One of the few cross-country rivalries that remain today, Notre Dame and USC just met for the 90th time this past Saturday. Over the years, the contests have come with high stakes.
That was the case on this day 70 years ago. In a top-10 showdown, the Fighting Irish handed USC its only loss of the season, 9-0.
Setting the Stage
USC was 9-0 and ranked No. 2 in the country as it arrived at Notre Dame Stadium on Nov. 29, 1952. The Trojans were coming off a hard-fought 14-12 win over No. 3 UCLA and had the nation’s top scoring defense.
Notre Dame was 6-2-1, but ranked No. 7 in the country. The Fighting Irish had won the previous year in Los Angeles and had gone 7-1-1 in the previous nine against the Trojans.
Irish Defense Dominates
Throughout the course of the 1952 season, USC yielded just 4.3 points per game. In South Bend, however, it was the Notre Dame defense that dominated.
Every time that USC threatened, Notre Dame had an answer. Trailing 9-0 midway through the final quarter, the Trojans were given new life after recovering a fumble inside the Notre Dame 30-yard-line. The Notre Dame defense proceeded to turn USC over on downs — just inches shy of the goal line.
Also in the final period, USC moved to the Notre Dame 25-yard-line following a 50-yard completion from Jim Sears to Jim Hayes. On the very next play, Sears was intercepted by Notre Dame’s Dan Shannon.
The game’s lone touchdown came early in the second quarter as John Lattner plunged in from a yard out following a muffed punt by USC. After missing an extra point, Lattner converted a field goal in the third quarter to cap the scoring.
University of Notre Dame
USC would go on to shut out Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, 7-0. The Trojans finished 10-1 and No. 5 in the final AP Poll. At 7-2-1, Notre Dame finished third.
Over his 11 total seasons as Notre Dame head coach, Frank Leahy went 8-1-1 against USC with three of those wins coming by shutout. Leahy’s final contest against USC in South Bend sent the Trojans from the ranks of the unbeaten and came on this day seven decades ago.
Photo courtesy of Notre Dame University