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Notre Dame Caps 12-0 Regular Season With 24-17 Win At USC

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Chris Finke's clutch seven catches for 86 yards in the first half included a 24-yard touchdown. (Bill Panzica)

In a methodical and hard-fought, grind-it-out fashion just like six years ago to the day when Notre Dame capped a 12-0 regular season with a 22-13 win at USC, the Fighting Irish repeated both that style of victory against the Trojans, 24-17, as well as the 12-0 ledger.

After falling behind 10-0, Notre Dame tallied the next 24 points before a USC touchdown with 48 seconds remaining kept the final score close.

With the victory, Notre Dame all but sealed its first invitation into the four-team College Football Playoff, whose teams will be announced formally at noon Sunday, Dec. 2 following the conference championship games the preceding day.

Two USC fumbles after catches in Irish territory and two crucial runs by junior quarterback Ian Book — who also completed 22 of 39 passes for 352 yards, two touchdowns and an interception — on third-and-long situations during two different TD drives were especially pivotal in the outcome. Box Score


FIRST QUARTER: USC 7, Notre Dame 0

Top Moment:: USC took the opening kickoff and drove 78 yards in eight plays, with freshman quarterback J.T. Daniels completing 6 of 7 passes for 64 yards, and then running back Vavae Malepeai scampering for a 14-yard touchdown on the lone rush of the march with 11:26 left. It was the 10th time in 12 games USC scored first.

Feature Performer: Against soft cushions given by the Irish defense, Daniels completed 16 of his 17 passes for 138 yards, seven of them to fellow freshman Amon-Ra St. Brown for 70 yards.

Stats: USC’s 23 plays netted 179 yards while Notre Dame ran only nine for 27 yards, with Book completing 2 of 4 passes for 19 yards.

Items: On USC’s second possession, Irish junior cornerback Troy Pride Jr. stripped USC receiver Michael Pittman Jr. from the football that Pride also recovered at his 33-yard line.


SECOND QUARTER: USC 10, Notre Dame 7

Top Moment: With 2:20 left until halftime, Book hit senior receiver Chris Finke in perfect stride near the goal-line pylon on a corner route for a 24-yard touchdown to help pull Notre Dame within 10-7.

Feature Performer: In addition to the touchdown, the Book-to-Finke combination during that same drive connected for 18 yards on third-and-10 from the Irish 36 and nine more yards on third-and-eight from the USC 34-yard line.

Book also scrambled away from heavy pressure on a third-and-11 to pick up 11 yards and the first down at USC's 36-yard line.

Stats: USC’s 39 plays in the first half accounted for 289 yards, with Daniels completing 26 of 31 passes for 244 yards.

On Notre Dame’s side, Book finished the half 14 of 21 for 178 yards, with Finke’s seven catches for 86 yards already a career high. The Irish also rushed for 32 yards on 13 carries versus a stacked box.

Items: USC kicker Michael Brown converted a 30-yard field goal with 11:51 remaining to give the Trojans a 10-0 lead, the largest deficit for the Irish this season. USC had a first down at the Irish 14-yard line before the defense stiffened. At that point USC had 206 yards total offense to Notre Dame’s 27.

At the 8:42 mark from the USC 39-yard line, Trojans cornerback Iman Marshall broke up a fourth-and-four pass to Finke.

With 1:00 left, St. Brown caught a slant inside the Irish 20-yard line that Irish junior safety Alohi Gilman stripped and fifth-year senior linebacker Drue Tranquill recovered at his 15-yard line.

A “Hail Mary” 38-yard pass completion on the last play of the half to Notre Dame senior wideout Miles Boykin was caught near the one-yard line but he couldn’t quite get into the end zone.


THIRD QUARTER: Notre Dame 17, USC 10

Top Moment: On Notre Dame’s second possession, a misdirection sweep to Williams resulted in a 52-yard touchdown and the first Irish lead of the game (14-10) with 10:55 remaining in the third quarter. It came on the second play after a 15-yard completion to senior tight end Alize Mack.

Feature Performer: Notre Dame’s defense, led by Tranquill and senior linebacker Te'von Coney, limited USC to 83 yards total offense on four possessions, with the first three resulting in punts before the fourth picked up a first down prior to the quarter ending. The Irish adjusted by dropping seven and often eight men into coverage to help take away the quick throws.

Stats: Through three quarters, USC had 372 yards on 57 plays (277 rushing, 95 rushing) while Notre Dame’s 53 plays totaled 351 yards (263 passing, 88 rushing).

Items: Fifth-year senior punter Tyler Newsome’s 59-yard punt to USC’s 10-yard line following the opening possession of the second half helped flip the field.

After the Irish took the lead, USC drove to Notre Dame’s 29-yard line, but a holding call and no gain on the next two plays forced a punt…Senior kicker Justin Yoon extended Notre Dame’s lead to 17-10 on a 46-yard field goal at 1:07 to end a 31-yard drive.


FOURTH QUARTER: Notre Dame 24, USC 17

Top Moment: Leading 17-10 and facing third-and-six from his 49, Book reacted quickly to an all-out blitz, flipped a short mini-wheel route to senior running back Tony Jones Jr., who nearly dropped the ball, and he raced untouched into the end zone to give Notre Dame a 24-10 cushion with 3:09 remaining.

Feature Performer: On the touchdown drive, Book on third-and-12 rushed for 16 yards off a draw, his second back-breaking conversion off the run on third-and-long.

Stats: Notre Dame finished with 473 yards total offense (352 passing, 121 rushing) and USC 443 (349 passing, 94 rushing).

Items: Notre Dame drove to a first-down to the USC 20 while leading 17-10, but on third-and-12, a scrambling Book forced a pass into coverage in the end zone that was intercepted by freshman walk-on safety Jordan McMillan with 7:54 left.

Following the Irish turnover, though, junior end Julian Okwara and senior tackle Jerry Tillery both recorded sacks in a span of three plays to force a punt.

With 48 seconds left, Daniels found Tyler Vaughns for a 20-yard touchdown on third-and-10. Boykin then recovered the on-side kick to clinch the victory.

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