Notre Dame vs. USC 2005: The Bush Push Game

Since their 1926 debut, Notre Dame and USC have built a storied rivalry, highlighted by the controversial 2005 "Bush Push" game.

Since the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Southern Cal Trojans first faced each other in December 1926, the two schools have formal the greatest intersectional rivalry in the sport, meeting virtually every year since, with the 2023 Irish blowout victory marking their 94th meeting. Arguably, the most controversial clash between them took place on Oct. 15, 2005, when the Trojans eked out a 34-31 win, courtesy of the infamous “Bush Push.”

The Coaches

Notre Dame’s first-year mentor, Charlie Weis, had gotten off to a good start with his ninth-ranked squad, offering hope that the struggles of the previous eight seasons had ended. The Irish entered the Southern Cal contest with four wins in their first five games, the only blemish coming in a wild overtime road loss at Michigan State four weeks earlier.

Trojans head coach Pete Carroll was in his fifth season at the school, having led his team to 41 wins in their last 44 contests. Southern Cal had shared the 2003 national championship with LSU and won it outright the following season. They entered this game as the top team in the nation with a 27-game winning streak.

The Key Players

Brady Quinn was behind center for Notre Dame, with his main backfield option being running back Darius Walker. When he went to the air, he had the duo of Jeff Samardzija and Maurice Stovall as his main targets. Weis’ background in offense aided the Irish in averaging 37 points in their first five games.

The Trojans were even more potent when they had the ball, averaging 51 points in their first five clashes. Quarterback Matt Leinart and running back Reggie Bush were a lethal duo that showed no signs of slowing down toward another national championship.

The Game

Before a national television audience, Notre Dame broke out their green jerseys, hoping for the magic that spurred their 1977 pounding of Southern Cal. In the 2005 matchup, the early magic went the other way, when Brady Quinn was picked off on the Irish’s second series. That led to a 36-yard scoring run by Bush for an early 7-0 Trojans lead.

Looking to get back some momentum, Notre Dame took advantage of Southern Cal penalties and also converted a fourth-down call at their own 29. That eventually led to Travis Thomas’ 16-yard scoring run that knotted the score at seven, but the Trojans quickly marched down the field to score again and take a 14-7 lead.

The second quarter was almost exclusively in Notre Dame’s favor, with the Irish scoring twice to take a 21-14 lead into halftime. The first tally came when Quinn found Samardzija on a 32-yard scoring toss, which was quickly followed by the Irish defense forcing Southern Cal to punt. The Trojan kick to Tom Zbitowski at the Notre Dame 41 resulted in a 59-yard punt return that gave the Irish their first lead of the contest.

Leinart, the reigning Heisman winner, had his struggles during the game. He was intercepted twice by the Irish, the first coming late in the first half on Chinedum Ndukwe’s end zone pickoff. The second errant toss by Leinart went to Notre Dame’s Mike Richardson and ended the Trojans’ first drive of the second half.

The inability of the Irish to mount a drive of their own proved to be costly, with Bush doing most of the damage. He returned a Notre Dame punt 20 yards, then followed that soon after with a 45-yard scoring run to tie things up again. A promising Irish drive was snuffed out when Anthony Fasano’s fumble gave Southern Cal back the ball deep in their own territory.

With just 10 seconds gone in the final quarter, Notre Dame kicker D. J. Fitpatrick’s 32-yard field goal gave the Irish back the lead. Fitzpatrick missed a 34-yard attempt on the next Irish drive, with Leinart taking advantage. His 80-yard scoring drive was culminated by Bush’s third score with 5:09 left in the game.

Trailing 28-24, Quinn marched the Irish down the field, completing four passes and reaching the end zone on his own five-yard run with 2:04 remaining. The Trojans got the ball back at their own 25 and began their dramatic winning drive. The surge included a clutch audible on a fourth-and-nine pass that gained 61 yards and put the ball at the Notre Dame 13 with 1:23 left.

Two runs by Bush picked up another Southern Cal first down at the Irish two with 23 seconds left. Leinart then rolled out and was stopped just short of the goal line, fumbling the ball out of bounds at the one. The clock operator didn’t see the fumble and let the clock run out, leading some Irish fans running on the field to prematurely celebrate the upset win.

However, seven seconds were placed back on the clock, which gave the Trojans one more chance to win. Leinart’s quarterback sneak up the middle was stopped, leading him to move to his left, at which point he got a push from behind by Bush to reach the end zone.

The Aftermath

After the game, Bush freely admitted to shoving Leinart forward, even though the action was a clear rules violation. In addition to that controversy, the pre-game decision by Carroll not to allow instant replay on calls proved to play a pivotal role down the stretch. At that time, both coaches had to agree to allow replay in a non-conference matchup, with that rule subsequently abolished the following season. Carroll’s replay decision prevented officials from placing the ball at either the two- or three-yard-line, where the fumbled ball went out of bounds.

Southern Cal rolled in their last five regular season games, earning them a spot in the national title matchup against Texas. Irish fans may have felt a twinge of satisfaction as the Trojans’ hopes for another championship ended in the closing seconds on a scoring run by Longhorns’ quarterback Vince Young.

Notre Dame went on to win their final five regular season games before dropping a Fiesta Bowl decision to Ohio State for a 9-3 final record for the 2005 season. A 10-3 campaign followed the next year, but from that point, Weis’ success disappeared as the Irish went 16-21 in the final three years of his tenure.

While the end result of the Bush Push Game left a sour taste in the mouths of Irish fans, it remains one of the more memorable matchups in both Nore Dame and college football history.

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  1. Bush openly cheated on the “push” just like he cheated getting money and housing from Pete Carrol when that violated NCAA rules. Just because players now legally receive NIL monies does not mean he and USC should be forgiven for their past crimes and his Heisman restored.

  2. OK, that’s just masochism. I was at that game and sitting right at the goal line where the push occurred. A 10-year-old kid sitting next to us started crying uncontrollably when the tragedy occurred – poor kid was probably scarred for life.

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