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USC 31, Notre Dame 17 (final)

October 22, 2011 |  8:10 pm

Usc-nd5_600

If, as he has said, last year's loss to Notre Dame at the Coliseum was Lane Kiffin's worst defeat as a head coach, Saturday's win at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind., surely was among the sweetest.

USC ran its record to 6-1 and ended Notre Dame's four-game winning streak with an impressive victory.

"I'm proud of our guys, not having penalties and taking care of the football. That's what you've got to do," Kiffin said in a television interview after the game.

"You better play defense and run the ball if you come on the road."

The Trojans defense came up with three second-half turnovers, Matt Barkley operated efficiently at quarterback and two banged-up running backs produced when they had to for USC.

Oh, and Robert Woods was Robert Woods again.

Coming off a season-low five catches against California in USC's last game, the sophomore had 12 catches for 119 yards and two touchdowns against the Fighting Irish.

He was Barkley's favorite target by far, but the quarterback was otherwise hard to figure -- he connected with nine different receivers and finished with 224 yards passing, having completed 24 of 35 attempts for three touchdowns.

Curtis McNeal and Marc Tyler sparked a 219-yard rushing performance. McNeal had 118 yards in 24 carries and Tyler had 67 yards in 13 carries.

Kiffin credited USC's oft-maligned offensive line. "That's a great run defense led by a great middle linebacker [Manti Te'o]," the coach said. "Our guys did a really good job."

Meanwhile, Notre Dame couldn't sustain anything on the ground. The Fighting Irish netted 41 yards in 14 carries -- more than half of that coming on a 25-yard touchdown burst by Jonas Gray.

Michael Floyd, Notre Dame's star receiver, was never a factor. The 6-foot-3, 224-pound junior had four catches for 28 yards thanks largely to blanket coverage by USC's Nickell Robey, a 5-8, 165-pound sophomore. 

RELATED:

USC vs. Notre Dame photos

USC 31, Notre Dame 17 (late in fourth quarter)

Nickell Robey is having the game of his life for USC.

Only 5 feet 8 inches tall and 165 pounds, he has dominated his matchup with Michael Floyd, Notre Dame's 6-3, 224-pound star receiver.

Floyd has only four catches for 28 yards and Robey just picked off a pass that was intended for Floyd, giving USC the ball at midfield with 6 minutes 43 seconds remaining in the game.

USC 31, Notre Dame 17 (7:47 left in the fourth quarter)

USC has cashed in on a Notre Dame turnover, with Robert Woods -- who else? -- making a diving catch of a 14-yard pass from quarterback Matt Barkley for a touchdown.

Andre Heidari looked good on the point-after try, drilling it high and straight through.

Woods has 12 catches for 119 yards and two touchdowns.

USC 24, Notre Dame 17 (midway through the fourth quarter)

USC had better hope this game is not decided by a kick.

Andre Heidari, who has been a solid producer all season, was injured in the first half and badly missed a 32-yard field-goal attempt wide left.

USC has not said what the injury was, but if that kick is any indication, he is not 100% healthy.

However, USC just came up with a big turnover when linebacker Chris Galippo hustled to recover a backward pass from Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees in the direction of running back Cierre Wood at the Fighting Irish 18.

USC 24, Notre Dame 17 (14:07 left in fourth quarter)

Notre Dame hasn't been able to do much running the ball -- until a 25-yard burst by Jonas Gray for a touchdown that cut USC's lead back to a touchdown.

Gray sprinted through a big hole over right tackle, cut left to the sideline and scored untouched.

That came at the end of a five-play, 62-yard drive that took only 1 minute 46 seconds.

Gray's run more than doubled Notre Dame's rushing total. The Fighting Irish have run for 43 yards in 12 carries.

USC 24, Notre Dame 10 (53 seconds left in third quarter)

Dayne Crist is in at quarterback for Notre Dame, replacing starter Tommy Rees, who appears to have sustained an injury to his right leg.

And it didn't take long for the former Sherman Oaks Notre Dame High star to be involved in a big play -- for USC.

Crist fumbled the snap from center with Notre Dame at the one-yard line. After it was inadvertently kicked away from the end zone, USC's Jawanza Starling picked it up and ran 80 yards for a touchdown.

Before the fumble, Notre Dame had marched 90 yards in 19 plays.

Rees is now back in for Notre Dame, with a brace on his right knee.

USC 17, Notre Dame 10 (halftime)

In a television interview at halftime, USC Coach Lane Kiffin was asked how the Trojans having two banged-up running backs would factor into his play-calling.

His response: "Throw on every down."

Matt Barkley just might be up for it. He has completed 12 of 20 passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns in the first half.

USC has dominated the game if not the score. The Trojans have an edge in time of possession, 19 minutes 20 seconds to 10:40, as well as total yards (253-127) and rushing (128-17).

Tommy Rees has completed 13 of 21 passes for 110 yards for Notre Dame.

--Mike Hiserman

USC 17, Notre Dame 10 (21 seconds left in the first half)

Another special teams miscue hurts the Trojans.

Kyle Negrete's punt from the 49-yard line traveled only 22 yards, giving Notre Dame the ball at its 25 instead of deeper in its territory.

Tommy Rees completed six of seven passes to move the Irish to USC's 12.

But a run and two incomplete passes forced the Irish to settle for David Ruffer's 24-yard field goal.

USC 17, Notre Dame 7 (3:34 left in first half)

Just when it looked like the Trojans could put away the Fighting Irish early. . . .

USC went ahead by 17 points on a 25-yard field goal by Andre Heidari, but Notre Dame answered with a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by George Atkinson III.

Atkinson, a freshman from Stockton, is the son of former Oakland Raiders safety George Atkinson.

Atkinson's return was the longest at Notre Dame Stadium since Julius Jones returned a kickoff 100 yards against Nebraska in 2000.

USC 14, Notre Dame 0 (end of first quarter)

Lane Kiffin mixes it up effectively as the Trojans' offense keeps the Fighting Irish off balance.

After runnig the ball the majority of the first drive, Matt Barkley came out firing on USC's second possession.

He hit Marqise Lee for 19 yards on the first play, Robert Woods took a short pass and turned it into a 19-yard gain on the second and the Trojans were on their way to 62-yard, six-play scoring drive.

Barkley completed all four of his passes during the drive, including a three-yard touchdown strike to Woods with 1:01 left in the quarter.

USC's defense has not allowed a first down, forcing the Fighting Irish to go three and out twice.

Barkley has completed all six of his passes for 52 yards and two touchdowns.

Marc Tyler has rushed for 54 yards in eight carries.

The Trojans have eight first downs, the Fighting Irish none.

USC 7, Notre Dame 0 (6:16 left in first quarter)

Now that was an opening drive.

USC took the opening kickoff and drove 66 yards in 13 plays, with quarterback Matt Barkley tossing a two-yard touchdown pass to tight end Randall Telfer to give the Trojans the early lead.

Senior tailback Marc Tyler, who dislocated his left shoulder last week against California, gained 15 yards on the first carry and looked sharp on five others during a drive that consumed 7 minutes 39 seconds.

Barkley scrambled for a first down on a fourth-and-one pass play and also scrambled for four yards on a first down.

--Gary Klein

Photo: USC defensive back Hayes Pullard upends Notre Dame receiver Theo Riddick in the second half Saturday evening. Credit: Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images

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