Notre Dame vs. USC 1995: Irish Squash Trojans’ Title Aspirations

Notre Dame dominated Southern Cal 38-10 in 1995, extending their winning streak to 13 games in the rivalry.

The concept of a rivalry is that both teams generally have an equal chance of winning a game. When it comes to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, its rivalry with the Southern Cal Trojans had become a domination entering the two schools’ matchup on October 22, 1995. That’s because the Irish hadn’t lost in the previous 12 meetings, with this particular battle set to be played on their home field.

Notre Dame ended up winning that 1995 contest, 38-10, to extend that streak to 13 games. The performance came one week after the Army Black Knights nearly pulled a major upset of the 17th-ranked Irish in the final minute of action. For the fifth-ranked and undefeated Trojans, the jarring defeat ratcheted up the team’s level of frustration against an arch-rival.

The Coaches: Another Holtz vs. Robinson showdown

Due to his continuing recovery from spinal surgery, Lou Holtz again communicated with his Notre Dame coaches and players from the press box. In an ironic twist during his 10th season at the school, Holtz had been enjoying greater success away from the sidelines. The Irish had won his three previous games up above and had also won when his immediate recovery kept him at home. In contrast, Notre Dame had won just once in three times with Holtz nervously pacing the sidelines.

John Robinson was in the third season of his second tenure as Southern Cal’s head coach. Entering this game, he had a 22-8-1 mark since that return, a slight dip from his earlier seven-year run. However, he once again had the Trojans in the thick of battling for a potential national championship after some uneven years.

The Key Players: Notre Dame’s loaded backfield vs. USC’s flashy weapons

Ron Powlus had endured some tense moments in that Army victory, including a fumble with less than three minutes left that set up the Black Knights’ final score. Besides having Derrick Mayes as his main receiving weapon, each of his top three running backs was on their way to averaging over five yards per carry. Notre Dame’s defense was intent on helping shut down the Trojan running game after getting shredded one week earlier by Army.

Southern Cal used a platoon system at quarterback, with Brad Otton and Kyle Wachholtz sharing duties. Since neither signal-caller was a runner, the duo relied on Deion Washington to fuel the running game. When Otton and Wachholtz needed to throw, Keyshawn Johnson was usually the target, finishing that 1995 campaign with 90 catches. The Trojans’ defense got a boost the day before the game when a court allowed defensive end Israel Ifeanyi to play after he’d been suspended by the NCAA for one game.

The Game: Domination by Notre Dame

October weather can fluctuate drastically and both teams ended up competing in raw conditions that included a steady rain. Whether that played a role in Southern Cal committing four turnovers during the game is questionable but those struggles damaged the Trojans’ hopes for victory.

One bizarre pre-game rumor which was quickly debunked was that former Southern Cal Heisman winner O.J. Simpson would be attending the game. Just three weeks earlier, Simpson had been acquitted of two murders in a controversial trial that had riveted the nation.

When the game started, the Trojans quickly went three-and-out, setting the stage for Notre Dame’s first score. That came on the 14th play of a drive that began at the Irish 20, with Marc Edwards bouncing off a pair of would-be tacklers from nine yards out. The only down note of the drive was when the extra-point attempt went wide left to keep it at 6-0 for Notre Dame.

Notre Dame seized more early momentum with one of the most iconic plays of the 90’s for the Irish. With USC knocking on the doorstep of Irish endzone, linebacker Kinnon Tatum came flying into the USC backfield to jar the ball loose. The ball landed into the possession of fellow Irish linebacker Bert Berry.

Southern Cal’s miscues were costly but it was an Irish turnover that gave the Trojans their only lead of the game. With just under 10 minutes left before halftime, Notre Dame’s Scott Sollmann fumbled a punt that was recovered by Southern Cal at the Irish 17. Two plays later, Johnson caught a touchdown pass from that distance to give the Trojans a 7-6 advantage.

However, Notre Dame would twice answer back before intermission to take control of the contest. First, Edwards ended a 60-yard, 13-play drive with a two-yard scoring run and also caught the two-point conversion from Powlus. Then, after Southern Cal came up short on fourth down, the Irish raced 62 yards on nine plays, the last a four-yard scoring run from Autry Denson to make it 21-7.

Disaster struck for Notre Dame on the first play after the break when Powlus was picked off. That mistake was minimized when the Trojans were held to a field goal for their final points of the afternoon.

The next score didn’t come until three minutes had passed in the final quarter. Freshman safety Kory Minor tackled Wachholtz in the end zone for a safety to give the Irish a 23-10 lead. Notre Dame got the ball back in prime field position following the safety and needed just seven plays before Powlus found tight end Pete Chryplewicz for a two-yard scoring toss.

Four minutes later, the Irish put a cap on the festivities after linebacker Lyron Cobbins’ interception put the ball at the Trojan 13. Edwards again found the end zone on the fourth play of the drive to make the final 38-10 in favor of the Irish.

In the final moments of the game, Holtz ventured down from the press box to join his team on the sidelines. His road to recovery was evident since he was no longer wearing a cumbersome neck brace, instead adopting a soft collar.

The Aftermath

The pounding delivered by Notre Dame resulted in the team moving up five spots to 12th in the rankings, while Southern Cal dropped eight spots to 13th, right behind the Irish. The Trojans tied Washington one week later and then dropped their regular-season finale to the crosstown rival UCLA Bruins. In a bit of irony, Southern Cal defeated the Northwestern Wildcats in that season’s Rose Bowl, three months after Notre Dame dropped its opener to the Wildcats.

Notre Dame ended its regular season with a six-game winning streak but then fell in Holtz’s last bowl game with the Irish. In that 31-26 Orange Bowl loss to the Florida State Seminoles, the Irish watched their 26-14 lead fade away during the final 12 minutes,. The go-ahead score came with 6:09 left, with a safety by the Seminoles coming four minutes later.

The Trojans finally ended their frustration against Notre Dame the following year and have won 15 of the 27 clashes since that 1995 matchup. Most recently, however, the Irish enjoyed another thorough domination of a highly ranked Trojan team with a high-powered offense. Ironically, Keyshawn Johnson shot his mouth off before the game calling Notre Dame a “dump” only to watch his alma mater get taken to the woodshed 48-20 in a game that effectively killed Caleb Williams’s bid for a second Heisman.

You may also like

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button