SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Tommy Rees threw two touchdowns before leaving the game with an injury and Notre Dame snapped a five-game home losing streak to USC with a 14-10 victory on Saturday night.
Rees was 14 of 21 passing for 166 yards with TD throws to Troy Niklas and TJ Jones in the first half. Rees left the game when he was sacked by USC linebacker Lamar Dawson in the third quarter and didn’t return.
USC managed just 121 total yards of offense in the second half. After converting both third-down conversions on their opening scoring drive, the Trojans went 0-of-11 the rest of the game.
The Irish (5-2) beat the Trojans (4-3) for the third time in the past four games, after losing the previous eight straight, but won at home for the first time since Pete Carroll’s first year as USC coach in 2001. USC won last week in Ed Orgeron’s first game as interim coach following Lane Kiffin’s dismissal, but this is the earliest the Trojans have three losses since starting that 2001 season 2-5.
In only the third night game at Notre Dame Stadium in the past two decades, there were mistakes and attrition by both teams.
Marqise Lee, who sat out against Arizona with a sprained knee, had two catches for 18 yards in the first half but didn’t play in the second half. Silas Redd, the Penn State transfer who missed the first five games with a knee injury, got the bulk of the carries in the first half with leading rusher Tre Madden out with an injured hamstring, but had just two carries five yards in the third quarter. He finished with 19 carries for 112 yards.
With Rees out, the Irish attempted just four more passes and none of them was close as the Irish could only 44 yards total offense in the second half.
Cam McDaniel led the Irish rushing game with 92 yards on 18 carries. USC’s Cody Kessler was 20-of-34 passing with an interception, with Nelson Agholor catching six passes for 39 yards. USC also was hampered by 11 penalties for 95 yards and Andre Heidari missed field goals of 40 and 46 yards, leaving him 2-of-7 on field goals of 30 yards or more this season.
Both teams squandered scoring opportunities in the first half. The USC defense was the first to come up big as safety Su’a Cravens was unblocked and tackled McDaniel for a 3-yard loss on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line. The Trojans responded with a 96-yard touchdown drive, with Redd rushing for 40 yards on six carries.
The Irish tied the game on a 7-yard scoring pass from Rees to Niklas, his fifth touchdown catch of the season, tying him for second with Tyler Eifert in 2011 and Ken MacAfee in 1975 for scoring catches in a season by a tight end. The Trojans blew a chance to take a lead when Heidari missed a 40-yard attempt wide right early in the second quarter.
Agholor returned a 47-yard punt by Notre Dame 48 yards to the Notre Dame 25, with another five yards added on because Notre Dame lined up in an illegal formation on the punt. But after Kessler threw an 11-yard pass to Lee, the Trojans had to settle for a 22-yard field goal.
The Irish took the lead with a 91-yard drive on five plays, highlighted by two runs by McDaniel. On the first, he started right and cutback left for a 24-yard spinning run to the Notre Dame 41. After an incomplete pass, McDaniel cut left again for a career-long 36-yard run to the 11. Jones, who was shaken up two plays earlier, then caught an 11-yard TD pass to give the Irish their first halftime lead at home against USC since the “Bush Push” game in 2005.
Notre Dame running back Amir Carlisle, who played as a kick returner for the Trojans against Notre Dame two years ago, is believed to be just the second person to play on both sides of the rivalry. The other was Speedy Hart, who played for Notre Dame in the “Green Jersey Game” in 1977 and for USC in 1980. Carlile finished with three carries for 12 yards.