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USC-Notre Dame: Breaking It Down

Sara Ramsey |
November 28, 2010 | 12:48 a.m. PST

Staff Reporter

Kicker Joe Houston watches his third field goal sail through the uprights. (Shotgun Spratling)
Kicker Joe Houston watches his third field goal sail through the uprights. (Shotgun Spratling)

Senior receiver Ronald Johnson was unable to catch what could have been a game-winning 53-yard pass from quarterback Mitch Mustain as USC failed to continue its eight-year win streak against Notre Dame, falling 20-16.


Key moment:

On 3rd-and-7 with just over a minute remaining in the game, Mustain sent a pass 31 yards in the air to Johnson on the 16-yard line. Johnson had beat his man, but the ball bounced off his hands and fell to the ground as the potential game-winning catch was incomplete.

Player of the game:

Notre Dame’s two-headed rushing attack of Cierre Wood and Robert Hughes.  The duo combined to rush for 158 yards and an average of more than six yards per carry. Hughes also had the game-winning touchdown run in the fourth quarter.

Play of the game:

USC defensive end Nick Perry came off the right side to blindside Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees. Not only did Perry force Rees to fumble, he also scooped up the loose ball and returned it eight yards to the Notre Dame 2-yard line.

The turnover set the Trojans up for a touchdown to tie the game 13-13 with five minutes left in the third quarter when Mustain ran the ball in for one yard after three failed attempts by Marc Tyler.

Game changer:

The Trojans were missing their fierce leader Matt Barkley, who is still recovering from a high ankle sprain suffered in USC’s embarrassing 36-7 loss to Oregon State last week. Without Barkley, the Trojans were forced to change their approach and play less aggressive on offense.

“We played conservatively with a backup quarterback, and it came down to the last play,” coach Lane Kiffin said. “If you had told me before that we would be plus-four turnovers, I would have expected a different result.”

Unsung hero:

Joe Houston, who was just 7-of-13 on field goal attempts entering the game, showed up big time at the Coliseum. He made all three of his attempts despite dreary conditions. Houston’s 45-yarder in the first quarter was also a career long, bettering his previous best by 11 yards. The field goal was also the longest for USC since David Buehler’s 46-yarder against UCLA in 2007.

Key stat:

The Trojan offense rushed for only 80 yards in the rain despite their conservative play calling. The highlight of the night was Mustain’s one-yard touchdown run on a fourth down quarterback sneak, the first touchdown against the Notre Dame defense in 229 minutes – a streak that had stretched 227 plays and 13 quarters.

Track walk-on Tony Burnett played stellar after replacing T.J. McDonald. (Shotgun Spratling)
Track walk-on Tony Burnett played stellar after replacing T.J. McDonald. (Shotgun Spratling)

Best coaching decision:

Even though it was out of necessity after starting safety T.J. McDonald left the game with a shoulder injury, the insertion of reserve defensive back Tony Burnett worked out well. The “track walk-on,” as Kiffin described him, played solid. Burnett made 10 tackles – second best for the game.

Worst coaching decision:

Reminiscent of USC’s hard fought loss to Oregon, Kiffin kept running the same plays to no avail. One example were Tyler’s three fruitless attempts at running the ball in from the 2-yard line, which forced Mustain to keep the ball and score on fourth down.

Quote of the game:

“As a competitor you want to win every game,” USC linebacker Chris Galippo said. “We all want to win every game. It is tough to fight that hard and come out on the losing end, but sometimes you learn more when you lose than when you win.”

To reach writer Sara Ramsey, click here.

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