A quarterback sneak by Matt Leinart and help from a Reggie Bush push into the end zone sent the top-ranked Trojans to a 34-31 heart stopping win over the upstart and green-jerseyed Irish at Notre Dame Stadium. In front of a packed house, Leinart led his team down the field in two minutes, including a 61-yard fourth down pass completion to Dwayne Jarrett, for the winning score to extend USC's win streak to 28 games. For Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis, there are no moral victories in having the two-time defending champions on the ropes until the last seconds.
"That doesn't change," Weis said about having moral victories. "If you're looking for me to say this is a great loss, you'd be waiting a long time. There are no moral victories. But here's what I did tell them: don't hang your heads. It was a gutty performance.
"I'm obviously disappointed with how the game ended. I basically told the team at the end that we had an opportunity to ice the game on offense. We had an opportunity to win the game of special teams. We had an opportunity to end the game on defense. All three facets had an opportunity to end the game. When you are going against an opponent the caliber of USC, if the opportunity comes up, you better take it because if not, you end up on the short end like we did."
Weis did exactly what he wanted to do with the explosive USC offense: shorten the game. Notre Dame (4-2) controlled the ball for almost 39 minutes by pounding the ball 52 times for 153 yards and ran 23 more plans than the Trojans. But the only stat that matters, the final score, did not go the Irish's way.
Bush led the Trojans (6-0) with 160 yards rushing on only 15 carries for an average of 10.7 per carry and may have jumped to the head of the pack for the Heisman Trophy. The junior speedster also pushed Leinart across the goal line for winning touchdown, scored three times on the day and caught four balls for 35 yards. Weis was complimentary of the performance of No. 5.
"He a dynamic player," Weis said. "I told you last week he's the reincarnation of Marshall Faulk and that's what he is. This kid can do it all. Every time he touches the ball, there is a possibility that he can score. I mean he did. He's a great football player. I have a lot of respect for him."
With USC trailing 24-21 midway through the fourth quarter, they looked towards Bush to keep intact their winning steak. He ran an end-around for 22 yards for a first down and the capped the drive with a 9-yard scoring scamper to put the Trojans up 28-24.
But Irish quarterback Brady Quinn came right back. With five minutes to go and 87 yards between him and the goal line, Quinn completed four straight passes to move the ball to the USC 34. Three straight runs by Darius Walker put the ball on the Trojan 4 with Notre Dame facing second-and-goal. Quinn, who finished the day 19-of-35 for 264 yards, ran a quarterback sneak to the right side and lunged for touchdown to make it 28-24 Irish with 2:04 left.
A Trevor Laws sack of Leinart made it 3rd-and-20 deep in Trojan territory. Two plays later on fourth-and-nine, the defending Heisman Trophy winner showed why he's worthy of that honor. Leinart checked to Jarrett (four catches for 101 yards) at the line to a "go" route and lofted a perfect pass just out of the reach of Notre Dame cornerback Ambrose Wooden's grasp for a 61-yard completion.
Leinart wasn't done and either was the drama. On first-and-goal from the Irish two and with time dwindling down, he rolled right and dove for the end zone. Notre Dame linebacker Corey Mays popped Leinart and the ball came loose but rolled out of bounds. The clock read 0:00 and Irish fans stormed the field. But since the ball went out, time was rightfully put back on the clock. Leinart (17-32-301-2 INT) ran a risky quarterback sneak that paid off in the ultimate reward of the winning touchdown and a win on the road against a hated rival.
"I did not want to go to overtime," Pete Carroll said. "They had done way to well on offense. I told those guys on the last drive we're going for it all the way. At the end there, we had that remarkable opportunity at the inches line. In that situation, we have a thought process of either we're going to sneak it or spike it. We pointed to Matt. It's his choice. He stepped up to the line scrimmage and said ‘I don't think I can make this and get in.' He turned around to Reggie and Reggie said, ‘You got to go.' He turned around and knocked it into the end zone. Very dramatic and as exciting as you can get."
The first half was a lot like the second half: back and forth. Bush got the scoring started when he ran off left tackle 36 yards for a touchdown to give USC a 7-0 lead. Travis Thomas tied the score at 7 with a darting 16-yard scoring run on the following drive. Thomas saw his most extensive action of the year, carrying the ball 18 times for 52 yards.
It took USC three plays to make it 14-7. A long pass reception by Dominique Bird, a Bush run and a LenDale White 3-yard touchdown burst put the Trojans ahead. Quinn once again tied the score up when Jeff Samardzija pulled down a jump ball from a USC defender to make it 14-14. Samardzija is the first Notre Dame player to catch a touchdown in the first six games of the season and finished with 6 catches for 99 yards. A 60-yard punt return by Tom Zbikowski gave the Irish their first lead 21-14. Zbikowski took the punt, ran right and broke three tackles en route to the end zone and the lead for Notre Dame.