Joyful Irish are only 1 win from a national title
Posted: 11/25/2012 at 2:00 am
By: Rachel Terlep
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Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson scrambles as he looks for a receiver during the first half against Southern California in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)
Notre Dame running back Theo Riddick, left, dives across the goal line to score a touchdown against Southern California linebacker Hayes Pullard (10), safety Jawanza Starling (29) and linebacker Lamar Dawson (55) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)
Southern California wide receiver Robert Woods catches a touchdown pass from Southern California quarterback Max Wittek in front of Notre Dame cornerback Bennett Jackson, rear left, and safety Zeke Motta, right, during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)
Southern California quarterback Max Wittek passes during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Notre Dame, Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson passes during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Southern California, Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Notre Dame linebacker Carlo Calabrese, left, celebrates with center Braxston Cave after Notre Dame defeated Southern California 22-13 in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Notre Dame running back Theo Riddick celebrates after Notre Dame defeated Southern California 22-13 in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)
Notre Dame team members celebrate after defeating Southern California 22-13 in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Notre Dame is heading to the national championship game.
The No. 1 Irish outlasted USC 22-13 to cement a perfect 12-0 season and secure their place in Miami in January.
After skipping up and down the sidelines bellowing, “It doesn’t matter!” to anyone within earshot, Manti Te’o only needed one word to describe the emotion of the night: “Joyful.”
“You get this far into it, now you look up and you’re 11-0 — you want to finish it off,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said. “I thought our coaches did a great job this week of keeping our guys focused on the game and not being No. 1, not playing for an undefeated season, not being in the hunt for a championship.”
In the shadow of the Hollywood sign at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the Irish silenced their most hated foe in a battle peppered with defensive stands and field goals.
Notre Dame broke out quickly, putting up 10 unanswered points in the first quarter. But in true Notre Dame fashion, the Irish made sure the game finished with a dramatic flair.
In the waning minutes of the game, the Irish defense was faced with a familiar situation.
Trailing 22-13, USC quarterback Max Wittek, a redshirt freshman making his first career start in place of the injured Matt Barkley, found All-American receiver Marqise Lee 53 yards down the field to the Notre Dame 2-yard line.
Two pass interference penalties on cornerback KeiVarae Russell gave the Trojans a first down 1 inch from the goal line.
Then Wittek was stuffed twice on a quarterback keeper. Then tailback Curtis McNeal failed to move the ball. Then receiver Soma Vainuku dropped a pass from Wittek in the end zone.
Notre Dame’s miracle goal-line defense stood strong yet again — perhaps not in the direst of situations but certainly on the biggest stage of the season.
“If you followed us at all this year, that’s how we’ve played,” Kelly said of the stand. “We come up big defensively some time during the game. We did that again. Unbelievable goal-line stand.”
Though they were faced with the best receiver tandem in the country, the Irish held Lee and Robert Woods to one touchdown and 167 combined yards.
The score came early in the second quarter, an 11-yard pass from Wittek to Woods.
On USC’s next series, Kapron Lewis-Moore and Ishaq Williams pounced on tailback Silas Redd for a 4-yard loss on third-and-8, forcing a field goal.
Then Russell intercepted Wittek to close out the first half, and Te’o picked off Wittek to open up the second half.
On the next USC possession, Lewis-Moore wrapped up Wittek on third-and-5 for a 7-yard loss to force a punt. Louis Nix plowed over Redd on third-and-1 to end yet another possession.
After that first and only touchdown, Notre Dame barely allowed USC to breathe, let alone move the ball.
“That’s how we played the game all year,” Kelly said. “That’s how we got to 12-0. Our guys have an incredible resolve regardless of the circumstances of coming up and finding ways to win.”
In a night that belonged to the defense, Theo Riddick made a case for himself on the offense.
Riddick twisted and squirmed and pushed and lunged forward the entire night, finishing with 19 carries for 134 yards and Notre Dame’s only touchdown of the game.
Up 19-13 midway through the fourth quarter, Riddick was handed the ball on second-and-3 at the USC 24-yard line. Riddick was tripped up behind the line of scrimmage but still managed to burst forward for a 15-yard gain, eventually setting up kicker Kyle Brindza for an easy 19-yard field goal.
His efforts earned him the game ball.
“If you want to know about the Fighting Irish, look no further than Theo Riddick,” Kelly said. “Here’s a guy that was a wide receiver for me the first two years. We ask him to move back to running back. Game 12 he manages 140 yards but broke countless tackles. You just look at his jersey after the game and you just go, there’s no wonder why this team has got the toughness it does.”
Everett Golson had a solid first half, finding four different receivers for gains of 15 yards or greater. Golson finished 15 of 26 for 217 yards, highlighted by a 36-yard completion to tight end Tyler Eifert.
Since Notre Dame only scored one touchdown in six trips to the red zone, much of the game’s success relied on Brindza.
The kicker nailed 27-, 29-, 52-, 33- and 19-yard field goals and, including the lone extra point of the game, contributed 16 of Notre Dame’s 22 points. Brindza’s only miss came from 34 yards.