SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) -Notre Dame has seen this act before, the one where Southern Cal starts slow, gives its opponent a glimmer of hope and then puts the game away with ease.

The Fighting Irish knew the plot before watching film of USC’s last three wins against Oregon, Arizona State and Arizona.

The Irish saw it up close last year, when the Trojans fell behind 10-3 to Notre Dame early in the second quarter, led 17-10 at halftime and then outscored the Irish 24-0 in the second half.

It wasn’t dramatically different from the year before, when the teams traded scores in the first quarter, before the Trojans scored 31 unanswered points.

All told, USC has beaten Notre Dame by 31 points three straight seasons.

The Irish are hoping for a twist in the story when they meet the top-ranked Trojans on Saturday.

“This is a different year, different season, different players, different coaches,” Notre Dame defensive tackle Derek Landri said.

The question is whether the ninth-ranked Irish (4-1) can slow down the Trojans (5-0).

Irish coach Charlie Weis thinks part of the problem has been with teams getting away from their strategies once they get a lead on USC.

“A lot of guys not putting the pedal to the metal when they have a chance to,” he said. “There are times to pull off, and there are times to just keep on pressing. Because especially with a team like this, when you know they have the firepower they do, you really have to be thinking the same way in the third quarter as you are thinking in the first quarter.”

Weis knows the importance about not revealing too much, so he wouldn’t disclose what it believes is the biggest key to beat USC. But he did reveal No. 2.

“Playing a 60-minute game. You can get up three touchdowns on them and this team doesn’t bat an eye,” he said.

USC coach Pete Carroll said he’s not concerned about USC’s first-half struggles.

“We’re playing good football teams that are giving us problems, that know us well,” he said. “Nobody’s rolling over and letting us just go.”

Carroll thinks the challenges are good for the Trojans.

“We need to be hardened. We need these tough games,” he said. “We need to be faced with these kinds of challenges if we’re going to be worthy of doing the things that we might be able to do.”

There are a myriad of subplots: Weis, the offensive guru, vs. Carroll, his defensive-minded counterpart; Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart vs. Heisman dark horse Brady Quinn; USC running back Reggie Bush vs. top Irish rusher Darius Walker; and whether Carroll’s decision to reject instant replay for this game could come back to haunt him.

The Trojans are trying to become the first team to win three straight national championships.

They also are on pace to break several NCAA records, including yards per game, 640; yards per play, 8.1; and scoring average, 51.6 points. They have won a Pac-10 record 27 straight games.

The bad news for the Trojans, though, is that Notre Dame has a history of ending such streaks.

In 1946, Johnny Lujack tackled Army’s Doc Blanchard late in the game to preserve a 0-0 tie at Yankee Stadium to end a 25-game win streak by the Cadets. In 1953, the Irish beat Georgia Tech 27-14 to end a 31-game unbeaten streak.

And in 1957, the Irish beat Oklahoma 7-0 to end the Sooners’ 47-game winning streak – still the longest in NCAA history.

There have been others. Notre Dame ended Texas’ 30-game winning streak in 1971, USC’s 23-game unbeaten string in 1973, Miami’s 16-game winning streak in 1988 and Florida State’s 16-game winning streak in 1993.

The Trojans, though, are 54-4-2 when ranked No. 1, including 4-0 against the Irish. Notre Dame is 8-15-1 against top-ranked teams, including 3-4 at home.

Weis was a student at Notre Dame when the fifth-ranked Irish beat top-ranked Texas 38-10 in the Cotton Bowl to win the national championship in 1977. He also saw the Notre Dame basketball team beat top-ranked San Francisco in 1977 and No. 1 Marquette in 1978.

“I don’t remember all the games, but it seemed like every time somebody No. 1 was coming in here, they were going out losing,” Weis said. “I understand we’re an underdog in this game, but it would be pretty cool to win, don’t you think? To be part of that history.”

AP-ES-10-14-05 1620EDT


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