Oct. 15, 2005
RALPH D. RUSSO
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - Tested like never before, Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and Southern California showed they have a championship jaw to go along with all that talent.
Leinart pushed and spun his way into the end zone with 3 seconds left to cap a chaotic finish and No. 1 USC escaped with its 28th straight victory, a back-and-forth 34-31 win Saturday over No. 9 Notre Dame in a game that lived up to the hype.
For a moment the Irish, dressed for success in kelly green jerseys, thought they had added another stunning upset to their illustrious history. Leinart scrambled from inside the 5, launched himself toward the end zone but was stopped short and the ball was sent flying out of bounds.
The clock kept ticking down to 0:00. Notre Dame's fans rushed the field and coach Charlie Weis raised his hands in victory, but after the officials huddled, 7 seconds was put back on the clock and the ball was spotted inside the 1.
The Heisman Trophy winner took it in himself on the next play, going over the left side for the score.
Irish quarterback Brady Quinn had given Notre Dame a 31-28 lead with 2:02 left, dashing around right end for a 5-yard touchdown, extending his right arm across the goal line with the ball.
But Leinart wasn't done. He completed a 61-yard pass to Dwayne Jarrett on a fourth-and-9 at his own 26 and a few plays later called his own number for the winner.
He sat on the bench after his score, helmet still on, looking exhausted and waiting for a final kickoff that Notre Dame couldn't turn into a miracle.
Bush ran for 160 yards and three touchdowns for the two-time defending champions.
Weis tapped into the Fighting Irish's storied past and even in defeat etched a spot in it for himself and his team. He broke out all the stops, bringing in "Rudy" and Joe Montana to fire up his team and the fans in Friday night's pep rally, then putting the Irish in their green jerseys after warm-ups on Saturday.
The Trojans (6-0) trailed at the half for the third time this season, this time by 21-14 after Tom Zbikowski's 60-yard punt return early in the second quarter gave the Irish (4-2) their first lead.
But Bush tied the game with a 45-yard scoring gallop early in the third. His second long TD of the game put him over 100 yards rushing for the fifth straight game.
Notre Dame got the lead back with a field goal, but Bush struck again, going around the corner from 9 yards out with about five minutes left to make it 28-24.
Then it was Quinn's turn to have a Heisman moment.
He guided the Irish on an 87-yard drive, completing all three of his passes and finally putting Notre Dame up with 2:02 left.
Quinn finished 19-for-35 for 264 yards.
USC came in averaging 51 points per game, but the Irish put pressure on Leinart and intercepted him twice, the first time since the final game of the 2003 regular season he tossed two picks.
The dynamic backfield of LenDale White and Bush was turned into a solo act, as Bush kept USC in it until Leinart made the plays of the game.
He threw a prefect fade over a defensive back to Jarrett on the huge fourth-down conversion and finished with 301 yards passing.
For a while though, Notre Dame looked ready to add the Trojans to its list of historic streak stopping upsets.
It was Notre Dame that stopped the longest winning streak in NCAA history when the Irish beat Oklahoma and ended its 47-game romp in 1957.
In '46, Army had won 25 straight when Notre Dame tied the Black Knights, and Texas had won 30 in a row before losing to the Irish in 1971.
Two years later, USC had a 23-game winning streak end in the shadows of Notre Dame's Golden Dome.
On Saturday, USC was too tough, too resilient, to let it happen, and the Trojans are still on track to three-peat.
On a cloudless, windy, sweatshirt kind of day, USC struck first in familiar fashion - turning a takeaway into points.
Keith Rivers picked off Quinn's tipped pass and two plays later Bush burst through the line and hurdled a tackler on the way to a 36-yard touchdown.
Notre Dame responded with a long drive aided by consecutive 15-yard penalties by USC, and Travis Thomas finished it with a 16-yard touchdown.
Another quick-strike drive by USC resulted in White's 3-yard TD run, but Notre Dame controlled the rest of the half and had everyone believing the Fighting Irish could again beat the behemoth and reshape the national title race.
USC had other plans.