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Top 5 Notre Dame-USC Matchups

By Jamison Cook | October 22
Top 5 Notre Dame-USC Matchups
Notre Dame's Trojan Horse in 1977 - Photo Credit: University of Notre Dame Archives

Southern Cal is coming to town this weekend, and that means it’s a rivalry matchup for the Irish. Notre Dame can win their fourth in a row against the Trojans, a feat they have not accomplished since the tail end of an 11-game winning streak against USC in the late 80s and early 90s under the direction of Lou Holtz. The win would extend Notre Dame’s dominance over Southern Cal and possession of the Jeweled Shillelagh to over 1,000 days, a feat that would take away some of the pain that Irish fans have experienced so far this season.

With that joyous possibility looming on the horizon ahead of USC’s visit to South Bend on Saturday night, let’s first take a look back at the five best matchups from the series that started way back in 1926.

#5. Divine Intervention (Oct. 16, 1999)

1999 was a below-average season for the Irish until this matchup with the Trojans, which serves as an iconic example of a game that was a tale of two halves. Finding themselves down 24-3 at halftime in their home stadium, Notre Dame needed a miracle to complete the comeback against Paul Hackett’s USC team. They found it in an unlikely place: the strong wind had completely shifted at halftime and would be at the backs of the Irish in the second half. Using the elements to their advantage, Notre Dame began to stage a comeback, culminating with a recovery of a Jarious Jackson fumble in the end zone, giving the Irish a 25-24 victory. It is Notre Dame’s largest comeback in the second half on their home field, and the wind that allowed the Irish to shut out the Trojans in the second half was a allegedly the result of some divine intervention, a sign that God was on Notre Dame’s side.

#4. Playoff Clincher (Nov. 24, 2018)

Notre Dame found themselves flying to Los Angeles as the No. 3 team in the country in 2018, with the Thanksgiving weekend matchup with the Trojans representing the last obstacle between themselves and their first College Football Playoff bid. USC took an early 10-0 lead, and the Playoff hopes of the Irish were in serious jeopardy before Ian Book began a furious comeback. Notre Dame rattled off 24 straight points, taking the lead on Dexter Williams’ 52-yard run in the third quarter and cementing their lead with a 51-yard pass from Book to Tony Jones Jr. with just over three minutes left. USC scored a touchdown late to make it interesting, but the Irish recovered the ensuing onside kick and earned their first trip to the CFP.

#3. No. 1 vs. No. 2 (Nov. 29, 1988)

Another Thanksgiving weekend matchup, this time in 1988, featured the only matchup between the Irish and Trojans when ranked first and second in the country. Despite being the top-ranked team, Notre Dame entered the LA Coliseum as underdogs. It didn’t help that head coach Lou Holtz had elected to leave running backs Ricky Watters and Tony Brooks behind in South Bend for disciplinary reasons, leaving the Irish shorthanded in the biggest game of the season. Notre Dame QB Tony Rice shouldered the load in the absence of his two best playmakers, ultimately leading the Irish to a dominating 27-10 victory on the road. The defense chipped in with a pick six of USC QB Rodney Peete. Notre Dame never looked back following the win, finishing the season as undefeated national champions after beating West Virginia in Fiesta Bowl.

#2. Green Jersey Game (Oct. 22, 1977)

Having already lost to Ole Miss in the 1977 season and with two three-loss seasons already on his Notre Dame resume, head coach Dan Devine needed something to go right for his Irish against top-ranked USC. As the successor to Ara Parseghian, Devine was already feeling the pressure of being at the helm in South Bend. At the Friday night pep rally, captain Willie Fry told the fans to wear green, possibly making this matchup the first ever Irish Wear Green game. After warming up in the traditional navy-blue uniforms, Notre Dame came out of the tunnel following a Trojan Horse pulled by students in togas with the team wearing green uniforms. The excitement of the green jerseys and the steady leadership of Joe Montana led the Irish to a dominating victory by a score of 49-19. The Irish wore the green jerseys for the rest of the season on their way to another national championship, this time defeating Texas in the Cotton Bowl. The game against USC was the turning point in the season for the Irish and for Devine in his time at Notre Dame.

#1. Bush Push (Oct. 15, 2005)

You probably saw this one coming, and while Notre Dame didn’t come out on top in this game, it is arguably one of the greatest games of college football ever played. With Charlie Weiss in his first-year coaching and with USC on a dominant tear behind the play of two Heisman hopefuls in Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart, the Irish once again pulled out the green jerseys in hopes of summoning some echoes of previous Notre Dame magic. The Irish had little success actually stopping Bush and the electrifying Trojan offense, but Notre Dame QB Brady Quinn kept the Irish in the game with a brilliant offensive performance of his own. Facing a 28-24 deficit late in the fourth, Quinn drove the Irish 82 yards down the field and ran it in himself to take a 31-28 lead with less than two minutes left. Leinart and the Trojans took the field in an effort to preserve their undefeated season, converting a 4th-and-9 from their own 26 with a pass to Dwayne Jarrett, who took the ball all the way down to the Notre Dame 13-yard line. After two runs from Bush, Leinart fumbled on the next play and the clock expired, a mistake that was fixed and allowed for one final play. Rather than tie the game at 31, USC elected to go for it and Leinart – after initially being stuffed by the Irish defense – was blatantly pushed into the end zone by his running back. Despite the obvious violation of the rule that a player could not assist his teammate’s advance down the field, no flag was thrown, and USC won by a final score of 34-31 in what has been called the loudest game ever played in Notre Dame Stadium. Justice was served a few months later when Texas beat the undefeated Trojans in the national championship.