SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Invoking the no-respect incentive, Notre Dame pumped up its national profile yesterday and may have saved its season in the process.
The 17th-ranked Fighting Irish used an old menu -- a big running game, the option play and timely defense -- to upset fifth-ranked Southern California, 38-10, before 59,075 at Notre Dame Stadium.
"This was huge," Irish quarterback Ron Powlus said. "We were playing a Top 5 team and our record isn't where we'd like it to be. But this game is going to help us out."
Playing in a persistent drizzle and encroaching darkness, Notre Dame (6-2) strengthened its bid for a spot in the Bowl Alliance and ended USC's unbeaten season.
It was Notre Dame's first victory over a Top 5 team since the Irish beat then-No. 1 Florida State, 31-24, here two years ago. And it silenced what the Irish believed were the talkative Trojans (6-1), who arrived with national championship aspirations.
"We heard a lot of comments during the week," Powlus said. "We took offense to it. I guess we showed them."
USC coach John Robinson said: "I think we're a good football team, but not a great team. I thought we had a very bad game today."
Notre Dame not only outplayed USC, but out-coached it as well. The Irish used screen passes and the option play to negate a fierce USC pass rush, then pounded inside with the running game.
Irish freshman Autry Denson rushed for 95 yards and one touchdown, and fullback Marc Edwards ran for 82 and three scores. Edwards got carried off the field at the end, after USC's winless streak against Notre Dame reached 13.
A loss would have been devastating to Notre Dame's bowl implications. With three losses, the Irish would have been in danger of getting nudged out of the alliance.
"[A loss] wouldn't have killed it, but it would have put us in a difficult position," Edwards said. "Now it looks pretty good for us."
Things looked pretty dark for USC, though. When the Trojans were getting pounded up front by Notre Dame's revamped offensive line, they self-destructed with an uncharacteristic four turnovers. Three times they got inside the Irish 10 -- and came away with no points.
On USC's second possession, there was a portent of what was to come, when tailback Delon Washington fumbled at the Irish 3 after blitzing linebacker Kinnon Tatum's punishing hit.
By the end of the half, the game made a decisive turn. After USC failed to convert a fourth-down try at the Notre Dame 41, the Irish took the ball 62 yards in nine plays to get a 4-yard touchdown run by Denson and a 21-7 lead.
Bigger yet, USC drove to the Notre Dame 3 in the final minute of the half. After two incompletions and a tipped pass, Notre Dame felt like it had been pardoned.
"I was all ready to go in at the half and say, 'Happiness is having a poor memory -- forget what happened at the end of the half,' " Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz said.
Happiness, in this case, was shutting down USC without a touchdown in the second half. That was saying something for a defense that had been maligned regularly this season.
"Basically, this game was about getting respect for the whole team," said cornerback Shawn Wooden.