SOUTH BEND, Ind. — If Notre Dame beats Southern California on Saturday, the Fighting Irish will accomplish two feats for the first time since Bob Davie was coach.
Yup, it’s been that long since the Irish posted consecutive victories over the Trojans, and beat them at home.
Notre Dame (4-2) has won two of the last three in the series, including last year’s 22-13 win at the Coliseum that clinched a spot in the BCS championship game. But the Irish lost a record eight straight to the Trojans (4-2) before the recent success, including five losses of 31 points.
The only close games during that stretch was a 34-31 loss in the “Bush Push” game of 2005 and a 34-27 defeat in 2009 when Jimmy Clausen threw three incomplete passes into the end zone in the closing seconds.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said before last season’s game that it wasn’t a great rivalry because the Irish hadn’t won enough recently. He feels differently now.
“I think we’re past that,” he said. “We would hope that both programs are competing each and every year for BCS bowls and playoff opportunities, and I think that’s where both programs want to be. That they’re on equal footing, that you don’t have to wait three, four years to get a win.”
The last time USC had to wait more than a year for a win was when the Irish won three straight from 1999-2001 under Davie, with wins at Notre Dame Stadium in ‘99 and `01.
Kelly said Tuesday he didn’t know it had been that long, but said the Irish are focused on this year’s goals.
“We want to win every game that we play the rest of the season, and wherever that takes us at the end of the season, we’ll be excited about that,” he said.
During a three-game stretch earlier this year, Kelly was asked whether each was a rivalry game. He surprised some when he called the game against Michigan a regional game, saying he didn’t think it was historic or a traditional rivalry. Two days later, he flip-flopped and called it “a great and historic rivalry.” In the following weeks he called Purdue a “natural rivalry” and Michigan State a “great rivalry game.”
On Tuesday, he left no doubt about the game against the Trojans.
“I think we go through the season in so many weeks, I think it’s on the other side. In other words, other teams really calling it their rivalry game. I think our players will be the first ones to admit that this is our rivalry game,” he said. “This is our game that we look forward to against USC.”
The series started began in 1926 when Knute Rockne took the Irish to Los Angeles and won 13-12. Since then there have been a number of famous games in the series, including Anthony Davis scoring six touchdowns, two on kickoff returns, in a 45-23 victory by USC in 1972; USC rallying from a 24-0 deficit, scoring 55 points in 17 minutes to beat the Irish in 1974; the Irish warming up in their regular blue jerseys before the game in 1977, then switching to green jerseys just before kickoff and upsetting the fifth-ranked Trojans 49-19; and top-ranked Notre Dame beating second-ranked USC 27-10 in 1988.
For the current group of Irish, a 31-17 loss in 2011 was particularly memorable. It was the first night game at Notre Dame Stadium in 21 years, music was piped in over the P.A. system for the first time, the Irish wore new helmets and there were a large number of recruits at the game. Some players later said they got too hyped up for that game and it may have hurt them.
Kelly said he talked to the Irish over the weekend, saying they have only one concern Saturday.
“The atmosphere, the game, the people around will take care of the environment,” he said. “Then just win the damn game. Win the game. That’s what you need to do.”
Something the Irish haven’t been done at home in a dozen years.
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