After a sluggish start, Notre Dame found itself in position to tie the game against USC with the ball at the one yard line.
But Dayne Crist--in briefly after starter Tommy Rees hypextended his knee--fumbled the snap, Jawanza Starling picked it up and went 80 yards the other direction to complete a 99-yard turnaround as USC defeated Notre Dame 31-17 in the first night game at Notre Dame Stadium in 21 years.
Even after the Crist fumble, the Irish had opportunities to stay in it thanks it a 25-yard touchdown run by Jonas Gray in the 4th quarter. But Notre Dame--plagued by turnovers early in the season---were turnover bitten again late in the game, giving the ball up two more times in defeat.
"Losing stinks," Irish coach Brian Kelly said after the game. "For me,
it's hard for me to put a stink meter on losing. They all stink."
"You know what, I'm disappointed in? This is the first time that I've leaned on my guys pretty hard in the locker room. I was not happy. Because we are better than that. We are better than that. And, to turn the ball over in the ridiculous fashion that we have, I just just makes me crazy. In terms of I just don't understand how something so easy can come out the way it does."
The loss snaps Notre Dame's 4-game win streak as the Irish drop to 4-3 on the season and saw their BCS hopes burst. The start couldn't have been worse.
USC scored on its first two drives as Matt Barkley threw for touchdown tosses. The Irish were outgained 129 yards to 13 in the 1st quarter and trailed 14-0.
"We started poorly," Kelly explained. "I just told our team that, you know, very disappointed in the way we played the first half. Sloppy football. Didn't tackle well. Timing was off. Just unacceptable for the amount of time we had off to play that way in the first half."
Notre Dame was coming off the bye. They looked like they hadn't played in years.
"I know what I'm doing on a bye week," Kelly says I've had great success. I know what it looks like. And for us to come out and be less than what we should be, I'm not happy about it."
"But I'm certainly not going to go back and second guess the way I've prepared over 21 years in a bye week. Sometimes there's some accountability from everybody, coaches and players alike and sometimes it falls on, as a group, all of us. But they just they didn't play as well as they needed to play."
Rees returned to the game after Crist's fumble. Kelly says Rees' knee hypextended. It was the same one from the Sun Bowl.
"We were able to brace it and he played in the second half," Kelly explained. "That's something that's a bit chronic for him. But he toughened it up, came back and did a nice job."
Notre Dame now looks to bounce back next Saturday when it hosts Navy. The Midshipmen embarassed the Irish one year ago.