Nov. 25, 2000
By JOHN NADEL
LOS ANGELES -- A giddy Bob Davie and his Notre Dame Fighting Irish appear headed to a big-time bowl game, and he's happy to talk about it.
Southern California coach Paul Hackett is likely to be fired any minute, and he figures there's no hurry to discuss it.
Freshman Matt LoVecchio ran for two touchdowns and engineered an efficient offense, and the 11th-ranked Irish turned two blocked punts into touchdowns and a pair of interceptions into two more scores Saturday in beating mistake-prone USC 38-21.
By winning for the seventh straight time since LoVecchio became their starting quarterback, the Irish (9-2) are in line for a Bowl Series Championship game - likely the Fiesta Bowl - and a $13.5 million payday.
"I certainly hope it's the Fiesta Bowl or the Sugar Bowl," said Davie, whose team went 5-7 last season. "I think it's a team people will enjoy, I think we'd be pretty attractive.
"I think we're a good team, I think a month from now, we'll be a really good team. We're not a team that wins pretty, we're a team that wins because other teams turn the ball over and we don't turn the ball over."
The Trojans (5-7), meanwhile, endured their first losing season since 1991, and just their third in the last 39 years.
It's been speculated that Hackett, whose teams have a 19-18 record in three seasons, will be fired as early as Sunday. He has two years left on his contract.
After a short visit to the USC locker room following the game, athletic director Mike Garrett said he was "still deliberating" Hackett's future.
After giving Davie, his staff and the Irish credit and lamenting his team's turnovers and problems in the kicking game, Hackett said, "I'll take a couple questions and then I'm going to hibernate."
When asked specifically about his future, he replied: "I'll talk about that
later, we'll have plenty of time to talk about that later. I'll talk about the
game right now."
Hackett did say he didn't believe rumors of his imminent firing affected the Trojans.
"Our team has been dealing with all the swirlings for three or four weeks now," he said. "They were able to put it aside."
USC wide receiver Matt Nickels said Hackett "did a great job of not letting it affect us."
"It's definitely not just him, it was players dropping the ball," Nickels said. "After all, we are the ones carrying the ball."
The win was the first for the Irish over USC in Los Angeles since 1992. Losses to the Trojans at the Coliseum in 1996 and 1998 cost them lucrative bowl bids, but it was a different story on this sunny day.
LoVecchio completed 9 of 14 passes for 142 yards, and rushed for 45 yards on 11 carries. He scored on a 13-yard run early in the second quarter that snapped a 7-all tie and put the Irish ahead for good, and a 1-yarder on fourth-and-goal late in the third period.
"I think our quarterback is a guy that's remarkable, the great thing about Matt LoVecchio is he won't change," Davie said.
"I'm just so honored by the opportunity to play," LoVecchio said. "This is a dream come true. I don't think I'm 7-0, the team is."
USC's Carson Palmer was 17-of-35 for 251 yards, but was intercepted twice and lost a fumble, giving the Trojans 36 turnovers this season compared to 17 by the opposition.
The Irish didn't commit a turnover, leaving them with only eight compared to 22 by their opponents.
"You shouldn't doubt us, we are on a roll, we are back," Irish cornerback Brock Williams said. "Our defense stepped up, special teams have done everything for us. We practice that every day. It's a big-time win. Now, no one can doubt us, it's all together."
Notre Dame extended a 21-14 halftime lead to two touchdowns on LoVecchio's second TD, which came five plays after Glenn Earl's interception at the Notre Dame 48.
USC drew within seven points on Palmer's 10-yard pass to Antoine Harris on the first play of the fourth quarter, but the Irish made it 31-21 on a 39-yard field goal by Nick Setta with 12:09 to play.
The Trojans then moved to the Notre Dame 39, but Palmer was sacked twice in a row and USC wound up punting. The Irish then moved 80 yards - all on the ground - for the clinching touchdown, a 2-yard run by Jones with 2:57 left.
USC tied the game on a 3-yard bootleg by Palmer to cap a 65-yard drive, but Notre Dame scored twice in a span of less than four minutes early in the second period for a 21-7 lead.
First, Chad DeBolt blocked a punt by MacGillivray, and the Irish needed only four plays plus a roughing the passer penalty to move 50 yards for the go-ahead touchdown, scored by LoVecchio.
Three plays later, Tony Driver returned an interception 43 yards to the Trojans' 19, setting up a 1-yard scoring run by Fisher.
On USC's next possession, Davie came on the field and had to be restrained after a defensive holding penalty on a third-down incompletion. Palmer threw a 59-yard touchdown pass to Kareem Kelly on the very next play.
The game was played before crowd of 81,342. The Irish lead the series with USC 41-26-5.