It was truly fitting that the win to culminate Notre Dame's perfect season and secure a berth in the BCS Championship Game was secured by a goal-line stand.
The defense has driven this squad all year, perfectly demonstrating bend-but-don't-break football and finishing the year first in scoring defense, red-zone defense and touchdown defense.
Tonight it was no different, as the Trojans, leading by nine in the fourth quarter, lined up for a 1st-and-goal run, a second down and a third down before throwing an incomplete pass on fourth down, sealing the victory for the Irish.
Notre Dame set the tone early, as Theo Riddick and the Irish offensive line plowed the USC defensive line into the Coliseum turf, building a 10-0 first-quarter lead.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Everett Golson also started fast, connecting on seven of eight first-quarter passes for over 100 yards.
USC and its freshman quarterback, who is filling in for the injured Matt Barkley, were not ready to roll over and die.
Max Wittek led the Trojans back, testing Notre Dame's corners with USC's soon-to-be-professional wide outs and gashing the Irish with big gains.
The Irish went to the break with only a 16-10 lead.
In the second half, Notre Dame's defense clamped down and held the Trojans to 11 third-quarter yards while extending their lead to 19-10.
Each team added a field goal before the second-most incredible goal-line stand of the Notre Dame season.
The scoreboard indicated a nine-point win, but the play on the field told a different story.
Notre Dame dominated the game.
The Irish outgained USC 439-281.
Out-rushed the Trojans 222-95.
Out-possessed the men of Troy 34:38 to 25:22.
Everett Golson finished 15-27 for 217 yards with 47 yards on nine carries on the ground.
What Golson did not do was find the end zone.
Notre Dame finished four of six in red-zone scoring with only one touchdown.
Twice inside the Trojan 10-yard line, the Irish settled for field goals after Golson threw wildly on 3rd-and-goal attempts to Tyler Eifert.
The only Irish touchdown was scored by Riddick, who led all rushers with 146 yards on 20 carries and was without a doubt the player of the game.
Notre Dame left a lot of points on the field and should have won the football game much more convincingly.
Thankfully, style points no longer matter.
Notre Dame has emerged as the only eligible undefeated team in the BCS (Ohio State also finished 12-0 but is ineligible due to NCAA sanctions) and will carry the No. 1 ranking into the championship game against whichever team wins the SEC.
The game wasn't pretty, but like the rest of the year, it was enough.
Third-year head coach Brian Kelly has done the improbable, navigating a gauntlet of a schedule and having his Fighting Irish standing alone atop the mountain waiting for their challenger.
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