LOS ANGELES – For much of the season, top-ranked Notre Dame won with defense and that reliance certainly paid off again Saturday night.
The Fighting Irish forced two turnovers and held USC to just 281 total yards of offense, including 24 in the third quarter, en route to a 22-13 victory over the Trojans in the 84th rendition of the intersectional rivalry at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in front of an announced sellout crowd of 93,607.
Facing quarterback Max Wittek, who was starting his first game in place of Matt Barkley who suffered an shoulder sprain during the Trojans’ prior contest against UCLA, the defensive front pressured the redshirt freshman quarterback, limiting him to just 186 yards on 14-of-23 passing. They also sacked him twice.
Notre Dame, which began the season unranked, appears headed to Miami. With the win, the team, in all likelihood, is bound for the BCS national championship game on Jan. 7 in Miami Gardens, Fla., set to square off against the Southeastern Conference champion, in coach Brian Kelly’s third season in South Bend.
Though never leading, USC would have its chances late to upend the Irish. Trailing by nine points with less than five minutes remaining, a pass from
Wittek to Soma Vainuku on a fourth-and-1 from the goal line was dropped in the end zone on a play that could have brought the score within a field goal and a one-score game.
“As long as they don’t cross the 1-yard line, it doesn’t matter,” said senior linebacker Manti Te’o, who finished with five tackles, including a third-quarter interception that kept the Fighting Irish ahead.
The last time Notre Dame visited Los Angeles, in the Coliseum, it marked Kelly’s first season, and resulted in a 20-16 win for the Irish, giving the coach his second win over the Trojans in three seasons.
Notre Dame scored on its first three drives en route to building a 16-10 lead by halftime.
During the opening half, the Fighting Irish collected 277 total yards of offense, with 181 coming from quarterback Everett Golson, who completed 10 of his first 12 passes.
USC would get a few shots, though. Trailing 10-0 early, the Trojans marched 75 yards in six plays as Max Wittek fired a pass over the middle of the field to wide receiver Robert Woods for an 11-yard touchdown, trimming the lead to three points.
But behind Kyle Brindza, who would nail five field goals, it would add two more field goals, including a 52-yarder, the second longest in school history.
“I always have composure,” said Brindza. “You’re going out there, playing for the No. 1 team in the land right now. You’re playing for one of the best schools; people want to be in your shoes. You have to be the perfect fit for those shoes.”