Nov 30, 2002
By KEN PETERS
LOS ANGELES - Before Saturday night, Notre Dame had played 1,081 games since the school first put a football team on the field in 1887. And the Fighting Irish had never been so overrun as they were by Southern California.
Carson Palmer threw for 425 yards and four touchdowns, and USC outgained Notre Dame by an astounding 610 yards to 109 as the sixth-ranked Trojans beat the No. 7 Irish 44-13.
Both the passing yards and the total yards were the most ever against Notre Dame.
"After the way we played, we don't deserve to play in the Orange Bowl," Irish offensive tackle Jordan Black said. "This wasn't this year's team, it was last year's team that showed up tonight. ... I just want to go home and throw up."
The Trojans (10-2, 7-1 Pac-10) also dominated the Irish offense, allowing just 70 yards passing and 39 rushing, and giving up just two field goals. Notre Dame's touchdown came on a blocked punt, and the Irish didn't score in the second half.
With Notre Dame (10-2) still under consideration for a Bowl Championship Series at-large berth, Irish coach Tyrone Willingham did a bit of lobbying.
"I can make a case to the BCS," said Willingham, who has turned the Notre Dame program around in his first year as its coach. "We played 12 games. We won 10 of them. We've been very good and very sound. This game is not a true indicator of what kind of team we can be.
"Our team had a heck of a season, nothing to sneeze at. It's disappointing tonight, without question. Now we have to be patient and wait until someone makes a decision."
The Trojans, meanwhile, believed their performance should enhance their standing in the BCS rankings.
"It proved we're a heck of a team. I couldn't imagine why somebody wouldn't want us to play in their game, although I know that some people might not want to play us," Carroll said.
In his final game at the Coliseum, Palmer completed 32 of 46 passes and was intercepted twice.
"I hope everyone was paying attention and saw the score," he said. "They need to know that we are for real now. We are definitely worthy of a being a BCS team."
The previous highs against Notre Dame were 424 passing yards by Miami's Steve Walsh in 1988, and 591 total yards by USC in 1979.
Early in the fourth quarter, Trojans fans chanted the inevitable "Overrated! Overrated!" at the Notre Dame players.
Freshman Mike Williams caught 10 passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns as USC snapped a three-game winning streak by Notre Dame in the series that began in 1926.
Fullback Malaefou MacKenzie had two TD receptions, and Justin Fargas ran for 120 yards on 20 carries and had four catches for 41 yards as the resurgent Trojans won their seventh in a row.
Although the Trojans and Irish closed out their regular seasons, they must wait until after next weekend's games to learn which they'll play in.
USC still has a shot at the Rose Bowl, or it could get a BCS at-large berth. Despite the lopsided loss to the Trojans, Notre Dame still could be awarded a BCS at-large spot.
The Trojans' 10 regular-season wins were their most since going 10-1 in 1988, and this is the first year they've beaten both crosstown rival UCLA (52-21) and Notre Dame during the same season in 21 years.
Notre Dame finished with its most regular-season wins since an 11-1 mark in 1993.
With the Trojans blending short passes with Fargas' rushing, USC kept the Irish defense on its heels for most of the game.
Up 17-13 at halftime, the Trojans extended their lead on Palmer's third scoring throw, a pass in the flat that MacKenzie turned into a 15-yard touchdown 2:59 into the third quarter.
Ryan Killeen added field goals of 27 and 29 yards later in the quarter, then Sultan McCullough scored on an 11 yard-run three minutes into the fourth quarter to put USC up 37-13.
The Trojans led at halftime on Palmer's two touchdown passes to Williams and Killeen's 22-yard field goal. USC outgained the Irish 328 yards to 94 in the first half, but the Trojans' mistakes enabled Notre Dame to stay close.
Southern California lost a fumble that set up a field goal, had a punt blocked for a touchdown, was penalized six times for 35 yards - compared with one penalty for Notre Dame - and Palmer threw the first of his two interceptions.
Notre Dame's only touchdown came when Carlos Pierre-Antoine blocked Tom Malone's punt and recovered it in the end zone. Pierre-Antoine was credited with a 21-yard blocked punt return on the TD, which gave the Irish a 13-10 with 1:07 left in the first half.
The Trojans came right back to retake the lead for good. Palmer and Williams hooked up on their second scoring play, a 19-yard pass 5 seconds before halftime to cap a 75-yard drive that took just 1:02.