Alex Gallardo-Los Angeles Times

USC vs. Notre Dame 2005: Reliving The Greatest Game That Was Never Won

Fourth-and-9.  Notre Dame leads 31-28.  1:32 left to play in the game.

No. 1 USC was on the ropes in a long, hard-fought game in South Bend.

Notre Dame wore the magical green jerseys and the Irish appeared to be on the verge of upsetting the two-time National Champion Trojans.

After trading body blows like prized fighters, with neither team ever taking a lead more than seven points, USC was down to one last play.

Matt Leinart led the Trojans out of their final timeout as they faced the grim reality of their 27-game winning streak coming to an end at the hands of their bitter rival.

In a stadium where it was hard to hear yourself think, Leinart called an audible at the line of scrimmage, calmly dropped back and threw a perfectly placed fade pass to Dwayne Jarrett for a gain of 61 yards down to the Irish 13 yard line.

Suddenly, the Trojans were back in business with the worst case scenario being a field goal attempt to tie the game.

USC entered the game with the heralded “Thunder and Lightning” backfield in Lendale White and Reggie Bush, but it was Bush who carried the load that afternoon.

White was held to 26 yards and one touchdown and stood by as Bush ran wild for 160 yards and three touchdowns.

However, Bush’s rushing statistics, along with Leinart’s 301 passing yards are quickly forgotten thanks to a play that netted one yard and a scored touchdown.

Leinart rushed to the Notre Dame one yard line and fumbled the ball out of bounds in a play where the clock mistakingly ran down to 0:00 and chaos ensued.

Once the officials regained control of the game, the Trojans faced a second-and-goal situation with seven seconds remaining.

As the Trojans lined up, Leinart checked with Pete Carroll to get direction.

Carroll signaled for his quarterback to spike the ball, presumably so the Trojans could regroup and craft a plan of attack.

Trojan lore has it Leinart then asked Bush for his opinion, and that was what perhaps convinced the Heisman-winning quarterback into forgoing the spike and instead attempting a game-winning quarterback sneak.

The “Bush push” was born.

Leinart was initially stood up at the line of scrimmage before his backfield partner provided a generous nudge to aid his momentum across the goal line.

The result, 34-31, in favor of USC.

In June of 2010, the NCAA threw the book at the Trojans and that included vacating victories from December of 2004 through the 2005 season.

The record books will show that USC never played a game on October 15, 2005.  Fans who were there or watching on TV will remember otherwise.

On that cool, October Saturday, USC and Notre Dame played arguably the best game in their cross-sectional rivalry.

Watch the game in its entirety 

USC vs. Notre Dame: 2005 highlights

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Were you at the game?  Do you have a memorable story?  

Comment below with your account of the 2005 classic.

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  • pjwc1

    I crazily sat in the student section wearing my SC colors while visiting an ND grad student and friend. Little did we know the historical impact of the game. I had food thrown thrown at me, not to mention people screaming at me, “What are you doing here? Get the F out!” At the end of the game with the famous “Bush push,” after we finally realized SC won, a half naked drunk kid in green body paint pushed me making me fly into the ppl in front of me. I was about to deck him but as I cocked my fist, I noticed even more body painted students in the corner of my eye just watching us. I ended up just pointing my finger at him and yelling at him instead of risking getting attacked by a hundred kids.

  • Mick Rose

    My “Bucket List” always included a game at South Bend. My son and I were at that game! I was sitting in the end zone seats, on the other side of the field where “The Push” occurred with Los Angeles radio DJ, Rick Dees…. (honestly!)…

    We saw the fumble and the ND crowd flood the stadium floor. I was crushed. But then the announcer kept telling the crowd to return to their seats, once the field was cleared I saw the play…. I could not tell how it turned out until I saw the SC Section going CRAZY!

    I have to give the ND Fans props! After the game many came up to me and my son and congratulated us on such a great and hard fought victory. They commented on how SC/ND was the best rivalry in College Football. Some even wished us well and said they hoped we would go on to win the National Championship…

    The University of Notre Dame may be our most “bitter” of rivals, but their fans at South Bend were an extreme class act!

    I will remember the game until I die!

    Fight On Trojans,

    • Matthew Moreno

      What a great game you and your son were able to attend while simultaneously taking something off your bucket list.

      Being on the side of the field where SC was driving, I saw the referee signal for the clock to stop when Leinart fumbled out of bounds. I had a feeling that the Notre Dame celebration was premature, but I was also leery that the refs would get it right.

      Glad to hear your interaction with Irish fans was pleasant. I certainly did not receive that same treatment on my way in and out of the stadium.