AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
Almost nine full days later and the ND victory over arch-rival USC is still just as sweet. For the first time in eight years, the Irish knocked off the Trojans in the battle for the Jeweled Shilelagh.
Senior RB Robert Hughes came up huge in the final series for ND as the Irish offensive line helped plow the way, dominating a worn out and overmatched USC Trojan defensive line.
At times it was difficult to discern whether or not Hughes was a Jerome Bettis reincarnate or not but make no mistake about it, Hughes put on a show that the aforementioned Bettis would have been proud of.
Notre Dame took command of the game at the end of the 2nd quarter with a pair of 1-yard touchdown passes from Tommy Rees to Michael Floyd and Duval Kamara. Floyd scored with 2:29 remaining and Kamara notched one just before the horn sounded with 0:07 remaining. Kamara's score put the Irish up 13-3 at the half and seemingly in the driver's seat.
But sloppy play in the 3rd quarter allowed the Trojans to tie it up 13 apiece when Mitch Mustain converted on 4th and goal from the 1. It was the first defensive touchdown allowed by the Irish defensive in 13 quarters of play, the longest such streak since 1980.
Tommy Rees, who is undefeated as an Irish starting signal-caller at 3-0, threw 3 interceptions and lost a fumble in an otherwise ho-hum effort. However, when needed, he stepped up on the final Irish drive and connected on two passes to keep the drive alive and help the Irish overcome their short-lived deficit.
Many folks in Trojan land are writing off this loss by saying their team was without its starting quarterback. What those fans neglect to admit or realize is that the Irish were also without their starting quarterback, but instead of turning to a senior who had won 8 games in a row previously turned to a true freshman with minimal experience. Additionally, ND was without arguably the best tight end in the nation in Kyle Rudolph, running back Armando Allen, and nose guard Ian Williams.
Perhaps the biggest callout led by the men and women of Troy is that senior wideout Ronald Johnson dropped what would have surely been a go-ahead touchdown with 1:17 remaining. But with heavy rain pouring down as it had the entire evening Johnson let the ball bounce off his shoulder.
As Coach Brian Kelly said, "It was about time we caught a break."
Moments later, Harrison Smith intercepted a pass to confirm the Irish victory with :36 left.
Fitting that the Irish victory was sealed by its defense, which has gone from bottom-feeder to powerhouse in the matter of one season.
After an abysmal effort against Navy, the Irish D seemed re-energized and determined to show it could handle the triple option as it shut down Army in Yankee Stadium a few weeks ago. Similarly, the Irish D showed up big as the high-octane Utah Utes' offense was also held to just 3 points.
Make no mistake about it, the Notre Dame football team caught fire and did so at the right time of the year, finishing November with a 3-0 record, remarkable considering the back-to-back losses to Navy and Tulsa that preceded the winning streak.
The sweetest of the wins without question is the victory over USC though. In case you missed any of the action, take a look at the highlight clip below. It is slightly over-produced but overall a sound compilation of the moments that led to long overdue jubilation for fans of the Blue and Gold.