SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) –– Jawanza Starling returned a fumbled snap 80 yards for a third-quarter touchdown and Matt Barkley passed for three scores Saturday night as Southern California beat Notre Dame 31-17 to end the Irish’s four-game winning streak.
The Trojans (6-1) jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the first half and then fought off a comeback by the Irish (4-3) in the first night game at Notre Dame Stadium in 21 years.
USC, which has now won nine of the last 10 meetings in the long rivalry, had a 443-267 advantage in total yards.
Starling picked up the loose ball after Notre Dame backup quarterback Dayne Crist — who entered the game when starter Tommy Rees was momentarily shaken up — couldn’t get the handle on a snap at the USC 1 with Notre Dame behind by a touchdown.
Crist, who lost the starter’s job after the first half of the season opener, replaced Rees and completed 4 of 5 passes to help the Irish reach the 1. But when he couldn’t control the snap, the ball got loose and Starling picked it up and ran in for the long TD. Instead of a potentially tied game, USC went up 24-10 late in the third.
Rees returned to the game on the next series and immediately led the Irish to a score, that coming on Jonas Gray’s 25-yard TD run, cutting the lead to a touchdown early in the fourth.
After USC’s Andre Heidari missed a 32-yard field goal with 9:13 to go, the Trojans’ Chris Galippo came up with the second of three second-half turnovers by the Irish. He recovered what was ruled a fumbled lateral when Rees threw a pass behind the line to Cierre Wood, who didn’t catch the ball. The play was upheld by video replay, giving the Trojans a first down at the 18 with 8:46 to go.
Marc Tyler was open in the end zone but his foot hit the sideline as he caught a pass from Barkley. But two plays later, Barkley made a great pump fake and hit Robert Woods with a 14-yard TD pass for a 31-17 lead. That play was also upheld by video replay.
Any hope of an Irish comeback evaporated when Rees was intercepted by Nickell Robey on the next series.
Barkley completed 24 of 35 passes for 224 yards and Curtis McNeal finished as the Trojans’ leading rusher with 118 yards on 24 carries. USC had 219 yards total rushing on 44 carries. Woods, meanwhile, made 12 catches for 119 yards and two TDs.
USC’s defense held Notre Dame star Michael Floyd to just four catches for 28 yards and limited the Irish to 41 yards rushing on 14 carries.
USC dominated most of the first half with its offense behind the running of Tyler and the passing of Barkley and built the 17-0 lead late in the second quarter.
But Irish freshman George Atkinson III broke loose for a 96-yard TD kickoff return and got both his team and the crowd back in the game with just over three minutes remaining in the half. It was his second kickoff return for a score this season.
Then, after the Irish defense forced USC’s first punt of the game, Rees completed 6 of 9 passes and took the Irish on a late drive that reached USC 7. It stalled and David Ruffer’s 25-yard field goal got Notre Dame within 17-10 at the half.
Tyler, who hurt his shoulder last week against Cal, looked fine on the Trojans’ opening drive. He carried six times for 38 yards as USC went right at the Irish defense with its inside running game. The 13-play, 66-yard drive — 60 of it on the ground — was capped by Barkley’s 2-yard TD toss to a wide open Randall Telfer.
Barkley took the Trojans right down the field again on their second possession, connecting to Marqise Lee for 18 and Woods for 19 in a 62-yard drive. Woods caught a 3-yard TD pass on the sixth play of the march, making it 14-0 with a minute left in the opening quarter. USC had a 128-14 total offense advantage in the first quarter.
Heidari kicked a 25-yard field goal to make it 17-0 with 3:34 left in the half.
Atkinson III then took the ensuing kickoff, broke left and raced down the sideline and 12 seconds later the Irish had swung the momentum.
Heidari left for the locker room before the first half ended, apparently shaken up, but returned to kick field goals and extra points.