LOS ANGELES —Undefeated.
The No. 3 Notre Dame football team knew an unblemished regular season wouldn’t come easy against rival USC, even as the Trojans entered Saturday’s primetime contest with a 5-6 record.
Indeed, the Irish had to overcome their largest deficit of the season (10 points), but finished on a 24-7 scoring run to leave the Los Angeles Coliseum with 24-17 victory and a 12-0 record.
It marked the first time* since 1988 that the Irish finished the regular season 12-0, and it was the third win for the Irish in their last five trips to USC.
Quarterback Ian Book finished the game 22-39 for 352 yards and two touchdowns (one to Chris Finke, one to Tony Jones Jr.), while running back Dexter Williams netted 91 yards and a touchdown to lead the Irish offense.
Cornerback Julian Love finished with a career-high 12 tackles and a pass break-up, while safety Alohi Gilman had 10 tackles. Cornerback Troy Pride Jr., and linebacker Drue Tranquill each had nine tackles and a fumble recovery apiece.
How It Happened
The first half was marked by an inspired effort from USC, which clicked on both offense and defense to, at first, take a 10-0 lead — Notre Dame’s biggest deficit of the season. The Trojans outgained the Irish 289-210 in the first half and kept Notre Dame off the scoreboard until just before halftime.
The Trojans opened the scoring following an eight-play, 78-yard drive to start the game. Vavae Malepael registered a 14-yard rushing touchdown to put USC up 7-0 at the 11:26 mark of the first quarter.
USC forced two punts and a turnover on downs on Notre Dame’s first three offensive drives, while the Irish failed to corral momentum on the fumble recovery by Pride in the first quarter.
The Trojans made it 10-0 on Michael Brown’s 30-yard field goal at 11:51 of the second quarter.
The Irish drought ended with 2:20 remaining before halftime when Finke snared his second touchdown catch of the season on a 24-yard strike from Book. The score capped an 11-play, 64-yard drive that began on a fair catch interference penalty against USC on the punt to Finke.
It was an active half for Finke, who established a season high in both catches (seven) and yards (86) in the first half.
Following the Irish score, USC looked to charge down the field, but Gilman forced a fumble of Amon-Ra St. Brown and the review yielded an Irish recovery at their own 15 with a minute left. The Irish looked to the end zone after driving to the USC 41, but Book’s completion to Miles Boykin stalled at the three-yard line as time expired and the Trojans maintained their three-point lead.
After trading three-and-outs to start the second half, the Irish began their second drive at their own 33-yard line. After Book completed a 15-yard pass to tight end Alizé Mack, Williams busted loose for a 52-yard scoring run to give the Irish their first lead of the game at 14-10 with 10:49 left in the third.
The Irish and Trojans traded punts again and Notre Dame nearly recorded a third USC turnover on an apparent Julian Love interception that ultimately fell incomplete to bring up fourth down an another Trojan punt. The Irish responded with an eight-play, 31-yard drive that included a fourth-down conversion that put Notre Dame within field goal range and ended with a 46-yard Justin Yoon kick to extend the Irish lead to 17-10 with 1:07 remaining in the quarter.
The Irish again stalled the Trojan offense to force a punt, but the ensuing Irish drive resulted in an interception of Book in the end zone with 7:54 remaining in the game. Notre Dame’s defense stood tall, however, and defensive tackle Jerry Tillery registered a key sack of JT Daniels inside the six-minute to bring on another USC punt.
After taking over at their own 30, the Irish converted on third down with a 16-yard run by Book and, after two short-yardage runs to bring up another third down, Book found Jones for a 51-yard touchdown run to give the Irish the 24-10 lead at 3:09 to effectively put the game out of reach.
USC reached the end zone with 48 seconds remaining, but the Irish recovered the on-side kick attempt and kneeled it out for the victory.
Notre Dame held USC to 83 yards of total offense in the third quarter, outscoring the Trojans 10-0. The Irish improved to +58 (103-45) in the third quarter this season. Notre Dame held USC to just seven points in the second half, holding the Trojans to 154 yards in the final 30 minutes.
Along with stifling the USC offense in the second half, Notre Dame outgained the Trojans 263-154 in the second half.
The Irish will learn their postseason fate at noon ET Sunday, Dec. 2, during the College Football Playoff Selection Show on ESPN.
*2012 season record vacated by discretionary NCAA ruling.