SOUTH BEND - Barkley to Woods.
It was a connection Irish fans saw a lot of Saturday night.
Trojans' junior quarterback Matt Barkley found sophomore Robert Woods 12 times, including twice for touchdowns. But it wasn't a two-man show for the Trojans.
Barkley also spread the ball around to eight other receivers, while USC finished with 223 rushing yards in a balanced 31-17 win. Barkley finished 24-35 passing for 224 yards and three touchdowns en route to his second straight win at Notre Dame Stadium.
He did not play last year in the Irish win in Los Angeles.
As a freshman, Barkley led the Trojans to a 34-27 win in South Bend.
"He did a great job of taking care of the ball," USC coach Lane Kiffin said. "His numbers weren't gigantic, but if you don't turn the ball over with any fumbles or interceptions as quarterback, and you throw a couple touchdowns, you're going to give us a good chance to win and he did that."
Barkley's favorite target, Woods, finished with 119 yards receiving.
"They (the Irish) can try and do whatever they want to (Woods) but, it's crazy, he still had 12 catches for 100 yards and they were crowding him it seemed like almost every play."
Just a sophomore, Woods, a 6-foot-1, 180-pounder from Carson, Calif., is on pace to break former USC star Keyshawn Johnson's single-season USC records for catches and reception yards.
His TD reception in the corner of the end zone with 7:47 remaining put the Trojans up by 14 in what would be the final score of the game. Woods was tied for second nationally in receptions with 10 a game and fourth in receiving yards (130.5) coming into Saturday's games.
Although the Trojans' offense sputtered for much of the second half, a dominant first half put them in position for the win. USC looked mechanical in the first quarter, jumping out to a 14-0 lead after its first two offensive possessions and led 17-0 in the second quarter.
To begin the game, the Trojans gained yards on 21 straight offensive plays, while the USC defense held Notre Dame to 14 total yards in the first quarter.
Kiffin also credited the play of his running backs, most notably Curtis McNeal and Marc Tyler.
Tyler dislocated his shoulder last week but started. McNeal gained 121 yards on 24 carries, while Tyler rushed for 13 times for 67 yards.
It was the Trojans' defense, though, that capitalized late in the game on three second-half Notre Dame turnovers. The biggest, perhaps, came in the third quarter with the Irish inside the USC 5, threatening to tie the game at 17. USC junior safety Jawanza Starling picked up a fumble from Notre Dame quarterback Dayne Crist and took it 80 yards for the touchdown to give the Trojans a 24-10 lead.
"I felt I was running for days," Starling said of the play. "There was so much adrenaline. When I saw the ball on the ground, I knew I had to make a play."
The USC defense held Notre Dame to just 71 yards rushing. Barkley credited Kiffin for preparing the team for the rivalry game.
"I think he did a great job of preparing our team, just like every game," he said. "There was a lot of hype coming into the game. But we didn't want to shy away from who we are. But our guys on offense and defense did a good job of focusing on us and what we needed to do."
Staff writer Tom Moor:
Notre Dame football: Barkley's play kept Trojans in control.
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