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Irish-USC rivalry: Where perfection often turns to near-perfection

Southern California coach Lane Kiffin, left, talks with

Southern California coach Lane Kiffin, left, talks with Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, right, before an NCAA college football game in Los Angeles. (Nov. 24, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

LOS ANGELES -- The message was only temporary, chalked on a board in the locker room, but it remains indelible in the mind. "30 more minutes," Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian had written, and no explanation was required.

It was 1964, and the Fighting Irish, the unbeaten Fighting Irish, were ahead, 17-0, at halftime. All they needed were "30 more minutes" of the football they had played all season, and especially in this game.

They never got it.

USC, the final touchdown coming with a minute and a half remaining, scored 20 points in those 30 minutes, to none for the bewildered Irish, and won, 20-17.

A team which had allowed no more than 15 points in any game, and that total only twice, had given up 20 in one difficult half of one memorable game.

That one, and Notre Dame-USC of 1970, when the Trojans stunned another undefeated Irish squad, were fodder this week in southern California, the region -- where the temperature Saturday climbed to 76 degrees -- and at Southern California, the school.

The 2012 Notre Dame squad came into Saturday night's game 11-0, No. 1 in the land. USC, with a redshirt freshman quarterback who never had started a game, was thinking there might be magic and upset in the air.

If it happened before, people were hoping, it could happen again.

"I'm going to go out there," USC quarterback Max Wittek said earlier this week, "and play within myself, within the system, and we're going to win."

A coach -- Lane Kiffin, in this instance -- wants positive thinking, but from a kid who really wasn't even supposed to be on the field?

Crazy things happen, as noted, but not always.

Two years ago, Mitch Mustain, a transfer from Arkansas, started in place of Matt Barkley and threw 38 times against Notre Dame. USC lost, 20-16.

Wittek went to the same high school, Mater Dei, as the man he was forced to replace, Barkley, when Barkley was buried by a charging UCLA lineman last week in the fourth quarter of UCLA's 38-28 victory. (Heisman winner John Huarte, quarterback on that almost-perfect 1964 Irish team, was also out of Mater Dei.)

Barkley, who at the beginning of the year was a Heisman Trophy favorite, incurred a sprained shoulder, and so his backup took over.

The opportunity was there, as Wittek pointed out. Every kid would dream of a chance to face Notre Dame, and if the situation was less than ideal, one can't complain.

"It's happened," said Wittek, 19, who at 6-4, 245 pounds, is taller and heavier than Barkley. And who USC receivers say throws a heavier ball.

"You feel it in your hands when he hits you,'' Robert Woods said.

The other main USC receiver, Marqise Lee, pointed out, with a laugh: "Max throws too hard. But I mean that's perfect."

Perfect was the description for Notre Dame, which had not given up more than 20 points in regulation in any of its other games this season.

But the 1964 and 1970 Notre Dame teams also were perfect before coming to Los Angeles, and they couldn't close the deal. Those "30 more minutes" became forever.

New York Sports