Notre Dame Football: The Irish's 10 Most Memorable Wins over USC

Matt Smith@MattSmithCFBCorrespondent IIIOctober 18, 2013

Notre Dame Football: The Irish's 10 Most Memorable Wins over USC

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Notre Dame's fiercest rival, the USC Trojans, comes to town tomorrow night at 7:30 p.m. in a nationally televised tilt on NBC.

    The rivalry is steeped in rich history dating back to 1926, with the Fighting Irish currently leading the series 44-35-5.

    Here are the top 10 Irish wins over the Trojans.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

1929: Notre Dame 13, USC 12

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    Photo: University of Notre Dame
    Photo: University of Notre Dame

    Notre Dame did not play a game in South Bend in 1929 due to the construction of Notre Dame Stadium, which opened the following season. The fourth meeting between the Irish and Trojans was held at Soldier Field in Chicago, with Notre Dame sporting a perfect 6-0 record.

    Led by guard and team captain John Law (yes, guards were actually captains back then), the Irish thrilled most of the 112,000 on hand along the shores of Lake Michigan with a narrow 13-12 win, the only game all season in which Notre Dame allowed 10 or more points.

    Head coach Knute Rockne missed the game due to an illness, but visited the team at halftime in a wheelchair with the game tied, 6-6. The inspired Irish outlasted the Trojans in the second half, helping propel Notre Dame to a national title after a 7-0 win against Army in the season finale.

1947: Notre Dame 38, USC 7

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    Photo: University of Notre Dame
    Photo: University of Notre Dame

    With the series on hiatus during World War II due to travel restrictions, 1947 was Notre Dame's first visit to Los Angeles since 1942. December's first Saturday saw the national title on the line between the bitter rivals, with the Irish ranked No. 1 and the Trojans ranked No. 3.

    Quarterback Johnny Lujack was the Heisman Trophy winner, but it was the Irish's running backs who helped turn a 10-7 lead at halftime into a 38-7 rout. Emil Sitko and John Livingstone each had touchdowns of 75 yards or longer in the third quarter to break open the game.

    Notre Dame went on to claim the national championship after the blowout victory, holding off No. 2 Michigan. It was Frank Leahy's third straight national title after Leahy had already won crowns in 1943 and 1946 surrounding a two-year stint in the Navy.

1965: Notre Dame 28, USC 7

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    Notre Dame had revenge on its mind entering its 1965 game in South Bend. USC had spoiled Notre Dame's perfect season 11 months earlier with a stunning 20-17 upset over the top-ranked Irish in South Bend.

    USC sported the Heisman Trophy winner for that season in running back and future athletic director Mike Garrett (last seen hiring Lane Kiffin in 2010), but Notre Dame held Garrett to a mere 43 yards in a comfortable 28-7 win. The most efficient ball-carrier in South Bend that day was Irish fullback Larry Conjar, who scored all four Notre Dame touchdowns.

    The weather also aided the home team on a raw late October afternoon in northern Indiana (a rarity, right?). A loss to Michigan State four weeks later knocked Notre Dame out of national title contention, but the Irish got their revenge after seeing the Trojans break their hearts in 1964.

1966: Notre Dame 51, USC 0

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    Photo: University of Notre Dame
    Photo: University of Notre Dame

    The second of four consecutive meetings where both Notre Dame and USC entered the game as top-10 teams took place in 1966. The No. 1 Irish were on the road for a second straight week, having squeaked out a 10-10 tie a week previously in the "Game of the Century" at No. 2 Michigan State.

    Quarterback Coley O'Brien, filling in again for the injured Terry Hanratty, completed 21-of-31 passes—an impressive achievement by 1966 standards—for three touchdowns. Future NFL stars defensive end Alan Page and linebacker Jim Lynch held No. 10 USC without a point.

    The 51-0 win remains the largest margin of victory in the series to date, as well as the only time that the Irish have reached the 50-point barrier against the men of Troy. 

    Notre Dame then held off the Spartans and No. 3 Alabama to win head coach Ara Parseghian's first national title, claiming 41 of 56 votes in the final Associated Press poll.

1977: Notre Dame 49, USC 19

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    Photo: University of Notre Dame
    Photo: University of Notre Dame

    Dan Devine's first two-and-a-half seasons at Notre Dame were a bit of a struggle, following in the sizable footsteps of Ara Parseghian. By the lofty standards of Fighting Irish fans, seven losses in less than three years were deemed to be a major disappointment.

    With 5-1 USC coming to South Bend midway through the 1977 season, Devine knew he desperately needed a win over the Trojans. After having his team go through pregame warm-ups in its traditional blue jerseys, Devine had a surprise for the Irish upon their return to the locker room: green jerseys.

    Devine's magic worked to perfection, as the Irish built a commanding 35-7 lead and rolled to a 49-19 victory over USC. 

    Less than three months later, Devine would ensure his place in Notre Dame history by leading Notre Dame to the national title.

1986: Notre Dame 38, USC 37

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    Photo: University of Notre Dame
    Photo: University of Notre Dame

    Lou Holtz was 9-1-1 in 11 meetings with USC, but for most of the 1986 clash in Los Angeles, it looked like Holtz's first game against the Trojans would not go in his favor.

    Notre Dame was already guaranteed a losing record at 4-6, but was hoping to build some momentum for 1987 in the finale.

    Things tarted out well for the Trojans, as three Rodney Peete touchdown passes helped stake USC to a 37-20 lead early in the fourth quarter. Notre Dame contributed to the Trojans' cause with Steve Beuerlein throwing an interception that was returned for a touchdown.

    Beuerlein would become the hero for Notre Dame, though, leading the visitors on back-to-back touchdown drives to close within 37-35 (Holtz went for two points after the second touchdown).

    The Irish got the ball back late and drove inside the 5-yard line to set up John Carney's game-winning 19-yard field goal. The kick allowed Carney to end his season on a successful note after missing a game-winning field goal attempt in the opener against Michigan.

1988: Notre Dame 27, USC 10

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    Photo: University of Notre Dame
    Photo: University of Notre Dame

    It was No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 2 USC for the first time ever in the rivalry's history on the final Saturday of November in 1988.

    To the winner would go the inside track to the national title, with USC headed to the Rose Bowl to play Michigan and Notre Dame destined for a showdown with unbeaten West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl.

    The visitors raced to a 14-0 lead behind touchdown runs from quarterback Tony Rice and tailback Mark Green. After USC closed to within 14-7, Stan Smagala intercepted Rodney Peete and returned it 62 yards for a touchdown to extend the lead back to 14 points. On the play, Irish linebacker Frank Stams threw a legendary block on Peete.

    USC would not reach the end zone the rest of the day, as two Reggie Ho field goals gave the Irish an insurmountable 27-10 lead. The Irish went on to defeat West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl and claim the program's most recent national title. 

1989: Notre Dame 28, USC 24

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    Fiery Southern Cal quarterback Todd Marinovich led the Trojans into South Bend, Ind., for a prime-time affair against the Irish, who hadn't lost a game in more than 21 months. A pregame skirmish, a la the 1988 Notre Dame-Miami game, raised the tension even more for the showdown between ninth-ranked USC and No. 1 Notre Dame.

    Two Notre Dame turnovers, both by dynamic wide receiver Raghib "Rocket" Ismail, helped the Trojans take a 17-7 halftime lead. The Irish rallied in the second half with touchdown runs from Ricky Watters and Anthony Johnson to put the Irish ahead.

    Marinovich then found top target John Jackson for a go-ahead touchdown, one of 14 receptions on the night for Jackson. The battle-tested Irish would not relent, however, as Rice ran for the winning touchdown with just under 10 minutes to play. The Irish defense held from there for a 28-24 win, as USC's final drive ended at the Notre Dame 12-yard line.

1995: Notre Dame 38, USC 10

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    Photo: University of Notre Dame
    Photo: University of Notre Dame

    ESPN's College Gameday was on hand to seemingly see Keyshawn Johnson and No. 3 USC move one step closer to a national title with a win over two-loss Notre Dame.

    After going 0-9-1 in their prior 10 meetings with the Irish, it appeared as if the Trojans would finally end Notre Dame's decade-long hex over them.

    But things couldn't have gone worse for USC, as the Trojans committed four turnovers and were overpowered by a Notre Dame running game led by Marc Edwards. The bruising fullback found the end zone three times while sophomore quarterback Ron Powlus connected on 18-of-29 passes.

    It would be Lou Holtz's final victory over USC, as Holtz resigned following a loss to the Trojans in Los Angeles the following season. Holtz had plenty of big wins over Notre Dame's most hated rival, but none was more unexpected than the rout in 1995.

2012: Notre Dame 22, USC 13

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    Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

    USC entered the 2012 season ranked No. 1, but it was the Irish who held the top spot in the polls when they arrived in Los Angeles for the season finale. A win over the slumping 7-4 Trojans, who were without injured quarterback Matt Barkley, was all Notre Dame needed to earn a spot in the BCS Championship Game.

    Notre Dame had ridden its defense to an 11-0 record, and that was the game plan as well against the Trojans and redshirt freshman quarterback Max Wittek. The Irish scored just one touchdown, but got five field goals from clutch place-kicker Kyle Brindza to build a 22-13 lead.

    Star wide receiver Marqise Lee finally broke through late in the fourth quarter, beating Bennett Jackson deep to set up a first-and-goal situation. After three run attempts were shunned, Wittek's fourth-down pass fell incomplete, allowing the Irish to run out the clock and complete the team's first perfect regular season since 1988.