For the Record, Jackson Would Prefer a Victory Over Honors

TIMES STAFF WRITER

USC's John Jackson had a record-breaking day against Notre Dame and also, possibly, a broken heart.

The senior split end set a school career record Saturday for receiving yardage (2,029), and a single-game record with 14 catches, but, in a sense, they were meaningless to him.

Jackson, like other USC seniors, has never played on a team that beat Notre Dame. Yet, the Trojans came ever so close on a gloomy, cold day at Notre Dame Stadium, losing, 28-24.

"I'd trade all those records just to have won today," Jackson said in the somber Trojan dressing room.

Even though Notre Dame came into the game as the nation's top-ranked team compared to USC's No. 9 ranking, Jackson said he and his teammates were confident.

"I felt we were the better team," he said. We matched up very well against them, and I thought if we got ahead of them and forced them to pass, we'd win."

USC led at halftime, 17-7, and regained the lead at 24-21 in the fourth quarter--only to lose. It was a game that will probably be compared to some of the others in this storied series that began in 1926.

Todd Marinovich, USC's redshirt freshman quarterback, got a sense of the historical importance of the series that he hadn't had before even though his father, Marv Marinovich, and his uncle, Craig Fertig, both former USC stars, had told him that it was something special.

"I know now. I'm not leaving here until I've been on a team that beat Notre Dame," he vowed.

The Irish have beaten USC seven consecutive years and the latest loss was, perhaps, the most frustrating for the Trojans.

There they were in the waning minutes with a first down on the Notre Dame 12-yard line and an opportunity to knock the Irish off their No. 1 perch along with ending their 18-game winning streak.

Marinovich scrambled for five yards on first down. His second-down pass intended for Jackson was thrown too far, out of the end zone.

"On third down we had planned for (tailback) Ricky Ervins to throw a halfback pass," Marinovich said.

But Marinovich didn't like the particular defensive alignment he was confronting.

"So I tried to audible out of it (change the play at the line of scrimmage)," he said.

His teammates couldn't hear him, so Marinovich improvised, rolling to his right and throwing a pass that flanker Larry Wallace caught out of bounds in the end zone.

With 1:46 remaining, the Trojans had one more shot on fourth down.

"I felt the (pass) pocket collapsing and I tried to get the ball in to (wide receiver) Joel Scott," Marinovich said.

But three defenders collapsed on Scott in the end zone and Notre Dame preserved its victory, even though USC managed to get the ball again, but not in desirable field position.

Marinovich said he was nervous at the outset of the game, his first against the Irish.

"But I wasn't nervous after that," he said. "I seem to play better in (pressure) situations like that," he said.

He said that calmly and, despite his inexperience, he performed like a veteran. He completed 33 of 55 passes for 333 yards and three touchdowns with three interceptions. He broke his school record for completions and set another one by attempting 55 passes.

Marinovich said that USC used passing formations that the Irish weren't expecting and, in essence, set up the running game by passing.

Said Jackson: "We wanted to keep them off balance, so they wouldn't know what we were doing next."

The confrontation between the rivals actually began before the game.

As the Trojans were going off the field after their pregame warmups, they ran through the Irish punting team going through its drills.

"Someone gave me an elbow," Marinovich said. "I knew something was going to happen."

And the melee was on in the tunnel leading to the dressing rooms.

USC cornerback Dwayne Garner was in the thick of things and reserve USC cornerback DeChon Burns was on top of Notre Dame flanker Steve Belles for a while in the wild scramble.

Cleveland Colter, USC's strong safety, just smiled when the incident was mentioned.

"There were some punches thrown, but nobody could get hurt because we had our uniforms on," he said.

It was USC's plan to force Notre Dame quarterback Tony Rice to throw in a catch-up situation. And, in the end, it backfired.

Rice, an underrated passer, set up Notre Dame's final touchdown with a 40-yard pass to flanker Raghib Ismail.

"They were in a wishbone formation and Ismail came out of the backfield and got tangled up with one of our linebackers," Colter said. "It looked like a run and that Ismail was blocking."

But the Rocket blasted off down field to catch Rice's pass to set up the quarterback's 15-yard touchdown run.

In any event, the Trojans lost an opportunity to upset the Irish, but Marinovich is looking ahead.

"We're going right back into the Pac-10 race with the goal of winning in the Rose Bowl," he said. "We've lost the last two games there."

The Trojans didn't have to be reminded that the losing streak to the Irish is even longer.

More aware of the rivalry now that he has been indoctrinated, Marinovich said quietly: "We're not going to let it (lose to Notre Dame) happen again."

Obviously, he has made a commitment.

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