They say that waiting is the hardest part.
USC scored a touchdown on offense, defense, and special teams as the Trojans dominated the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame 45-27 in the 88th matchup of one of the greatest rivalries in college football.
The Trojans victory over their bitter rivals puts them in position to win the Pac 12 South division, but they will have to wait for the outcome of the No. 22 Utah vs. No. 9 Colorado game on Saturday night to determine their fate. A Buffaloes win, and the Trojans regular season comes to an end. A Buffs loss, and the Trojans will meet the Washington Huskies in the Pac 12 Championship game Friday, Dec. 2 at 6:00PM PST.
"We're going to watch the game together," said QB Sam Darnold. "It's out of our control, but it's defnitely going to be fun to watch and we'll see what happens."
All-purpose star Adore'e Jackson scored in three different ways for USC, as the Heisman hopeful returned a punt, kick and a pass for a touchdown in the game.
Jackson showed why he likely will be a first round talent at the NFL level as he returned a punt 55 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter before adding a 52-yard touchdown reception and a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the third quarter.
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Jackson had nearly 300 total yards of offense in the game and now has 21 touchdowns in his collegiate career.
"Honestly, I was sad because the seniors were leaving, so I was in my feelings a little bit. I'm not going to lie," Jackson said of how he felt before the game. "I was a little emotional before the game, but I wanted to do something for them and make sure they went out with a bang. When I got the ball in my hands I just wanted to make sure I made plays."
Ronald Jones II continued his recent string of rushing success as he broke out a 51-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter to give the Trojans a 10-7 lead. Jones II rushed for 134 yards and a touchdown in the victory, the eighth in a row for USC.
JuJu Smith-Schuster had four catches for 23 yards and a touchdown and Sam Darnold was 19-for-29 for 205 yards and two touchdowns. The redshirt freshman quarterback improved to 8-1 as the starter and did not commit a turnover in the game.
"Every game it's awesome to have all our athletes out here to make plays," Darnold said. "Whenever guys can make plays when they're called upon, that's truly special."
The game turned on a dime late in the first half when it appeared that the Irish had snapped the ball out of the end zone, granting the Trojans a safety.
However, referees said that they had not signaled for the start of the play and reversed the call. Notre Dame was allowed to attempt the punt again, and Jackson returned it for a touchdown. On the ensuing drive for the Irish, Kizer threw an interception to Ajene Harris for a pick-six and the Trojans went into the half with a 24-7 lead.
"It was a close game. Rain was coming down, wind was blowing and we were hoping and praying for a big play," said USC head coach Clay Helton. "That was a 14-point swing right before the half and that really was the turning point in the game."
The Trojans must have been hit with the spirit of the holiday season at halftime, as they gifted the Fighting Irish a touchdown to start the second half. After the USC defense once again held Notre Dame to a three-and-out, Jackson fumbled away a punt, putting the Irish deep in Trojan territory.
A few players later, junior DeShone Kizer found his favorite target, sophomore Chris Finke, for a 14-yard touchdown strike. Kizer was 17-for-31 for 220 yards with touchdowns and an interception.
The youthful Irish were led by sophomore Josh Adams who rushed for 180 yards, including a 74-yard scamper in the first quarter that placed the ball on the one-yard line. One play later, Kizer punched it in on a quarterback keeper for the touchdown.
USC ends the regular season with a record of 9-3 and have won eight-in-a-row after starting the season 1-3. Their fate is now in the hands of Colorado as they will either play for a Pac-12 Championship, or a bowl game, the next time they take the field.
Players of the Game:
Adore'e Jackson: Punt, kick, and pass return TDs.
Josh Adams: 180 yards
Ronald Jones II: 134 yards and a touchdown.
1. Rain on my Parade: The last time it rained at the LA Memorial Coliseum for a Trojans home game was on November 27, 2010, also against Notre Dame when the Irish upended the Trojans in the final seconds of the game.
First USC home game with significant rainfall since Notre Dame in 2010. Irish-Trojans dealt with rain in 2004 here, too. — Dan Greenspan (@DanGreenspan) November 26, 2016
2. Twenty Times Means Something: USC's victory is the 20th time in school history the Trojans have swept rivals UCLA and Notre Dame in the same season.
3. Refereeing just got real: Referee Ron Cherry showed the world that officials aren't exempt to hard hits either when he was drilled by USC linebacker Michael Hutchings after the Trojans sacked the Irish on a third-and-long. The collision was an accident, but Cherry stayed on the ground for quite a while before he was finally taken into the locker room for further testing.
"I want to wish Ron Cherry the best, that was a tough blow and they took him to the hospital. I wish him a speedy recovery," said USC head coach Clay Helton after the game.