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Irish eyes now targeted on Southern Cal

Caption
(AP photo)
Notre Dame wide receiver TJ Jones scores on a pass from quarterback Everett Golson against Wake Forest during the first half Saturday in South Bend, Ind.

SOUTH BEND, Ind. – When the game clock ticked to zero at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday, all thoughts turned to USC.

Avoid a clunker next weekend in Los Angeles against the scuffling Trojans, who have lost three of their last four games, and the Irish believed everything else – namely, a spot in the BCS Championship game – would work itself out.

Turns out they only needed to wait hours, not days, to be in position to win a national title. Notre Dame entered Saturday sitting at No. 3 in the BCS standings behind Kansas State and Oregon, and the Irish kept their title hopes alive by delivering a 38-0 beatdown against Wake Forest.

But thanks to No. 1 Kansas State’s 52-24 loss at Baylor and No. 2 Oregon’s 17-14 overtime loss at home to Stanford, the Irish control their fate. Beat USC and a spot in the BCS Championship game is theirs.

“We have one game left on our schedule,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “Our guys know what’s at stake. This is about an undefeated season. They cannot do anything but beat USC.

“I voted them No. 1 in the country for a reason because I think they’re the best team in the country, and I think they played like that tonight.”

The Irish, 11-0 for the first time since 1989, embraced the seasonlong mantra of staying focused and not looking ahead. That philosophy is no longer a concern with just one regular-season game remaining. It’s fitting that rival USC is Notre Dame’s final obstacle blocking them from perfection – and their first shot at a national title in 24 years. Notre Dame’s path to the national title received a boost with the report that USC quarterback Matt Barkley suffered a separated shoulder in Saturday’s loss to UCLA, making his status for the rivalry game uncertain.

“There is no next week,” senior linebacker Manti Te’o said. “It’s USC. There is no game after that. We take care of USC, we’ll be fine.”

The Irish overwhelmed the Demon Deacons’ defense, amassing 584 total yards of offense with 23 first downs. A balanced attack of sophomore quarterback Everett Golson (career-high 346 passing yards) and senior running back Cierre Wood (156 rushing yards on 11 carries) ignited Notre Dame’s offense. By the end of the first quarter, the Irish led Wake Forest 21-0. It was the fastest Notre Dame scored three touchdowns in a game since 2008 against Michigan.

Despite the undefeated record and notable wins against Michigan, Stanford and at Oklahoma, there was a perception that the Irish may have failed to earn any style points on the way to tallying 11 wins. They’ve won five of their games by seven points or less, including two in overtime. But that doesn’t matter anymore.

“Where the [heck] do style points come from? I hate that,” defensive lineman Louis Nix III said. “I don’t believe in style points. I believe in winning and that’s what you do in playing football. You don’t need style points. I don’t think it’s good to run up the score on teams and do all that stuff.”

Led by a defense that is considered one of the best in the country – they’re allowing 10.1 points per game – a dominating performance on both sides of the ball Saturday delivered a reminder that the Irish aren’t a one-trick pony.

“We knew coming in we were going to have issues with their defense,” Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said. “They might be the best defensive football team in the country.”

• Meghan Montemurro is a sports reporter for Shaw Media. She can be reached at mmontemurro@shawmedia.com.

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