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October 14, 2013

Home is where the heart(break) is

Developing a home-field advantage in Notre Dame Stadium has been difficult for the Fighting Irish.

Notre Dame's 10-game home winning streak - snapped by Oklahoma on Sept. 28 - had been the longest since Bob Davie's Irish squads won 10 in a row from Oct. 25, 1997 through Aug. 28, 1999.

Prior to that, Lou Holtz put together a 19-game home winning streak from Sept. 19, 1987 through Sept. 29, 1990.

Until Notre Dame's 6-0 mark at home in 2012, it had been 14 years since the Irish went an entire season unscathed in Notre Dame Stadium.

This weekend, when the Irish host USC at night, Notre Dame has another trend it would like to end. The Trojans have defeated the Irish in Notre Dame Stadium five straight times, including the 31-17 loss in 2011.

The last time the Irish defeated USC at home was in Pete Carroll's first year as head coach of the Trojans in 2001 when the Irish - who would finish 5-6 in Davie's last season as head coach - claimed a 27-16 victory.

In the 2011 loss to the Trojans, the Irish laid an egg with a lot at stake. It was the first night game in Notre Dame Stadium since the 1990 season-opener against Michigan. The Irish broke out new gold helmets, and the atmosphere was embellished with piped in music to make Notre Dame Stadium a more intimidating place.

But in front of more than a dozen official visitors in the biggest recruiting weekend of the season, the Irish fell behind 14-0 in the first quarter and 17-0 in the second quarter. Just when it appeared they would tie the game late in the third quarter, Jawanza Starling returned a Dayne Crist fumble 80 yards for a score and the losing streak in Notre Dame Stadium against the Trojans increased to five.

It was far from the only heartbreak in Notre Dame Stadium against the Trojans in recent years. Charlie Weis, struggling in his fifth and final season with the Irish in 2009, had won four of the first five games of the campaign, creeping into the No. 25 spot in the Associated Press poll with No. 6 USC coming to town. The Irish put up a fight, and Jimmy Clausen's three passes in the end zone after trailing by 20 points earlier in the quarter all fell incomplete as the Trojans prevailed, 34-27.

The third loss in the streak was a 38-0 whitewashing in 2007. The streak started in 2003 when the Trojans pasted Tyrone Willingham's squad, 45-14. In between, of course, was the famous "Bush Push" game in which No. 1 USC scored with three seconds remaining to claim a 34-31 victory over No. 9 Notre Dame.

That loss appeared to signal that Notre Dame was back under Weis. Yet after winning 10 of the next 11 games at home, Weis would lose 11 of his last 20 games in Notre Dame Stadium.

Notre Dame has defeated USC each of its last two visits to the Los Angeles Coliseum. But the Irish need some home cooking this weekend against the Trojans. Only Michigan State has won as many as six straight games in Notre Dame Stadium.


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