And, as it did in 1940, Notre Dame defeated USC, 10-6.
In front of a sellout crowd of 91,639 and a national television audience, the seventh-ranked Irish came up with their best defensive effort of the season, limiting USC to a pair of field goals by Quin Rodriguez.
They won, improving to 9-2, by putting together a 69-yard touchdown drive on their second possession of the second half to gain a four-point lead and then holding the Trojans scoreless the rest of the way.
The victory was Notre Dame's eighth in a row over USC, which hasn't beaten the Irish since 1982, a period of futility that spans the regimes of former USC coach Ted Tollner and current Coach Larry Smith and is the longest for either team in a storied series that started in 1926.
"Any time you score six points against Notre Dame, you don't give yourself a very good chance of winning," Smith said.
Smith called it a game of missed opportunities for USC, which drove inside Notre Dame's 40-yard line on its penultimate possession, only to be thwarted by a holding penalty that brought the ball back to the other side of midfield and a dropped pass by fullback Scott Lockwood.
Then, on fourth and 11 at the USC 44, quarterback Todd Marinovich completed a sideline pass to flanker Gary Wellman, who was hit and knocked out of bounds immediately by Irish cornerback Todd Lyght.
Wellman argued that he had made a first down, but the officials ruled that he had fallen inches short.
Television replays seemed to support the officials' call.
Notre Dame took over with 1:05 left and, after USC forced the Irish to punt, Marinovich was sacked on the last play of the game.
Marinovich completed 26 of 39 passes for 273 yards, but he was hindered by several drops and USC was limited to 29 yards in 28 rushing attempts, including six sacks for minus 35 yards.
"Our defense was excellent," Irish Coach Lou Holtz said.
So was USC's, which put together a stirring goal-line stand early in the fourth quarter, seemingly giving the Trojans momentum.
Notre Dame's Raghib (Rocket) Ismail, held in check to that point, gained 39 yards on a reverse on the fourth play of the quarter. Then, on the next play, he gave the Irish a first down at USC's two-yard line, taking a short pass from quarterback Rick Mirer and turning it into a 41-yard gain.
But, after three running plays netted only one yard, Mirer lobbed an incomplete pass into the end zone, where tight end Derek Brown seemed to be held by Trojan defenders Kurt Barber and Marcus Hopkins.
No penalty was called, however, and USC took over on downs.
It was left to the Irish defense to hold off the Trojans.
Notre Dame had taken the lead for the first time with 3:14 left in the third quarter, when tailback Tony Brooks took a pitch from Mirer and scored on a one-yard run to cap a 69-yard, 15-play drive.
Craig Hentrich's conversion kick gave the Irish a 10-6 lead.
Mirer and the Notre Dame offense responded after a 30-yard field goal by Rodriguez gave USC a 6-3 lead with 9:09 left in the quarter.
Tailback Ricky Watters carried eight times for 41 yards in the game-winning drive, but each time the Irish faced a third-down situation, they turned to somebody else to keep the drive going:
--On third and two at the Irish 39, fullback Rodney Culver gained four yards through the right side.
--On third and seven at the Irish 46, Mirer passed over the middle to Brown, who gained 15 yards into USC territory.
--On third and one at USC's four-yard line, Mirer gained two yards on a sneak.
Finally, on third and goal at the one, Brooks carried the ball around the left end for the game's only touchdown after taking a pitch from Mirer, who was hit by linebacker Scott Ross as he released the ball.
Mirer ran for 28 yards and passed for 130, completing seven of 15 passes. Notre Dame outgained USC, 338 yards to 302.
Still, USC's inexperienced defense performed admirably.
"I'm going to hold my head up high when I walk out of here because there wasn't one play when all 11 guys on defense weren't taking it to them," Ross said. "We held them to 10 points."
On this particular night, though, it was four too many.
"We just couldn't get it into the end zone," said Marinovich, who threw three touchdown passes against the Irish last season in a 28-24 loss at South Bend, Ind. "That's what killed us."
USC scored first, taking the opening kickoff and driving over and around the Irish before stalling at the five-yard line.
Marinovich completed his first four passes for 52 yards and tailback Mazio Royster, who gained 51 yards to give him 1,034 for the season, carried six times for 27 yards. But on third and goal at the five, Marinovich was pressured by defensive tackle Bob Dahl as he attempted to pass.
His pass over the middle was tipped at the line of scrimmage by George Williams and almost intercepted by linebacker Demetrius DuBose.
Rodriguez came on to kick a 22-yard field goal to make it 3-0.
After Notre Dame's first possession went three plays and out, Marinovich moved the Trojans again, completing four consecutive passes for 37 yards as USC advanced to Notre Dame's 38-yard line.
At that point, though, Marinovich was sacked by blitzing linebacker Michael Stonebreaker for a nine-yard loss. Marinovich scrambled for 10 yards on second down, but his third-down pass fell incomplete and USC was forced to punt.
USC was limited to only one more first down in the half.
Meanwhile, in its second possession, Notre Dame drove to USC's 12-yard line, where on first down, Watters lost three yards. Notre Dame was then called for a personal foul after the play, the 15-yard penalty taking the ball back to the 30 and stalling the drive.
It was the only penalty of the half.
Mirer completed an 18-yard pass to Brown, but the Irish had to settle for a 30-yard field goal by Hentrich after Mirer threw an incomplete pass on third and 10 at the 12.
Hentrich's kick made it 3-3 with 8:55 left in the half.
A 29-yard pass from Mirer to Ismail and two running plays brought Notre Dame to USC's 30 in its next possession, but Culver fumbled Mirer's handoff and free safety Stephon Pace recovered for USC.
Statistically, USC dominated in the first quarter, gaining 133 yards and limiting Notre Dame to 46, but the Irish were equally dominant in the second quarter, outgaining the Trojans, 125 to 21.
USC scored on its first possession of the second half, too.
But the Trojans again had to settle for a field goal after Marinovich overthrew Wellman in the end zone on first down at the Irish 17.
Passes to Johnnie Morton and Lockwood gained only three and one yards and Rodriguez came on to kick a 30-yard field goal to make it 6-3.
USC flanker Gary Wellman equaled a season high by catching nine passes for 101 yards, his fifth 100-yard receiving day of the season. He has 996 receiving yards this season, breaking the school record of 973 that was established by Jeff Simmons in 1982. . . . Tailback Mazio Royster joined Anthony Davis and Charles White as the only USC players to rush for more than 1,000 yards as sophomores. . . . Todd Marinovich's 26 completions and 39 attempts were season highs. Last season, he established school records of 55 attempts and 33 completions in a 28-24 loss to Notre Dame, passing for 333 yards.
USC (8-3-1) accepted a formal invitation to play Michigan State (7-3-1) in the John Hancock Bowl on New Year's Eve in El Paso. Notre Dame will play Colorado (10-1-1) in the Orange Bowl.