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Lane Kiffin's Trojans get the big win USC has needed

In USC's 31-17 victory at Notre Dame, the Trojans put it all together, providing hope that they can again be a power as this team matures.

October 22, 2011|Bill Plaschke
  • Defensive tackle DaJohn Harris celebrates USC's 31-17 victory over Notre Dame on Saturday night in South Bend, Ind.
Defensive tackle DaJohn Harris celebrates USC's 31-17 victory over… (Joe Raymond / Associated…)

To the Bush Push, add the Starling Streak.

To the list of blown second-half leads by Lane Kiffin's teams, subtract one his Trojans finally got right.

To USC fans hoping for some light at the end of this probation tunnel, were you watching? Were you listening?

On a chilly night at Notre Dame Stadium Saturday, the Trojans shook down their own thunder and woke up their own echoes. Matt Barkley didn't just throw spirals, he threw elbows. Robert Woods didn't just flit, he flew. The Trojan defense didn't just endure an atmosphere of thumping music and fist-pumping fans, they pulled out a newfound resilience and shut it down.

"Looking around, it's like, wow," said USC running back Curtis McNeal afterward, standing amid a mural of flying cardinal and fallen green.

Wow, indeed. For the first time since darkness overtook the program two years ago, USC finally had a night to remember, a 31-17 victory over the heavily favored Irish that ranks as the new regime's best.

"It's our team's biggest win since we've been here because of all the stuff going on," said Kiffin afterward, one of his many correct calls.

It was so big, the usually cool Trojans danced and hugged and then sprinted off the field afterward, barely pausing for interviews or handshakes, almost as if escaping their reputation.

"We hear what people have said," said Trojan safety Jawanza Starling. "We showed who we are."

It was so big, the Notre Dame fans scurried away while unveiling a new Irish chant.

"Ur-ban Me-yer," they sang, using the name of college football's best unemployed coach to mock their own Brian Kelly, whose game plan was beaten over the head by that funky play card belonging to Kiffin.

It was so big, the Trojans overcame the most ominous of signs, an official's announcement late in the first half while they held a 14-0 lead and had just called a timeout.

"Timeout, UCLA," shouted the referee to a national television audience.

The Trojans, who had jumped off to a nearly perfect start by scoring two touchdowns before Notre Dame had even recorded a first down, immediately began sputtering like the Bruins, and found themselves leading only

17-10 in the final moment of the third quarter, with the Irish standing one yard from a tying touchdown.

Time for the Starling Streak.

Dayne Crist, the backup Irish quarterback who was playing because starter Tommy Rees had been injured, fumbled the snap through his legs and behind him. The ball rolled and bounced and eventually hopped into the arms of Starling, who ran 80 yards for a touchdown that will live forever in this rivalry's 85-year history.

"It was surreal," said Starling afterward. "Everything slowed down, and I was like waiting for the right bounce … 'Not this bounce… not this bounce … but this bounce.'"

Starling, who was surrounded only by USC teammates during the run, said the strangest thing of all was feeling as if he was being chased.

"I really thought somebody was behind me trying to catch me," he said.

Could it have been the ghosts of past USC failures against the Irish? Could it have been the demons from four blown second-half leads in six losses under Kiffin?

Or maybe it was the specter of unbeaten Stanford getting a head start on next Saturday at the Coliseum, where USC will have to prove that this was not all just one big head fake.

"This was great, but it was one game, and we have to keep showing people we can play four quarters like this," said Barkley.

On Saturday night, four quarters was Chris Galippo recovering a fumble and Nickell Robey intercepting a pass in the final 15 minutes against a Notre Dame team that truly stunk after having zero turnovers in the previous two games.

"It's hard for me to put a stink meter on losing," protested

Notre Dame's Kelly. "They all stink."

Four quarters was also USC outgaining Notre Dame 443-267, USC committing just two penalties with zero turnovers, USC looking like it could be a pretty good team next year when the kids get older and the NCAA handcuffs are removed.

You hear that, Matt Barkley?

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