The #2 ranked USC Trojans knew all about the Notre Dame defense and their national leading time-of-possession offense when they arrived in South Bend for their big time match against the hosting Irish in jam packed Notre Dame Stadium. They also were well aware of the number of sacks the Irish defense had piled up thus far on the season and had read numerous times about the ball-hawking exploits of senior corner-back Oscar Combs. So,head coach Jeff Beyel opted to pound the football inside behind his powerful offensive line and utilize a shorter passing game designed to stay away from Combs and shift towards flanker William Tucker and running back Pablo Howell. Tucker would snag 5 balls for 102 yards and a score while Howell would haul in four passes for an additional 48 yards as part of a 429 yard total offensive effort and a convincing 34-17 win.
Trojan quarterback Ed Baker was a steady 335 yards and 2 touchdowns but, more significantly, did not throw a single interception. He did absorb 3 sacks but his clean slate would mark the first time all season the Fighting Irish did not garner at least 1 interception in a game all year long. That stat was not lost on Beyel who would note the play of Baker a key to the game, “We knew how may picks they had this year and it was a point of emphasis to secure the football with a quicker shorter passing game and to stay away from Combs quite a bit. No way we were going to just ignore our top wide in Mike Faison but we did not want to tempt fate all game long either.” The USC defense played well as well limiting the Irish to just 83 yards on the ground and getting after both Irish quarterbacks Robert Smith and John Le. “Our ability to pressure the quarterback really helped our secondary against a very talented passing unit today.” stated Beyel. USC would record 6 sacks in the contest allowing the Irish to complete just 17 of 36 passes.
The Trojans (6-0) would take a commanding 24-3 lead following an 18 yard touchdown reception by Montgomery and a mark Carey 22 yard field goal in the third quarter. However, Notre Dame showed its grit by tallying two scores of their own, both by Scott Graves, to close to within 24-17. Graves would plow in from 1 yard out and then go a magnificent 60 yards for his other score on a screen play from QB Robert Smith but the Trojans would respond beautifully. “I was especially proud of how we handled the pressure there in the second half as they rallied.” Beyel explained, “Their crowd was really into it and the momentum has shifted but we were able to recover and get the job done without panicking.” Indeed, USC would go back up, 31-17, when Baker found Montgomery from 16 yards out against the zone early in the final quarter. Then, WLB Charles Garcia would snuff out the next Irish drive with his second interception of the game that would set up the games final score, a 27 yard Carey trey.
News and notes: USC was able to control the clock with over 33 minutes of possession. Garcia’s two picks were his first of the season for USC. Trojan LT John Brown suffered a lacerated finger and is listed as doubtful for the crucial Pac 12 game against Arizona State out in the desert. If Brown cannot go on the blind side then freshman Reginald Bunch could get the nod.