Loss to USC dashes BCS dream
Notre Dame's new helmets were so bright sunglasses were needed during the first night game at Notre Dame Stadium in 21 years. Towels were handed out for fans to wave. Ozzie Osbourne music was blasted from the sound system ad nauseam to pump up the crowd and give the Fighting Irish a greater home-field advantage.
But it doesn't matter how shiny your helmets are when you're getting blown off the ball, as Notre Dame was early. It doesn't matter how loud the crowd when you have a third-and-goal on the 1-yard line one second and an opposing player has the ball under his arm and nothing but green grass between him and the end zone the next. Towel-waving fans don't help players catch passes.
Gimmicks couldn't overcome fundamental football --- blocking, tackling, snapping, catching --- in a 31-17 USC victory on Saturday night that will likely propel the Trojans into the Top 25 . Meanwhile, Notre Dame's goal of qualifying for a BCS bowl game is on life support after turnovers that plagued the offense in back-to-back losses to start the season cost them again.
USC coach Lane Kiffin said it was his biggest win at USC because of the pageantry surrounding it. Was it Brian Kelly's toughest loss at Notre Dame?
"No. Losing stinks," Kelly said. "For me, it's hard to put a stink meter on losing. They all stink."
Senior backup quarterback Dayne Crist replaced starter Tommy Rees when Rees hyperextended his knee and helped position the ball on the USC 1 before fumbling a snap. Trojan safety Jawanza Starling scooped up the ball at the 20 and returned it 80 yards to put USC in front 24-14 with 53 seconds left in the third quarter.
"It was deflating," running back Jonas Gray said of the play.
It was 24-17 when Rees threw a backward pass that went through running back Cierre Wood's hands before being recovered by USC with 8:46 left. USC quarterback Matt Barkley responded with a 14-yard touchdown pass to a diving Robert Woods with 7:47 left in the game.
"Every time we try to take a step forward we seem to take one step back," Kelly said. "I'm not going to tolerate it. It's not going to be pretty this week in practice. If we have to go back and tackle every day, we'll tackle every day, because they know how I feel about the way we played."
Any hope of a late rally were dashed when Nickell Robey intercepted a Rees pass on the ensuing drive.
The USC offensive line manhandled Notre Dame's front seven early as the Trojans had 14 points before the Irish earned their first first down. George Atkinson III came to the rescue of a sluggish offense when he returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown with 3:22 left in the half.
With their chances of qualifying for a BCS game dashed, the Irish will need a new goal.
"If you have any type of fire in you at all you're going to keep playing as hard as you can," senior safety Harrison Smith said. "If you're a quitter you shouldn't be on the team anyway."
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