Notre Dame 20, USC 16 (final)
Quarterback Mitch Mustain almost made a place for himself in USC-Notre Dame lore.
Making the first start in his four years at USC, Mustain had the Trojans driving in the final minutes of one of college football's most storied rivalries.
But then he fluttered a throw, his intended receiver breaking one way and his pass going the other, and Notre Dame held on, overcoming four of its own turnovers for its first victory against USC in nine years.
Four plays before the interception, Mustain was nearly the hero. On a pass play over the middle, he found Ronald Johnson wide open after Notre Dame defender Harrison Smith slipped and fell down.
Only Johnson, who had no one between him and the end zone, dropped a ball that hit him in the chest.
Not only did that take away a sure touchdown, it also put USC and Mustain in a fourth-down-and-three situation. But the quarterback converted, hitting Rhett Ellison for a 14-yard gain and a first down, then hooking up with Robert Woods for a 16-yard gain on the next play.
That moved the ball to the Notre Dame 23, but on second down Mustain threw a poor pass and this time Notre Dame defender Smith was upright to pull it in at the one yard line with 36 seconds to play.
Notre Dame improved its record to 7-5. USC is also 7-5.
Mustain, playing in place of the injured Matt Barkley, completed 20 of 37 passes for 177 yards. He also scored the Trojans' only touchdown on a one-yard sneak. His favorite receiving target was Woods, who had eight catches for 81 yards.
Notre Dame freshman Tommy Rees, making his third start at quarterback in place of the injured Dayne Crist, completed 20 of 32 passes for 149 yards and two touchdowns with three interceptions. Michael Floyd had 11 receptions for 86 yards and a touchdown for the Irish.
Marc Tyler led USC's ground game with 48 yards in 17 carries.
USC was penalized eight times; Notre Dame once.
Notre Dame 20, USC 16 (2:23 left in the game)
Notre Dame is going to make USC do something it hasn't been able to do all night -- put together a lengthy drive for a touchdown.
The Fighting Irish regained the lead late in the fourth quarter with a seven-play, 77-yard drive.
Robert Hughes scored the touchdown from five yards out, and also had runs of six, 12 and 13 yards on the drive.
USC's defense almost forced a fifth Notre Dame turnover, when Chris Galippo forced Cierre Wood to fumble at the end of a 26-yard game on the second play of the drive.
USC 16, Notre Dame 13 (fourth quarter)
Go figure. USC might win a game with defense and Joe Houston.
Both have been maligned at times this season, but both are coming up big against the Fighting Irish in what now is now a downpour at the Coliseum.
USC's defense keeps coming up with turnovers and the Trojans' offense keeps cashing them in -- barely.
An interception by Marshall Jones set up a 37-yard field goal by Houston with 6 minutes 25 seconds left in the game to give USC the lead.
Jones' pick marked Notre Dame's fourth turnover -- all on its side of the field.
Houston's field goal crossed just inside the left goal post.
USC 13, Notre Dame 13 (midway third quarter)
USC's defense is taking matters into its own hands.
Defensive end Nick Perry slapped the ball out of the hands of Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees, recovered the fumble he forced, and carried it to the Notre Dame two-yard line.
Which was just close enough to the goal line that even the Trojans offense could score a touchdown.
However, it did take all four downs. After three Marc Tyler runs into the center of the line netted one yard, quarterback Mitch Mustain snuck in on fourth and goal.
It was the first touchdown given up by the Notre Dame defense in more than 10 quarters.
Notre Dame 13, USC 6 (early third quarter)
USC's defense did what it needed to -- and more -- on Notre Dame's first possession of the second half.
Linebacker Devon Kennard tipped a Tommy Rees pass, caught it himself at the Notre Dame 29-yard line, and returned it eight yards before being dragged down.
However, the Trojans' offense couldn't fully convert, and USC settled for a 23-yard field goal by Joe Houston.
Notre Dame 13, USC 3 (halftime)
Notre Dame used a methodical drive and a quick drive to overcome a 3-0 deficit and take the lead.
Tommy Rees' one-yard touchdown pass to Michael Floyd with 2:39 left in the first half capped a 16-play, 79-yard drive that consumed more than eight minutes.
The Irish got the ball back with less than a minute left and used only 37 seconds to drive 62 yards in seven plays. Reese connected with receiver Duval Kamara with seven seconds left in the second quarter to put the Irish ahead by 10 points.
Rees has completed 16 of 22 passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception, in the first half. Floyd has eight receptions for 65 yards.
USC quarterback Mitch Mustain is six of 19 for 66 yards. The Trojans have been outgained, 188 yards to 114. USC has converted only two of eight third downs.
Notre Dame 7, USC 3 (late in second quarter)
Just as USC Coach Lane Kiffin feared, Notre Dame receiver Michael Floyd is starting to assert himself.
Floyd has six receptions for 39 yards, including a one-yard touchdown catch with 2:39 left in the first half to cap a 16-play, 79-yard scoring drive.
Freshman quarterback Tommy Rees' 22-yard strike to tight end Tyler Eifert gave the Irish a first and goal at the one.
Rees has completed 12 of 18 passes for 88 yards and a touchdown, with an interception.
USC quarterback Mitch Mustain is six of 12 for 39 yards.
USC 3, Notre Dame 0 (end of first quarter)
Mitch Mustain, starting for the first time since 2006 when he was a freshman at Arkansas, looked shaky at the start but appears to be calming down as the game progresses.
Mustain has completed five of seven passes for 35 yards, 19 coming on a catch-and-run by fullback --Stanley Havili early in the quarter.
Joe Houston's 45-yard field goal was the longest by a Trojans kicker since 2007, when David Buehler kicked a 46-yarder against UCLA.
Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees is four of seven for 30 yards, with an interception.
USC 3, Notre Dame 0 (late in first quarter)
Joe Houston just kicked a career-long, 45-yard field goal to give the Trojans the lead.
Junior linebacker Chris Galippo, who sustained a concussion last week against Oregon State, set up the scoring opportunity by intercepting a Tommy Rees pass with 6 minutes 29 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Trojans had a fourth and two at the Fighting Irish 23, but they were penalized for a false start, setting the stage for Houston's kick.
Mitch Mustain has completed four of six passes for 29 yards.
Trojans seniors are being introduced individually and running onto the field.
Fullback Stanley Havili and quarterback Mitch Mustain received the largest ovations.
Matt Barkley is in uniform and just came out with the rest of the Trojans.
Mitch Mustain just announced himself as the starting quarterback on the Coliseum video board.
Matt Barkley, who is nursing a high ankle sprain, entered the stadium with the rest of the team a few hours ago but was not on the field for warm-ups. He might have been receiving treatment in the locker room.
If Mustain starts as expected, it will be his first start since 2006, when he was a freshman at at Arkansas.
Photo: Notre Dame receiver Michael Floyd scores on a one-yard pass in front of USC linebacker Chris Galippo just before halftime Saturday at the Coliseum. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times