Southern California wasn't good enough to overcome its mistakes and beat Notre Dame in South Bend for a sixth straight time. Not this time.
The Trojans were held scoreless in the second half of a 14-10 loss Saturday night, a disappointing finish for interim coach Ed Orgeron in his second game running the team since Lane Kiffin's dismissal.
"It seemed that every time we had a first down or something like that we had a holding call or jumped offside, we shot ourselves in the foot, and then it was second and 20," Orgeron said.
USC looked as if it might have a good scoring opportunity when safety Su'a Cravens forced Notre Dame running back Cam McDaniel to fumble and recovered the ball at the Notre Dame 34 with 6:27 left in the game. But USC had three penalties on the ensuing drive, including a holding penalty on a third-and-12 from the 23, a false start on fourth-and-15 and Cody Kessler was sacked for a seven-yard loss.
"It was just a frustrating game overall," USC right tackle Kevin Graf said.
Notre Dame's odds of winning didn't appear good when Tommy Rees was knocked out of the game when he was sacked with about 9 minutes left in the third quarter, but neither team scored in the second half and the Irish hung on. Rees was 14 of 21 passing for 166 yards with TD throws to Troy Niklas and TJ Jones in the first half.
Kelly said Rees sustained a neck strain. He said it will be a day or two before Rees knows how long he will be out.
"He's a little sore tonight, but he's clear and talking," Kelly said.
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.
"We started trying to make stuff happen and it seemed like they always had a guy there," Kessler said. "We were killing ourselves with penalties and missed assignments. You can't win a game when you do that. If you can't convert on third down and keep drives alive, you can't really win a game and you can't put up points.
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. This is the earliest the Trojans have three losses since starting that season 2-5.
"We have a hurt team in there," Orgeron said. "They gave it everything they had. "
In only the third night game at Notre Dame Stadium in the past two decades, there were a lot of mistakes and both teams lost players to injuries.
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. Lee said he could have played in the second half, but Orgeron didn't want him to.
"I told him I was all right, but he refused," Lee said.
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.
Orgeron said Notre Dame's pressure up front hurt the Trojans.
"We just seemed that we couldn't get things going," he said.
With Rees out, the Irish attempted just four more passes and Andrew Hendrix wasn't close on any of them was close as the Irish could muster only 47 yards total offense in the second half. McDaniel led the Irish rushing game with 92 yards on 18 carries.
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.
"Obviously the penalties hurt us tonight in crucial situations, and we didn't punch it in the red zone when we needed to," Orgeron said.
Both teams squandered scoring opportunities in the first half. The USC defense was the first to come up big as 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. 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 and didn't score again.