While the sports world is on hold, theScore will fill the void with a weekly examination of one of college football's most memorable plays over the last 20 years. After previously covering the "kick-6" from the 2013 Iron Bowl and the ending of the 2015 rivalry game between Michigan and Michigan State, today's post looks at the 2005 contest between USC and Notre Dame.
It might seem crazy now given the Pac-12's recent struggles to maintain national relevance, but there was no question that USC was the king of college football in the early 2000s. Led by the lethal offensive duo of Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush, the Trojans entered their 2005 rivalry game at Notre Dame as national champions riding a ridiculous 27-game winning streak. The top-ranked Trojans headed to South Bend with a 5-0 record, averaging an absurd 51 points per contest on the season.
Notre Dame was also off to an impressive start in its first campaign under new head coach Charlie Weis. Star quarterback Brady Quinn led an offensive unit that was putting up 37 points per game. The Fighting Irish had already knocked off Pitt and Michigan and entered their meeting with USC as the ninth-ranked team in the country, an overtime loss to Michigan State the only blemish on their resume. To help get the home team hyped for the game, Weis brought in Notre Dame legends Joe Montana and Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger to speak.
The first three quarters of this rivalry clash lived up to the hype, with the teams trading blows throughout. Bush was brilliant once again, scoring a 36-yard touchdown in the opening frame and adding a 45-yard scamper to the end zone in the third. The eventual Heisman winner then gave the Trojans a four-point lead with his third touchdown of the contest, quieting the massive crowd with 5:09 to play.
Quinn, who finished fourth in Heisman voting that year, rallied the Fighting Irish in response, taking the offense 82 yards in less than three minutes to the USC 5-yard line. He finished the drive himself, finding the end zone with 2:04 left to put the home side back in front by three points.
Like any great heavyweight, USC had plenty of fight left for the closing minutes. Leinart moved the Trojans back into the Irish red zone thanks to an outrageous 61-yard completion on fourth-and-9. What ensued was one of the wildest finishes in college football history. The dying seconds involved a fumble, a clock error that saw time expire as the Notre Dame sideline began running onto the field, an officials' review to put time back on the clock, and a dramatic winning touchdown.
Leinart's touchdown gave USC the win, but questions emerged immediately about the legality of his scoring run. Bush pushing his quarterback over the line appeared to violate the section of the NCAA rule book that stated: "The runner shall not grasp a teammate; and no other player of his team shall grasp, push, lift, or charge into him to assist him in forward progress."
To this day, Weis has defused any suggestion of a controversy, telling ESPN's Matt Fortuna, "I would like to think that my running back would've been heads-up enough to do the exact same thing in the same situation."
Notre Dame returned to its winning ways for the rest of its schedule, going undefeated and qualifying for the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State. Less than two weeks after the USC loss, Weis received a new 10-year contract that tied him to the school through 2015. It may have seemed like a good move at the time, but the veteran coach would be fired following the 2009 season, and the extension ended up costing the school almost $19 million in a buyout.
USC got right back on track after the narrow victory, running the table on the regular season while scoring 50-plus points in every game but one. After pasting crosstown rival UCLA 66-19 on Dec. 3, the Trojans headed to their second straight national title game. Awaiting them at the Rose Bowl were Vince Young and Texas, and the electrifying quarterback claimed a win for the Longhorns in dramatic fashion.
While the memories from the Notre Dame contest remain, the game was scrubbed from the NCAA record books after USC was hit with sanctions over improper gifts received by Bush. All the Trojans' wins from 2005 were vacated and the star running back forfeited his Heisman.