Senior Rober Hughes willed his way into the end zone for the game-winning score with 2:23 left and Notre Dame finally beat Southern California, 20-16, at a rain-soaked Los Angeles Coliseum Saturday night.
The win was Notre Dame’s first win against the Trojans since 2001, after which they suffered eight consecutive defeats. Brian Kelly became the first coach since Lou Holtz in 1986 to defeat USC in his first attempt.
USC had a chance to score in the final two minutes, but Ronald Johnson dropped a sure touchdown after Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith fell in coverage and no Irish player was within twenty yards of Johnson. Johnson’s drop set up a fourth-and-seven for the Trojans, but quarterback Mitch Mustain found Rhett Ellison for 14 yards to keep the drive alive.
Mustain drove the Trojans all the way down to the Irish 23-yard line, before throwing a game-sealing interception to Smith with 36 seconds left.
Mustain was making his first start in four years because starter Matt Barkely sprained his ankle in last week’s game. Mustain completed 20 of his 37 passes for 177 yards.
Notre Dame took a 13-3 lead into the half after freshman quarterback Tommy Rees co-engineered a seven-play, 62-yard drive with Michael Floyd in just 37 seconds. On the first play of the drive, Cierre Wood took a draw 24 yards. Rees then connected with Floyd on the next five plays, setting up a one-yard touchdown pass from Rees to senior Duval Kumara right before the half ended.
Michael Floyd, who turned 21 on Saturday, caught a game-high 11 passes for 87 yards and a touchdown. Floyd, a junior, did not play against USC in his first two seasons due to injury.
Ress threw an interception on Notre Dame’s opening possession, but recovered to complete 17 of his 24 passes in the first half to go along with two touchdowns. In the second half, however, Rees fell apart. He threw two head-scratching interceptions and also fumbled after being sacked.
All 16 of USC’s points were the result of Rees’ turnovers. Despite Rees continuously putting the defense in bad positions, Diaco’s demons gave up just one touchdown, and that came on a quarterback sneak on fourth-and-goal. Notre Dame held USC to just 80 yards rushing and 261 total yards.
USC took its first lead of the game on a 37-yard field goal from walk on kicker Joe Houston with 6:25 left, after Rees’ third and final interception.
Rees and the offense, however, responded with a seven-play, 77-yard series, capped off by the Hughes touchdown. On the drive, Rees completed both of his passes to Floyd for 15 yards, Cierre Wood had a 26-yard carry, and Hughes carried the ball four times for 36 yards.
For the game, Hughes had 11 carries for 69 yards , while Wood had 15 carries for 89 yards.
“We just played tough football,” Kelly said. “Then when we needed a drive, our guys responded.”
Notre Dame has now won three consecutive games and will likely earn a bid to the Champs Sports Bowl against either Miami or Florida State.