Oct 18, 2003
By TOM COYNE
AP Sports Writer
SOUTH BEND, Ind. – USC coach Pete Carroll wasn’t surprised after his fifth-ranked Trojans beat Notre Dame by 31 points for the second year in a row.
“We played in the kind of fashion that we have been for a while now,” Carroll said. “I loved our offense today.”
With Matt Leinart throwing for 351 yards and four touchdowns, Southern California routed the Fighting Irish 45-14 on Saturday. Last year, the Trojans won 44-13 and knocked the Irish out of contention for a Bowl Championship Series game.
“We’re not anywhere near where I hoped or expected for us to be,” Irish coach Tyrone Willingham said.
With another big win in the one of nation’s top rivalries, USC (6-1) remained in the national title race, while the Irish (2-4) are in danger of a losing season.
Helping out Leinart was Reggie Bush, who ran 58 yards for a touchdown. Mike Williams had nine catches for 112 yards and score and Keary Colbert had eight catches for 120 yards and a TD.
“Everything was working. Everything was wide open,” Leinart said. “Everyone was just doing their job and that’s what I did.”
The back-to-back routs in a rivalry that began in 1926 matched the other most lopsided win for USC, a 55-24 victory in 1974.
The only time either team has had more lopsided wins in consecutive years in the 75-year history of the rivalry is in 1965-66, when the Irish won 28-7 and 51-0. Neither team has come close to dominating by so much in each year, though, in a series Notre Dame leads 42-28-5.
Willingham said the Irish seemed tentative, just as they did last season in Los Angeles. Asked why that occurred, Willingham said: “If I knew, we would have solved that before the final second ticked off.”
Carroll said the Trojans weren’t out to do anything special Saturday.
“We wanted to come in and play like we’re capable of playing, and that situation proved that we could,” he said.
Led by Leinart, who replaced Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer this season, USC scored on four of its first five possessions in getting off to its best start since 1995.
Hershel Dennis and Gregg Guenther Jr. also caught TD passes, and Dennis added a TD run. Ryan Killeen added a 29-yard field goal.
After each team scored on its first possession, USC scored 31 straight points against an Irish defense looking to avenge last year’s poor effort,
Like Palmer, who passed for 425 yards against the Irish last year, Leinart dominated. He was 16 of 20 for 229 yards with the TD passes in the first half.
Leinart came out throwing, completing 10 of 13 for 142 yards in the first quarter, which ended with USC ahead 21-14. Leinart finished 26 of 34 with no interceptions.
The Trojans picked up where they left off in last year’s game, driving 80 yards on each of their first three drives. Leinart threw TD passes of 18 yards to Colbert and 7 yards to Williams before Bush ran 58 yards for another score.
USC went ahead 28-14 on Leinart’s 3-yard TD pass to Dennis, and added a TD on the first possession of the second half – Leinart’s 7-yard TD pass to Guenther.
The Irish, who had just 109 yards total offense against USC a year ago, finished with 279 yards Saturday. Julius Jones scored on a 22-yard run and Anthony Fasano scored on a 2-yard pass from Brady Quinn, who was 15 of 34.
“We just broke down,” Jones said. “We were playing good the first couple of drives, after that we fell apart.”
The loss was especially disappointing for the Irish, who hoped a win against Pittsburgh last season would be a turning point. Instead, they are off to their worst start since 1997 and face tough games against Boston College and Florida State.
“The better team won today. That’s all I have to say,” Jones said.