Oct. 17, 2015
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – In a rivalry carved out of legendary moments, the University of Notre Dame football team pulled off a succession of spectacular plays to add a brilliant chapter to the storied series with USC on Saturday night at sold out Notre Dame Stadium.
Trailing 31-24 early in the fourth quarter, coach Brian Kelly’s Fighting Irish (No. 14/13) rallied with back-to-back fourth quarter scoring drives of 90 and 91 yards, and then held off the Trojans for a thrilling 41-31 triumph.
“Our theme all week was the mental toughness that we wanted to exhibit today, it was the one question we wanted to answer,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “I didn’t see anything on the sideline that resembled our guys not believing they were going to come back.”
Notre Dame now owns a 46-36-5 series lead in the nation’s pre-eminent intersectional rivalry.
Notre Dame’s 41 points is the highest point total by the Irish against USC since the fabled `Green Jersey Game’ in 1977, when Joe Montana and the Irish whacked the Trojans, 49-19.
Notre Dame (6-1) enters a bye week. The Irish return to the field on Saturday, Oct. 31, at Temple. USC (3-3), playing under interim coach Clay Helton after the dismissal of head coach Steve Sarkisian earlier in the week, returns to Pac-12 action next Saturday, Oct. 24, at home against Utah.
On a night of heart-thumping plays, Corey Robinson’s sensational diving catch of a DeShone Kizer bullet gave the Irish a 10-yard TD pass and a 38-31 lead with 9:06 left to play.
Irish cornerback KeiVarae Russell then threw a jolt into the Trojans’ hopes with a leaping over-the-shoulder interception that put the ball back in Irish hands at their 33 with 8:18 left in the game. That led to a 32-yard Justin Yoon field goal with 5:39 left that gave the Irish a 41-31 lead.
Max Redfield then delivered the dagger, soaring to pick off a USC pass and return it 19 yards to the Trojans’ 32 with 5:23 left in the game.
A smash-mouth Irish defensive effort made sure the lead stood for the Irish victory.
Kizer finished with 15-of-24 passing for 227 yards and two touchdown passes. He also rushed 14 times for 47 yards.
Slippery Irish running back C.J. Prosise confounded the Trojans, rushing 19 times for 143 yards and two touchdowns.
Wide receiver Will Fuller caught three passes for 131 yards and a touchdown of 75 yards.
USC snapped a 24-24 halftime tie to pull ahead 31-24 with 9:40 left in the third quarter on a four-yard TD pass from Cody Kessler to Taylor McNamara. A 65-yard run by Ronald Jones to the Notre Dame seven highlighted the Trojans’ drive.
Notre Dame fought back to tie the score at 31-31 with 14:20 left in the fourth quarter. Prosise twisted and powered his way into the end zone from the six to cap a nine-play, 90-yard drive by the Fighting Irish. The drive featured runs of 23 and 12 yards by Kizer, and back-to-back pass interference penalties by USC defenders trying to keep up with Fuller.
Robinson’s TD catch wrapped up the seven-play, 91-yard drive that put the Irish up 38-31 with 9:06 left in the game. The Irish stung USC on the drive with a lateral and pass play that worked for the Trojans in the first half. Kizer lateraled to Torri Hunter Jr., who then passed to Alize Jones for a 35-yard gain to the USC 12. Rushes of 25 and 17 yards by Prosise kept the Irish drive rolling.
Notre Dame surged to a 21-10 lead in a first quarter highlighted by big plays. The Irish first-quarter explosion of 21 points is the most points that the Irish have scored in a single quarter against the Trojans. The previous high was 19 points, racked up by the Irish in a 27-25 loss in 1978.
After USC grabbed a 7-0 lead on its first possession, the Irish unleashed a quick-strike offense.
On Notre Dame’s first offensive play, Fuller outran the Trojans’ secondary and hauled in a pass from Kizer for a 75-yard scoring strike. It was a career-long reception for Fuller, and his sixth TD of the season of at least 30 yards.
USC gained a 10-7 edge, but the Irish quickly counter-punched.
Notre Dame only needed four plays to march 75 yards, taking a 14-10 lead on a 25-yard TD scamper by Prosise.
Amir Carlisle scooped up a punt blocked by Equanimeous St. Brown and raced five yards for a touchdown to cap the scoring flurry and give the Irish a 21-10 lead. It was the first Irish blocked punt for a TD since Robert Blanton pulled off the feat in 2010 against Utah.
Notre Dame added a field goal by Justin Yoon with 5:59 left in the second quarter pushed the Irish lead to 24-10.
USC added to the big-play fireworks of the first half.
On its first play after the Yoon field goal, Jalen Greene took a lateral from quarterback Kessler, and then Greene launched a pass to an open JuJu Smith-Schuster for a 75-yard TD. The Trojans knotted the score on their next series, using an 83-yard pass play from Kessler to Adoree Jackson to make it 24-24.
“If you miss a tackle, those kids are gone,” Kelly said. “They make you pay dearly, and we missed some tackles.”
A field-goal attempt with 15 seconds left in the first half by the Trojans’ Alex Wood banged off the left upright, and the Irish and Trojans headed into the locker room tied at 24-24 after the dramatic half.