Two years ago, the teams played one of the epic games in an often epic intersectional rivalry, a USC victory that was not decided until the controversial final seconds.
But on Saturday, the only drama revolved around whether the 13th-ranked Trojans would hand the struggling Fighting Irish their worst defeat in the 79-game series.
USC accomplished its goal, and proved it still has some fight, with a 38-0 victory before a crowd of 80,795.
After three consecutive sloppy performances in Pacific 10 Conference play, including a stunning upset loss to Stanford two weeks ago, the Trojans improved to 6-1 and kept alive their hopes for a run at the Bowl Championship Series title.
"We picked ourselves up with this game, and I think heading to the future now we have lot less on our shoulders," senior center Matt Spanos said. "We still have a lot to prove to ourselves and to the people around the country that we're not just going to lay down after taking a loss."
The Stanford defeat and a less-than-convincing seven-point win over Arizona dropped the Trojans in the polls and left them 14th in the BCS standings.
But in an upset-mad season that shows no signs of abating, the Trojans will climb in the polls and the standings today.
"We're feeling like we're gaining our momentum again," Coach Pete Carroll said. "We got whacked pretty good there for a while and unfortunately we had to give up a game during the process. Now that we're back on track, this could be very pivotal for us."
For the second week in a row, quarterback Mark Sanchez played a pivotal role for the Trojans while starting in place of injured John David Booty.
The third-year sophomore improved upon last week's debut performance against Arizona, passing for 235 yards and four touchdowns Saturday.
Sanchez, who had two passes intercepted against Arizona, completed 21 of 38 passes without an interception against the Irish.
"I felt good going into it after . . . getting the bugs out of the way, the jitters," Sanchez said. "Now it's just a chance for me to go play like I know how and rely on the things I do best."
Sanchez's performance could put Carroll in an intriguing situation this week.
After the game, Booty was asked if he expected to start next week against Oregon.
"I do," said Booty, who suffered a broken right middle finger against Stanford. "In my mind I do. Totally. No doubt about it."
Said Sanchez: "I've started twice, that's all I know now. If they give me the nod I'm ready."
Carroll said he would monitor the two quarterbacks this week before deciding whom to start against the Ducks.
"We'll just see what happens. I'm not worried about it," said Carroll, who has coached six consecutive victories over Notre Dame, the Trojans' longest winning streak in the series.
Carroll and his players had little to worry about against Notre Dame. It had all the makings of a get-well game for USC.
The Irish were ranked last in the nation in total offense, last in rushing and next to last in scoring.
"We wanted to dominate," senior nose tackle Sedrick Ellis said. "We knew their offense was hurting a little bit."
USC outgained Notre Dame in yards, 462-165, and ended the Irish's only serious scoring threat when linebacker Clay Matthews blocked a 40-yard field-goal attempt in the second quarter.
"There weren't a lot of positives that came out of there," said Notre Dame Coach Charlie Weis, whose team fell to 1-7.
Despite some apparent confusion and wasted timeouts on offense, multiple penalties, dropped passes and also a blocked punt, USC still forged a 17-0 halftime lead on a 10-yard touchdown pass from Sanchez to Fred Davis, an eight-yard pass to tailback Allen Bradford and David Buehler's 30-yard field goal.
Trojans cornerback Cary Harris forced a fumble on the first possession of the second half and Sanchez threw a five-yard touchdown pass to fullback Stanley Havili for a 24-0 lead. Sanchez then connected with wide receiver Vidal Hazelton for a 48-yard scoring play.
Freshman tailback Joe McKnight scored the Trojans' final points on a 51-yard fourth-quarter run for his first touchdown.
Meanwhile, the USC defense set about recording its first shutout since a 42-0 victory over Stanford last season.
The Trojans, who came into the game with only 12 sacks, took advantage of an Irish offensive line that had surrendered 34.
USC sacked Evan Sharpley five times and shut down a running game that was so anemic, the Irish did not run for a first down until 9:49 remained in the game.
"They just couldn't get much going against us," said linebacker Brian Cushing, who started for the first time since suffering an ankle injury in the season opener against Idaho. "I felt that if we kept swarming that would give us a chance for the shutout."
Cushing's return was one of several that are expected to strengthen the Trojans as they get ready to play their final five games.
Tailback Stafon Johnson returned from a foot injury and gained 47 yards against the Irish. Starting offensive linemen Sam Baker (hamstring) and Chilo Rachal (knee) could be in the lineup against Oregon.
"We're going to be all right," Carroll said. "We're going to be all right."
KEYS TO THE GAME
Gary Klein's keys to the game and how USC measured up:
1. Leading men. In his second start, USC sophomore quarterback Mark Sanchez eliminated mistakes and completed 21 of 38 passes for 235 yards and four touchdowns without an interception. Notre Dame quarterback Evan Sharpley, a junior, was 17 for 33 for 117 yards with an interception in his first start.
2. Offensive line. USC's injury-depleted offensive line helped the Trojans rush for 227 yards and did not give up a sack. Joe McKnight gained 65 yards, starter Chauncey Washington 64. Notre Dame surrendered five sacks and produced only 48 yards rushing. The Fighting Irish have given up 39 sacks in eight games.
3. Turnovers. The Trojans got lucky when a USC punt hit an Irish player, setting up the game's first touchdown. Cornerback Cary Harris also forced a fumble that led to a touchdown, and safety Kevin Ellison intercepted a pass in the fourth quarter. Notre Dame blocked a punt but failed to capitalize when USC blocked a field-goal attempt.