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Football: Devoured in the Coliseum

Eric Retter | Tuesday, November 28, 2006

LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Dwayne Jarrett scored three touchdowns and No. 3 USC beat No. 6 Notre Dame for the fifth straight time Saturday night in Los Angeles.

Behind Jarrett’s seven receptions for 132 yards, the Trojans rolled over the Irish 44-24 and kept their BCS title hopes alive.

“They were better than us,” Irish coach Charlie Weis said. “They did a good job on offense and defense and special teams, [and] there’s no excuses.”

Touchdown receptions of nine and five yards, respectively, by Jarrett from quarterback John David Booty ended the Trojans’ first two drives, and the wideout was one of the principle figures in helping Southern California jump to a 21-3 lead.

“He’s a good receiver,” Irish safety Tom Zbikowski said. “We didn’t make the plays that we needed to, so give credit to their receivers.”

Notre Dame looked like it would threaten early, as quarterback Brady Quinn completed a 38-yard pass to receiver Rhema McKnight on the first play from scrimmage. The drive stalled, however, on the Southern California 29 after Quinn failed to find McKnight on fourth-and-9.

“The reason I why went for it around the 30 is that the range we had [for field goal kicker Carl Gioia] was getting to the 25,” Weis said. “If I thought we would have been making a field goal from 48 yards, I would have been kicking a field goal.”

After Booty’s two touchdown passes to Jarrett put the Trojans up 14-0, Gioia kicked a 27-yard field goal to put the Irish on the board with 36 seconds left in the opening period.

USC extended its lead on the ensuing possession, as a one-yard sneak by Booty capped a nine-play, 59-yard drive and gave the Trojans a 21-3 lead.

Notre Dame struggled offensively in the first quarter, and Quinn was just 4-13 for 78 yards in the period.

In the second quarter, Notre Dame looked poised to finally enter the endzone after Quinn turned a broken play into a 60-yard rush – the longest run by a Notre Dame player this season – but running back Darius Walker fumbled on a first-and-goal from the 3-yard-line and defensive tackle Fili Moala recovered to end the Notre Dame threat.

“We didn’t put the ball in the end zone early in the game when we were moving it,” Weis said.

On the ensuing USC possession, however, Irish linebacker Steve Quinn blocked a punt and set up Notre Dame’s first trip into the end zone. Irish receiver Chase Anastasio recovered the loose ball on the 7, and Brady Quinn found tight end Marcus Freeman in the endzone on the next play to cut the Trojan lead to 21-10 with 7:47 left in the half.

“When you’re playing in a game like this, you can’t panic when things go badly or it’ll be over early,” Weis said.

The Irish had an opportunity to reduce USC lead even more after Booty was intercepted by cornerback Mike Richardson and defensive tackle Trevor Laws on back-to-back drives. Notre Dame, however, failed to convert on fourth down in each drive and stalled twice in Trojan territory. Overall, the Irish were just 2-for-6 on fourth down.

“Especially on offense, we didn’t execute well,” said Irish tackle Ryan Harris, who was whistled for four penalties in the game. “We made some uncharacteristic mistakes.”

Notre Dame and Southern California traded touchdowns in the third quarter, as Trojan running back Chauncey Washington’s 2-yard run with 10:03 left in the quarter gave the Trojans a 28-10 lead before Quinn connected with McKnight from the 2 to cut the lead back to 11. The touchdown gave McKnight – who finished with six catches for 109 yards – his 15th score of the season, tying him for first all-time at Notre Dame with the mark teammate Jeff Samardzija set last season.

While Notre Dame stayed within striking distance for much of the game, Jarrett’s final touchdown effectively sealed the game for Southern California. Booty, who passed for 265 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions, connected with Jarrett for a 43-yard strike, the longest Trojan play of the night.

“They call an aggressive game, give credit to them,” Weis said. “When Jarrett had those three scores, it made that aggressive game plan look that much better.”

By the time Quinn connected with Samardzija for his third touchdown pass of the game with 3:39 to play, it was too little, too late for Notre Dame. While he threw for 274 yards and three touchdowns, Quinn completed only 22-of-45 passes. Quinn also led the Irish in rushing, with 11 carries for 74 yards.

“I thought [Quinn] had a gutty performance to tell you the truth,” Weis said. “He was far from perfect, but you know what, join the club.”

USC linebacker Brian Cushing returned the ensuing onside kick for a touchdown to provide the final margin.

Though Saturday marked the second time the Irish have lost by 20 or more to a top-5 team – Michigan beat them 47-21 on Sept. 16 – Weis in confident Notre Dame will still receive an invitation to a BCS bowl.

“You take away Cushing’s kickoff return for a touchdown there at the end [that made it 44-24] … and we lose by 13 and everyone’s happy,” he said. “I think we got beat pretty good and I think that we’ll be very happy to go to any BCS game that’ll pick us.”