’t budge in the end. Even with a pair of pass interference penalties in the end zone, the Trojans couldn’t get in. USC quarterback Max Wittek was stopped on a pair of quarterback sneaks from the one-yard line, running back Curtis McNeal was stuffed and Wittek’s fourth-down pass to fullback Soma Vainuku wasn’t corralled, giving the Irish back with less than two minutes to play and sealing the victory.
In his first career start, Wittek completed 14 of 23 passes for 186 yards and a touchdown, but had two interceptions. USC’s star wide receiver Marqise Lee was held in check with five receptions for 75 yards while Robert Woods caught seven passes for 92 yards and a score.
Leading 16-10, Manti Te’o recorded his seventh interception of the season (most by an FBS linebacker since 2000) on USC’s first drive of the second half, the Irish offense started with golden field position at the Trojan 38-yard line. However, four plays and 22 yards later Notre Dame kicker Kyle Brindza missed a 34-yard goal wide left to give the ball right back to the Trojans with 11:50 remaining in the third quarter.
After an exchange of punts and a terrific third down stop by Irish nose-guard Louis Nix III, Notre Dame took over on the Trojan 14-yard line with 5:55 remaining in the third quarter. Behind the determined running of Riddick and a 31-yard completion to Eifert the Irish went 70 yards on nine plays in 5:24. Eifert’s catch pushed him into first place on the all-time list for receiving yards by a Notre Dame tight end. Brindza converted a 33-yard field goal with 31 seconds remaining in the third quarter to extend the Irish lead to 19-10.
USC pushed the ball inside Notre Dame’s five-yard line on the first drive of the fourth quarter, but the Irish defense stiffened and forced 21-yard field goal by USC kicker Andre Heidari that made it a one-score game, at 19-13, with nine minutes to go.
A 39-yard return by George Atkinson III on the ensuing kickoff set the Irish up near midfield. Riddick ripped off a 20-yard run followed by two carries for 12 yards by Wood to start the drive. A 15-yard scamper by Riddick gave the Irish a 1st-and-goal, but Golson was stopped twice and his third-down pass to Eifert sailed wide. Still, Brindza’s chip shot field goal pushed it back to a two-score game, 22-13, with six minutes to play.
The Trojans struck back quickly though as Lee returned the kickoff 43 yards and then caught a 53-yard bomb to set USC up at Notre Dame’s two-yard line, but were unable to get in.
The Irish received the game’s opening kickoff after USC won the toss and deferred to the second half. It didn’t take Golson long to get to work as he engineered a nine play drive that covered 66 yards in just over 3:30. Golson looked sharp in the series completing two-of-three passes including a 22-yarder to Robby Toma that set up the Irish first and ten from the Trojan 41-yard line. Notre Dame managed to get inside the 10-yard line on a Riddick run, but after a one-yard loss by Wood, an Irish third down pass fell incomplete. Brindza booted a 27-yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead early in the first quarter.
Notre Dame’s offense went back to work quickly after Te’o and company forced a punt on the Trojan’s first series. Starting on their own 13-yard line the Irish put together a 12-play touchdown drive that covered 87 yards and chewed up 6:57 off the clock. Riddick took a handoff from Golson and scampered 9 yards to put the Irish up 10-0 with 1:48 remaining in the first quarter. Notre Dame converted three third downs during the drive including a 12-yard Golson to Eifert strike that gained 12 yards and placed the Irish firmly inside the Trojan 11-yard line. Golson was four-for-four on the drive for 50 yards.
It didn’t take the Trojans long to strike back as Wittek hit wide receiver Woods on an 11-yard slant pass to cut the Irish lead to 10-7 with 14:55 remaining in the first half. The Trojans were aided on the drive by two 15-yard penalties – a pass interference called on KeiVarae Russell and a facemask on Bennett Jackson which moved USC inside the Irish red zone for the first time all night. The Trojan drive covered 75 yards in six plays and only moved 1:57 off the clock.
Notre Dame’s offense continued to hum after the Wood touchdown as Golson guided the Irish on a 13-play, 67-yard drive that ended with a 29-yard Brindza field goal. Brindza’s kick extended the Irish lead to 13-7 with 9:19 remaining in the first half. The Irish moved the chains easily for just about the entire drive hammering out four first downs before stalling on third and six from the Trojan 12-yard line. A Golson pass intended for Eifert fell out of bounds in the corner of the end zone and forced the Brindza attempt. Riddick was the workhouse on the drive, powering for 41 yards on only four carries.
The back and forth continued between both offenses as the Trojans answered the Irish field goal with a 39-yarder of their own that cut the lead to 13-10 with 3:50 remaining in the second quarter. USC running back Silas Red starred during the nine-play drive and was responsible for 45 of the 54 yards gained during the series. The Trojans faced and third and eight inside the Irish 20, but Wittek fumbled the shotgun snap and were forced to settle for an Andre Heidari field goal.
After an Irish punt the Trojans went to work from the Notre Dame 25-yard line with 1:34 left in the half. Irish cornerback Russell had other ideas though as Wittek’s deep pass intended for Lee was intercepted by the true freshman.
Golson faced 83 yards of turf with one timeout left and 1:25 remaining in the first half, but did just enough to get the Irish into what seemed like improbable field goal position. Brindza was confronted with a 52-yard attempt with one second remaining and drilled the second longest field goal in the history of Notre Dame football to extend the Irish lead to 16-10 at halftime. Riddick converted a third and one with his legs while Robby Toma and John Goodman both made key receptions of 11 and 23 yards respectively. Golson finished the half 14-of-22 for 181 yards while Riddick gained 67 yards on only 11 carries.