The momentum switch vs. Irish

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- They don't come much bigger than that.

With USC up 17-10 midway through the third quarter but Notre Dame driving down the field, the Fighting Irish got all the way to the one-yard line and looked poised to tie up the game on a Dayne Crist quarterback sneak until Crist fumbled the snap from Braxston Cave and the game broke open.

The football bounced all the way down to the 20-yard line, where USC safety Jawanza Starling scooped it up and took it all the way back the other way for a touchdown. Just like that, the Trojans led 24-10 instead of being tied 17-17.

And, sure, the Irish got within a touchdown once more, but that was biggest blow to their momentum all game, as the Trojans held on for a 31-17 win. It's not hard to envision the rest of the game unfolding to a Notre Dame win if Crist doesn't fumble and scores the touchdown there.

It was just a big, big play -- almost unprecedented for USC, even.

"As soon as it happened, I was trying to think of -- since I've been here, at least -- another play that can compare to that," center Khaled Holmes said after the game, unable to come up with another that measured up to it. "It was really just such a great play, one that we needed, and it was awesome."

It bounced a good four or five times before Starling scooped it up, with other Trojans going for it and coming up empty. But it only took him one swipe to secure it as he ran by and quickly accelerated the opposite way.

"I didn't want to try to go for it too soon and miss it," Starling said after the game. "So I was just taking my time as much as possible and I took it to the house.

"That was a big momentum swing. That changed the whole tone of the game."

The only other time Notre Dame had a good shot at the game was after Andre Heidari's missed field goal with nine minutes to go left it 24-17 as the Irish started at their 20, but a screen pass from Tommy Rees to Cierre Wood was dropped to the ground behind the line of scrimmage and ruled a fumble and USC linebacker Chris Galippo seized on it at the Notre Dame 18-yard line.

It took USC just three plays to score from there and essentially seal the game, carrying the momentum all the way from the Starling fumble recovery to the final whistle.

"That's just credit to our defense not quitting," Galippo said afterward. "When you're in long drives like that and it's the 16th or 17th play and you can get down inside the five-yard line, anything can happen.

"It was just completely bizarre."