Long before being involved in the “Trial of the Century,” O.J. Simpson was a standout on the gridiron. In the NFL, he became the first player in league history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season.
His talent, however, first came to be recognized by the world while Simpson was at USC. On this day 55 years ago, Simpson put on a show. He finished with 202 rushing yards and three touchdowns as the Trojans stormed past Notre Dame in a top-5 matchup, 24-7.
Setting the Stage
With hard-fought wins over Texas and Michigan State early in the year, USC was 4-0 and ranked No. 1 in the country as it arrived at Notre Dame Stadium on Oct. 14, 1967. Despite being the nation’s top-ranked team, the Trojans were nearly 2-touchdown underdogs.
Notre Dame was just 2-1 after falling to Purdue early in the season. The two victories for the No. 5 Fighting Irish, however, had come by a combined 83 points over California and Iowa. Notre Dame had won its previous two meetings over USC by a combined 79-7 margin.
Simpson Runs Wild in the Second Half
For the first half, the Notre Dame defense dominated. Quarterback Terry Hanratty had scored the game’s only touchdown as the contest went to the locker room with the Fighting Irish leading 7-0.
The second half, however, would be a completely different story as USC dominated in all three phases. A Notre Dame fumble on the second half kickoff would set up the tying score as Simpson found the end zone from a yard out. His 35-yard touchdown later in the third quarter on a toss play would put USC ahead for good, 14-7.
A field goal late in the period pushed the Trojans’ lead to 17-7. USC put the final nail in the coffin following a Mike Battle interception of Hanratty and a long return. Simpson capped the scoring and a 150-yard second half with a 3-yard touchdown.
Statistically, the contest wasn’t lopsided, but Notre Dame turned the ball over nine times to four for the Trojans. USC linebacker Adrian Young came down with four of the seven interceptions thrown by Notre Dame. On Battle’s late interception, Hanratty was forced to leave the game with an injury.
Both USC and Notre Dame arrived in South Bend in the top five and that’s where both would finish. USC started 8-0 before falling to Oregon State. The Trojans bounced back to beat No. 1 UCLA and No. 4 Indiana in the Rose Bowl to finish No. 1 in the polls. It was their second national championship under legendary head coach John McKay.
Notre Dame closed the year on a 6-game winning streak to finish 8-2 and No. 5 in the final AP Poll. USC knocked off four top-5 opponents on its road to a national title. The only one on the road came in South Bend on this day 55 years ago.
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