Irish held to 91 total yards in humiliating loss to Trojans

LOS ANGELES -- The outcome of Saturday night's Notre Dame-Southern California game was never in doubt. What remains in question is Charlie Weis' job security with the Fighting Irish.

Mark Sanchez passed for 267 yards and two touchdowns, USC 's hard-hitting defense thoroughly dominated Notre Dame, and the fifth-ranked Trojans rolled to a 38-3 victory over the Irish and their beleaguered coach.

"This was a terrific way to send the seniors out," USC coach Pete Carroll said following the Trojans' final home game. "We're not done yet. We just keep playing. We're going to the Rose Bowl, one way or another."

By winning their eighth straight game, the Trojans kept their slim national championship hopes alive and, at the very least, are in position to play in their fourth straight Rose Bowl game.

With No. 17 Oregon State's 65-38 loss to No. 23 Oregon earlier Saturday, USC (10-1, 7-1 Pac-10) needs only to beat crosstown rival UCLA (4-7, 3-5) next weekend at the Rose Bowl to win its seventh straight conference title and set up a New Year's date in Pasadena with No. 8 Penn State, the Big Ten champion.

"Our only concern is going up to Pasadena next week and taking care of the Pac-10," USC linebacker Brian Cushing said.

USC finished with 22 first downs and 449 yards of total offense while Notre Dame had four first downs and 91 yards. The Irish didn't get a first down until the last play of the third quarter on a 15-yard run by James Aldridge. They had run 30 plays for 23 yards before Aldridge broke loose, drawing a derisive cheer from the partisan crowd of 90,689 at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

After it was over, Weis patiently answered questions about his future.

"I'm the head coach at Notre Dame," he said. "When the time comes sometime in my career, either by my choice or their choice, they're going to tell me I'm not the head coach at Notre Dame. But right now, my intent is to finish this press conference, be cordial, worry about my players, get them off to the airport and go on this recruiting trip tomorrow."

Weis said he plans to recruit on the West Coast until Thursday before returning home.

The only time Notre Dame truly put up a fight was before the game. There was a brief skirmish about 45 minutes before the opening kickoff after the Irish entered the field down the tunnel leading from the locker rooms while USC was warming up. Law enforcement officials and coaches kept it from escalating beyond some pushing and shoving, although a few punches were thrown.

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said nothing will be decided soon.

"There's no guarantee for my women's soccer coach, which is on its way to the Women's Final Four next weekend," Swarbrick said. "We sit down and evaluate every program the same way at the end of the season. We look at a host of factors, from graduation rate to GPA, and we ask how can we make things better. That's the way we do it.

"I'm saying nothing will happen until we complete the entire review process. It doesn't assume something will happen."

The AD said he and Weis will next meet a week from Monday.

Notre Dame defensive end Pat Kuntz said he believes the Irish aren't far away from becoming a top-notch team.

"We have the talent," he said. "They made more plays than we did, and that's what good teams do."

The Trojans, 27-0 in November games under Carroll, extended their winning streak over Notre Dame to seven -- their longest in the 80-game intersectional series between two of college football's storied programs. They've won those seven games by an average of 27 points.

Notre Dame (6-6) is bowl eligible, but the Irish's 15 losses the past two seasons are the most in any two-year span in school history. Weis' record has dropped from 19-6 after two years on the job to 28-21.

Even so, it didn't appear his job was in jeopardy until last weekend's 24-23 loss to woeful Syracuse at home, prompting talk of a buyout. The embarrassment of this game for Weis, a reputed offensive specialist, could be the crowning blow.

He has seven years left on the 10-year contract he signed in 2005, his first season, right after the Irish nearly upset Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and USC in South Bend.

Weis's predecessor, Tyrone Willingham, was dismissed after three years on the job in the wake of a 41-10 loss to USC that left him 21-15 with the Irish.

Sanchez completed 22-of-31 passes with two interceptions. Damian Williams had seven receptions for 86 yards and Patrick Turner caught six for 83 yards. Joe McKnight gained 63 yards on four carries.

Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen, who grew up in nearby Westlake Village, completed 11-of-22 passes for 41 yards with two interceptions and was sacked four times by the nation's best defense.

"Is this the best group we have had? Well, it's the best we've ever played on defense," said Carroll, whose team has allowed just 10 touchdowns in 11 games and an NCAA low 7.8 points per game this season.

"They're nasty, they fight hard, they don't want to give up an inch," Sanchez said of the Trojans' defense.

The Trojans took a 7-0 lead on their second possession, scoring on a 2-yard run by Stafon Johnson.

USC scored on its last three possessions of the second quarter to make it 24-0 at halftime.

McKnight ran 55 yards on the first play after an interception by Kaluka Maiava, and Sanchez threw a 12-yard scoring pass to Williams before David Buehler added a 35-yard field goal with 24 seconds left in the half.

C.J. Gable's 1-yard run with 5:03 left in the third quarter made it 31-0.

The Irish crossed midfield for the first time on the second play of the fourth quarter, and got as far as the USC 23 before Brandon Walker kicked a 41-yard field goal to prevent USC from recording its fourth shutout of the year.

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