Despite a valiant effort from Max Wittek in his first career start, the Trojans fell to the No. 1 Notre Dame Fighting Irish at home 22-13, to finish the regular season 7-5 despite such high expectations in August.
The Trojans put together a complete drive early in the fourth quarter, with Max Wittek threading the needle and setting his wide receivers up to make big plays. On one play he evades pressure to bide more time for WR Robert Woods, who he hit over the middle for a 20-yard pick up. Silas Redd grinded out a first down hear and there to get the Trojans in the red zone, but Notre Dame’s defense countered and kept them out on the first two downs. On third down, Wittek snapped the ball and hit Woods in the endzone from four yards out but as that was happening, Lane Kiffin sprinted down the sideline for a timeout.
Heidari’s subsequent 21-yard field goal was good, and the Trojans found themselves back within one possession of upsetting Notre Dame’s perfect season.
But Notre Dame would concede nothing to USC, wearing down the Trojans’ already soft and tired offense on their next drive. Everett Golson marched his team down the field but again they somehow got stalled in the Trojan red zone, having to settle for yet another field goal.
Back up two possessions, the Fighting Irish beckoned the Trojans to make their move.
And make their move they did.
Max Wittek took the snap and launched it 53-yards to Marqise Lee on first down. In the redzone, Coach Kiffin’s game management went down the toilet and after a series of failed play after play, he opted for a pass to FB Soma Vainuku on fourth down. Like he has done all but a couple times this season, Vainuku did not make the catch. Notre Dame stood strong at the goal line like they did against Stanford, and it would make all the difference in the world.
That would pretty much do it for the Trojans, and the Fighting Irish bench and fans started to stir as they knew they were just minutes away from posting an undefeated season.
The Trojan offense faired well against the Irish, but Monte Kiffin’s defense–which has been the source of much frustration for the fan base as the season progressed–did next to nothing in terms of pulling its weight.
Max Wittek finished the night 13 of 22 for 177 yards, and one touchdown. Everett Golson led his team with 15 of 22 for 217 yards. The Trojan offense mustered a total of 280 yards, but USC’s defense gave up 441 to Notre Dame in a lousy defensive effort.
Notre Dame did not look like the No. 1 team against USC, being kept out of the endzone on all but one of their scoring drives. However USC’s inability to do enough with their own possessions, and the lack of necessary adjustments once against cost them a victory.
The regular season is over and the Trojans finish with five losses to Notre Dame’s zero, certainly something no one saw coming into this game. The Trojans do have a bowl game to look forward to, but when the sun finally sets on this season it will surely come as relief to many Trojan fans.
The fall from grace that USC experienced this year was baffling, but they do indeed have a bright future ahead of them in the Max Wittek era, and if USC brings in some new coaches for next season, the Trojans could fair much better in 2013 than they did in 2012.