Notre Dame is headed for its first BCS championship game in school history after the Irish defeated USC 22-13 on Saturday night before a crowd of 93,607 at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
The Irish dominated the game from the outset, though the score was closer than the final statistics as USC freshman quarterback Max Wittek gave a plucky performance in his first career start filling in for Matt Barkley.
Notre Dame’s defense solidified the trip to Miami for the title game with a tremendous goal-line stand late in the fourth quarter, stopping USC on two quarterback sneaks from the 1-yard line and then nailing tailback Curtis McNeal for a 1-yard loss. On fourth down, Wittek threw a pass to fullback Soma Vainuku, who dropped it in the end zone.
“It doesn’t matter where the ball is, we’re going to protect the end zone at all costs,” Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o said.
The Irish players ran around the field in celebration after the game.
“I didn’t imagine at the beginning of the year,” Irish quarterback Everett Golson said. “But all things are possible.”
Perhaps a sign of how unflashy the Irish (12-0) are despite being perfect, kicker Kyle Brindza was the offensive star with five field goals.
The Irish should be No. 1 when the final BCS standings are released Sunday night.
“I know people talk about close games. That’s the way we play this game,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “That’s who we are. We are the Fighting Irish. We tried to make that part of our DNA when we got here.”
Wittek finished 14 of 24 for 186 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Golson was 15 of 26 for 217 yards and no touchdowns.
Brindza kicked his fourth field goal, from 34 yards, to extend the Irish lead to 19-10 with 31 seconds left in the third quarter.
USC ended a disappointing regular season with a 7-5 record and will await its bowl destination Sunday.
“They’re not very exotic, but they don’t screw up,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “They’re very good.
“They have a good scheme and great players down there. It’s so hard to score touchdowns against them. We had the ball on the two-inch line and couldn’t get it in.”
Continue Reading: BCS roundup: Notre Dame completes unbeaten regular season