LOS ANGELES, NOV. 24 -- Patience was an in-demand commodity tonight at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where a three-hour traffic snarl was rivaled by a touchdown drought of almost three quarters. For a change, Notre Dame-USC might not have been worth waiting for.
Making the most of the game's only touchdown, Notre Dame stopped USC three times in the fourth quarter to claim an unaesthetic 10-6 victory before 91,639, an outcome contrary to an expected shootout in the regular season finale for both teams.
The game's two most exciting plays -- not surprisingly, the work of Notre Dame flanker Raghib Ismail -- didn't figure in the scoring. His 31-yard rush and 41-yard reception, both in the fourth quarter, served only to keep the ball from the Trojans.
It was defense, Notre Dame's season-long trouble spot, that dominated. Because they played well at the end, the Irish secured their eighth straight victory over the Trojans, beating a team that had won against Stanford and Penn State -- the teams that have beaten Notre Dame this year.
"This was a difficult and very distracting week," said Notre Dame Coach Lou Holtz. "By Thursday's practice, I had no idea how we'd play, although if I was a betting man I might have bet against us playing this well."
The victory didn't bring the Irish any closer to a national title but gave them another year of bragging rights in one of college football's biggest intersectional rivalries.
Seventh-ranked Notre Dame (9-2) now turns its attention to No. 1 Colorado in the Orange Bowl. No. 18 USC (8-3-1) is off to the John Hancock Bowl against No. 24 Michigan State on Dec. 31 in El Paso.
With USC leading 6-3 on a pair of Quin Rodriguez field goals, Notre Dame took possession at its 31 with 9:05 left in the third quarter. When that drive ended almost six minutes later, the Irish had stolen the Trojans' momentum.
Reggie Brooks's one-yard run capped a 15-play, 69-yard drive that saw Ricky Watters gain 34 yards on seven carries to set up the touchdown.
In the fourth quarter, Notre Dame threatened but was stopped on four plays from the USC 2 or closer.
The drive took shape when Ismail, showing few side effects from the thigh bruise he suffered against Penn State last week, came through with his two big plays.
Watters gained one yard on first and goal from the 2, but quarterback Rick Mirer slipped on the next play and lost a yard. After a one-yard gain by Shawn Davis, Mirer's pass to tight end Derek Brown fell incomplete.
The Trojans had three more possessions but could move to farther than the Irish 45.
"Our defense was excellent," Holtz said. "We gave up no big plays and played against the run very well."
USC took a 3-0 lead with relative ease, moving 73 yards on its first possession to set up a Rodriguez's 22-yard field goal.
USC quarterback Todd Marinovich (26 of 39 for 273 yards) completed four of five passes to account for 52 yards. But his only misfire, on third and goal from the 5, forced the Trojans to opt for three points.
On the Trojans' first play from scrimmage, Marinovich completed a 14-yard pass to Gary Wellman, the senior flanker's 100th career reception. Only the seventh USC receiver to accumulate that many, Wellman has caught passes in 22 straight games, and had nine for 101 yards tonight.
Also on that drive, USC tailback Mazio Royster went over the 1,000-yard mark for the season, joining former Heisman Trophy winner Charles White and Anthony Davis as the only Trojans sophomores to do so.