Irish stop USC, head to national title game
LOS ANGELES -- Send a volley cheer on high. Top-ranked Notre Dame defeated USC, 22-13, Saturday night to finish unbeaten for the first time in almost a quarter-century.
The Irish called down echoes of past success with a defense led by linebacker Manti Te'o that was so unyielding that USC couldn't even score with a first down at the 2-yard line, along with an offense that enabled Kyle Brindza to kick a school-record five field goals.
"They're not very exotic," USC coach Lane Kiffin said of the Irish defenders, "but they don't screw up. They're very good."
At the game's conclusion, Irish players dashed to the east end zone of the Coliseum, where the large Notre Dame segment from the sellout crowd of 93,607 celebrated the victory.
The Irish (12-0) were guaranteed a place in the BCS Championship Game on Jan. 7, 2013, in Miami. USC, which began the season as No. 1, lost for the fourth time in its last five games and ended a disappointing 7-5.
The Trojans, with redshirt freshman quarterback Matt Wittek starting for the first time, had an occasional big play but were outgained 439 yards to 281. They were held to 24 yards in the third quarter. Notre Dame had the ball more than 34 minutes of the total 60.
"They have a good scheme," Kiffin said of the Irish defense, "and great players down there. It's so hard to score touchdowns against them. We had the ball on the 2-inch line and couldn't get it in."
That was late in the game when USC, with a first-and- goal at the Notre Dame 2 -- and even aided by two pass-interference penalties -- came out with zero points.
"Well, that's who we are,'' Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. "It's been our defense all year. Our offense is able to manage enough points.''
"It doesn't matter where the ball is,'' Te'o said. "We're going to protect the end zone at all costs.''
The sequence was the game in miniature, the Irish having their way when they needed to have their way. At times USC seemed overmatched, even though it stayed close on the scoreboard.
For Notre Dame, Theo Riddick ran for 146 yards and the lone touchdown. Quarterback Everett Golson ran for 47 and completed 15 of 26 passes for 217 yards.
Wittek was needed because Matt Barkley, the senior who was the Heisman Trophy favorite in preseason, incurred a shoulder injury the previous Saturday against UCLA. Wittek had said during the week that he would lead the Trojans to a win. But he threw a couple of interceptions and wound up completing 14 of 23.
Brindza kicked field goals of 27, 29, 52, 33 and 19 yards -- he missed a 34-yarder -- and made certain Notre Dame drives would result in points.
On the other side, the touchdown USC scored was only the 10th allowed all season by Notre Dame, the fewest by any major school.
The victory eases old memories for the Irish, who in both 1964 and 1970 were unbeaten and No. 1 and lost to USC in the final game of each season. In 1964, the Irish led 17-0 at halftime, but the Trojans rallied. That wasn't to happen in 2012.
Notre Dame is likely to face a Southeastern Conference opponent in Miami, but won't know for another week which one. USC is headed to a lower-tier bowl in the first year after its NCAA-mandated two-year postseason ban ended.