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California creamin’

Joe Hettler | Tuesday, November 30, 2004

LOS ANGELES – Different year. Different teams. Same 31-point result.Two years after allowing Southern California quarterback Carson Palmer to throw for 425 yards and four touchdowns en route to winning the Heisman Trophy, Notre Dame let Matt Leinart make his own case for the nation’s most prestigious award on Saturday. The Trojan quarterback tallied a career-high 400 yards and five touchdowns while leading No. 1 USC to an easy 41-10 victory in Los Angeles. It was the third straight season USC beat Notre Dame by 31 points.”They are No. 1 for a reason,” Irish head coach Tyrone Willingham said. “They demonstrated tonight that if you take something away from them … they will find some other way of getting past you.”The Irish shut down USC’s running attack for most of the game, holding the Trojans to just 91 yards on 28 attempts. But it was USC’s passing game – led by Leinart and his arsenal of receivers – that was simply too powerful for Notre Dame. Leinart threw two touchdown passes to 6-foot-5 freshman Dwayne Jarrett of 12 and 57 yards, a 69-yarder to Reggie Bush, a 35-yarder to Steve Smith and a 23-yarder to Jason Mitchell.”What we have to do is make the plays,” Willingham said. “They made big plays tonight. We had opportunities in some cases and we didn’t live up to them. To me, that was the difference.”Notre Dame began the game like a team poised for the improbable upset. Behind 6-of-7 passing from quarterback Brady Quinn, the Irish marched 92 yards in 13 plays to take a 7-0 lead. On fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line, Quinn found tight end Billy Palmer for the score.Southern California added a field goal on the ensuing drive to cut the Notre Dame lead to 7-3. The Irish outgained the Trojans 124 to 72 in the first quarter.Steadily, throughout the game, USC made adjustments and began taking control midway through the second quarter. Down 10-3, Leinart led the Trojans on a seven-play, 80-yard touchdown drive, capped off with a 12-yard pass to Jarrett on a slant pattern.Southern California’s defense held Notre Dame on its next possession, and Leinart went back to work, this time finding Jarrett for a 57-yard score. The freshman wideout str-eaked through a leaky Notre Dame secondary and Lein-art tossed a near-perfect strike for the go-ahead score.”They have some great receivers and some great speed,” Irish defensive coordinator Kent Baer said. “We were in positions at times, but we just didn’t make the plays. That’s the bottom line. “I thought we did some things that probably confused them at times, especially in the first half. But they’re a pretty good second half team.”The Trojans dominated the Irish in the second half as Leinart continued building a strong resume for the Heisman Trophy. When the junior signal-caller found a streaking Bush for a 69-yard touchdown with 3:06 left in the third quarter to put USC ahead 27-10, the game was all but over.”Matt played great tonight,” USC coach Pete Carroll said. “He made some great throws and had some great protection. We had guys running down the field and he found them. He just made another statement tonight. He’s done it all.”Meanwhile, Notre Dame’s offense struggled after its promising first quarter.Quinn finished the game 15-of-29 for just 105 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions. The Irish rushing attack gained a more-than-respec-table 195 yards, but that wasn’t enough to win.”We just didn’t make the plays we needed on defense and then we didn’t make the plays we needed on offense,” Irish running back Darius Walker said.Leinart’s five touchdown passes ties for the most ever against Notre Dame. The Irish yielded five scores to Pittsburgh’s Tyler Palko on Nov. 13 in a 41-38 Panther victory.”I know coming into this game, everybody really believed we could win, that we were going to win. I think you saw that in the first half,” Irish linebacker Mike Goolsby said. “Coming out in the second half, they were more successful than us – bottom line.”All I can say is there’s a reason [Leinart’s] a Heisman candidate and there’s a reason they’re No. 1.”