South Bend, Ind.- Just like four years ago, USC-Notre Dame came down to one play, one chance to cross the goal line.
But instead of Reggie Bush pushing Matt Leinart into the south end zone at Notre Dame Stadium, the Trojan defense kept the Fighting Irish from scoring a historic comeback, preserving a 34-27 win.
USC squandered a 20-point fourth quarter lead before holding up three times inside the five-yard line in the final nine seconds.
"Unfortunately, we made it real dramatic and fun," USC head coach Pete Carroll said. "The good part is we won, so we'll take that and enjoy it."
Carroll's team got flagged for a number of "unnecessary" penalties late in the game- two personal fouls and a roughing the passer penalty. The last flag, against Malik Jackson, gave Notre Dame the ball on the 4, first-and-goal with just nine seconds left on the clock.
On first down, Jimmy Clausen threw a jump ball to tight end Kyle Rudolph. T.J. Bryant jumped up and knocked the ball away, but Rudolph caught the deflection. However, the officials ruled he caught the ball out of bounds.
With four seconds left, Clausen tried to hit Golden Tate on a quick slant, but Josh Pinkard broke up the ball. After the incompletion, the clock showed all zeros, and USC began to celebrate the win.
But, officials reviewed the play and ruled that one second was left, giving Notre Dame one final try. On the sidelines during the review, Carroll gathered his team and got them ready for one last play.
"It was a great moment," Carroll said. "... Basically, we just had to go play another play really hard and really well- do like we always do.
"There were no special plays to be made; just execute the calls we had, be confident and go for it. That's what we did perfectly."
Clausen tried to find Duval Kamara, but as Kamara slipped, the pass skipped across the end zone turf, sealing the USC win. It's the Trojans' eighth consecutive victory over Notre Dame.
"This feels an awful lot like the last one I got here (back in 2005)," Pinkard said. "It was a dog fight. Everyone was making plays."
Before Notre Dame mounted a serious comeback, the USC offense put together another solid game.
True freshman quarterback Matt Barkley threw for a career-high 380 yards on 19-of-29 passing to go along with a pair of touchdowns and an interception.
"He's just remarkable," Carroll said. "There's no way to describe it because there's nobody else to compare him to in our history. He's just so poised and comfortable in the arena that it doesn't really matter where we're playing; it doesn't affect him.
"It's not because he's numb to it. He knows exactly where he is and what he's doing. He's has this great inner strength and confidence that allows him to be unwavered."
USC struck first by taking advantage of Notre Dame's suspect pass defense by marching down the field on three straight big passing plays. Barkley hooked up with a leaping Anthony McCoy for 35 yards. Then, Damian Williams made a diving grab on a floated pass for 22 yards. Then, Barkley and Williams connected on a 22-yard skinny post for the game's first touchdown.
Both McCoy and Williams finished the game with over 100 yards receiving, with McCoy catching five balls for 153 yards and Williams catching four passes for 108.
Notre Dame struck back before the end of the quarter, picking up a key fourth-and-short on a trick play. The Irish lined up to kick a 34-yard field goal, but holder Eric Maust threw to a wide open receiver, who lined up as close to the Irish sideline as possible. Robby Parris ran down to the two-yard line, and Robert Hughes punched it in on the next play.
While the USC defense held Notre Dame at bay in the second quarter, USC got into the red zone on two possessions, but the Trojans couldn't convert touchdowns.
Jordan Congdon made field goals from 24 and 37 yards to give the Trojans a 13-7 halftime lead.
The Trojans scored 21-of-the-next-28 points to start the second half. Williams ran 41 yards after a quick throw from Barkley for his second score of the day. Allen Bradford then scored from 3 yards out, and Joe McKnight scored on a 1-yard run before the Irish comeback.
In the mix of all of that, Clausen connected with Tate for a 45-yard touchdown pass, the first allowed by the USC defense all year.
Clausen finished with 260 yards passing and three touchdowns, two throwing and one rushing.
"It's an extremely tough loss," Clausen said. "Fighting back at the end, fourth quarter, coming up short, one second to go, it's heartbreaking."
And Clausen's pain was the Trojans' joy.
"This feels great," Armond Armstead said. "This is the best win I've ever been a part of."
USC now returns home to face Oregon State at the Coliseum on Saturday. The Beavers' delivered the only blemish on USC's 2008 win-loss record by upsetting the Trojans 27-21.