Dwayne Jarrett caught three touchdown passes and the Irish offensive attack never found it's rhythm as USC downed the Irish 44-24. In front of just under 92,000 fans at a soldout L.A. Coliseum, the Trojans (10-1) continued their march towards a possible meeting with Ohio State in the national championship game while Notre Dame (10-2) was left searching for answers. The No. 5 Irish are in a position to earn a BCS spot but their showing on Saturday night will make them sweat it out until next weekend's selection show. Head coach Charlie Weis, still looking for that signature win in his short two-year head coaching career, lost for the first time on the road and admitted the better team won.
"In the grand scheme of things, it was a combination of all three facets of our team," Weis said. "We didn't win on special teams. We didn't win on offense. We didn't win on defense. Stats are for losers. You can sit there and say we both had the same number of yards in the game. The bottom line is we moved the ball but didn't put it in the end zone early in the game."
Dwayne Jarrett proved not only was he the best wide receiver on the field Saturday night but maybe the best in the nation. The junior wideout torched the Irish secondary for seven receptions, 132 yards and three scores. Jarrett got the Trojan offense jumpstarted early when he caught a nine-yard touchdown pass from John David Booty on USC's opening possession to give them an early 7-0 lead. The spectacular wide receiver made it 14-0 on the following drive when he outjumped Mike Richardson for a 5-yard score.
Jarrett also put the nail in the coffin. With Notre Dame still in striking distance at 31-17 in the fourth quarter, he caught a ball from Booty over the middle and did the rest, scampering 43-yards for the touchdown. Booty ended the contest 17-of-28 for 265 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. The Trojans attacked the Irish secondary early and often and came up with the necessary big plays.
"They've never been conservative," Weis said. "I didn't expect them to be. They called an aggressive game. Give credit to them. Aggressive game plans really come to light when they make plays. Jarrett has those three scores, it makes the aggressive game plan look that much better."
The Irish offense, so good the past four games, never could get in sync. The four previous opponents were nowhere near the caliber of the fast and athletic USC defense. Yes, Notre Dame put up 24 points. But dropped balls, overthrows by quarterback Brady Quinn and multiple false starts contributed to the blah performance.
The killer was when the Irish defense showed up in the second quarter. After Brady Quinn hit Marcus Freeman for a touchdown to cut the Trojan lead to 21-10, Notre Dame forced Booty into two interceptions, one by Richardson and the other by defensive tackle Trevor Laws. What did the potent Notre Dame offense do in the two possessions? They had two straight drives of four downs and out. Fourth down, a strength this season for the aggressive Irish, killed them on Saturday. Notre Dame was just 2-for-6 in the game. Quinn, usually the rock behind the attack, completed less than 50 percent of his passes but did throw for 274 yards and three touchdowns.
"They have a complete team as I've been saying all week long," Weis said about USC. "I thought we were going to try to counter their speed up front by draws and play actions. We had some success moving the ball. But two of the first three drives we move deep into plus territory and basically didn't put the ball into the end zone. That's been the strength of the team all year is red zone touchdowns. Some of that credit goes to their defense.
"That's about how I expected them to play. They're very aggressive in the front seven. That's where they make their hay by being aggressive in the front seven. We threw it more times than you'd like to throw it in a game because you're playing down and trying to get chunks. They have very, very good speed in the front seven."
Trojans head coach Pete Carroll had a wide smile on his face running through the tunnel after the game. He should be happy. Not only did he improve to 20-0 in November but his team is still alive for their third national title in four years.
"We had a nice little ballgame tonight," Trojan head coach Pete Carroll said. "What a great opportunity it was for us tonight. Two great schools, coming in with great records. They've got some great players over there, so we are proud of our ability to take this opportunity and ride it all the way through. It was a lot of fun. We really felt in command the whole game. Defensively, we felt we did a really good job. They only had a few long plays."
Now, what's next? Notre Dame ends the regular season at 10-2. To automatically qualify for a BCS bowl, the Irish have to be in the top-eight. More than likely, Notre Dame still remains an attractive candidate for a big money contest. Likely destinations include a trip back out to California for the Rose Bowl or down in the Big Easy, New Orleans, for the Sugar Bowl. Whether it's Bourbon Street or the City of Angels, Weis would readily accept either bid.
"I hope that's the way it works out," Weis said. "We had a very good year. It would be pretty good. We'd be pretty happy to go to any BCS game that picks us. If that happens, sign me up and let's go."