LOS ANGELES-When you're playing a team like No. 3 USC (10-1) on their home turf, opportunity only knocks so many times.
Nobody answered for Notre Dame in the second quarter when the Irish had a chance to seize the momentum as the USC Trojans kept the Irish at arm's length en route to a 44-24 victory.
"We're disappointed because we came in here expecting to win," said Irish head coach Charlie Weis, who lost his first night game, his first road game in the opposing team's building and for the first time in November.
"We didn't win on special teams, we didn't win on offense, and we didn't win on defense. Stats are for losers. I can tell how we both had the same number of yards in the game. But the bottom line is we didn't put the ball in the end zone early in the game. We were fighting an uphill battle most of the night."
The Irish fumbled inside the USC five-yard line and failed to capitalize on a pair of second quarter interceptions as Notre Dame (10-2) lost for the first time since Sept. 16, ending their eight-game winning streak and all hopes-dim though they may have been with one loss-of a national title tilt against Ohio State.
Both teams finished with 404 yards total offense, but it was the Trojans who made most of the big plays, including three touchdown connections between quarterback John David Booty and wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett.
"I think we showed them just how much heart we have," said Jarrett, who now has 39 career touchdown receptions in 24 games. "Early on this season, not many people gave us much of a chance and really questioned us. But we always believed in ourselves, no matter what the media said."
USC now figures to leapfrog Michigan in the BCS standings, setting up a national title tilt with Ohio State, provided the Trojans get by cross-town rival UCLA next Saturday.
"It has been a playoff run for us," said Carroll, who is now 20-0 in November with the Trojans while extending their home winning streak to 33 games. "That's just how we think and prepare."
Notre Dame is expected to receive a bid to the Sugar Bowl to take on the winner of next weekend's SEC championship game between Florida and Arkansas.
"I just hope that's the way it works out," said Weis when told of the Sugar Bowl's interest in the Irish, despite the loss to the Trojans. "We'd be very happy to go to any BCS game that picks us, and if that's where it ends up being, sign me up, let's go."
Trailing 21-3 moments after a Darius Walker fumble at the USC three, backup linebacker Steve Quinn blocked a Greg Woidneck punt and the Irish recovered at the Trojan seven. Brady Quinn hit Marcus Freeman for a touchdown to cut the deficit to 21-10.
Notre Dame had a chance to slice into the deficit further on each of the next two Trojan possessions, first on an interception by cornerback Mike Richardson at the Irish 48 and then on a pick by defensive tackle Trevor Laws at the USC 36.
But Rhema McKnight dropped a 4th-and-3 pass that would have been good for a first down and Quinn overthrew Jeff Samardzija at the back of the end zone on 4th-and-6, and the Irish had to settle for a 21-10 halftime deficit.
"We really needed those (fourth-down conversions), and that was something we struggled with all day," said Quinn, who finished 22-of-45 for 274 yards and three touchdowns. "There were a lot of missed opportunities. We just didn't make plays when we needed to."
The Irish never came closer than their 11-point halftime deficit. USC scored on their opening drive of the season half on a two-yard touchdown run by Chauncey Washington.
McKnight scored on a two-yard reception with 1:57 remaining in the third quarter to make it 28-17. But USC's Mario Danelo booted a 34-yard field goal and Jarrett scored his third touchdown on a scintillating 43-yard catch-and-run for a score.
The Irish added a touchdown with 3:39 remaining on a two-yard touchdown toss to Samardzija. But the Trojans put it away when Gioia's onside kick was field by Trojan up-man Brian Cushing, who returned it 42 yards for a touchdown.
"We have no excuses," Weis said. "We lost to a better team. They made more plays than us."
USC scored on its first three possessions, beginning with an eight-play, 71-yard drive as Booty completed 4-of-5 for 61 yards. The Trojans capped the drive with a nine-yard pass to Jarrett at the goal line, just in front of Irish safety Chinedum Ndukwe.
After McKnight dropped a third down pass that would have kept the ensuing drive going, USC's Desmond Reed returned a short Geoff Price punt 43 yards to the Irish 26.
Two plays later, Booty lobbed the ball up at the back of the end zone against cornerback Mike Richardson. Jarrett leaped up and easily snagged the ball for his second score in a 3:22 span to give the Trojans a 14-0 lead.
Jarrett finished with seven catches for 132 yards. Booty was 17-of-28 for 265 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. C.J. Gable led all rushers with 107 yards on 20 carries.
Notre Dame finally responded with a drive that reached the USC nine-yard line on a 25-yard pass to Jeff Samardzija on 3rd-and-10. But the Irish couldn't punch it in and had to settle for a 27-yard Gioia field goal and a 14-3 deficit at the end of the first quarter.
The Trojans quickly responded with a nine-play, 57-yard drive, culminating in a one-yard Booty touchdown run. The Irish spent the rest of the night digging out of a hole. They never found daylight.
"It's a good thing we're not playing this week," Weis admitted. "(The players) will be down for a few days. But we have enough time to recover and get ready for the next game."
Quinn led the Irish with 74 yards rushing, including a 60-yard run. McKnight and Samardzija led Notre Dame with six receptions and one touchdown apiece. McKnight had 109 yards and Samardzija 79.