SOUTH BEND, Ind. – USC quarterback John David Booty is not one to focus on moral victories. And he doesn’t particularly enjoy extolling lessons learned in a losing effort.

So USC’s 33-31 loss to Oregon State on Oct. 28? That was painful. And the comeback that fell just short? Hard to relive.

Still, Booty attributes much of the Trojans’ steady success in their last three games to the experience they gained in the loss to the Beavers.

The third-ranked Trojans will be looking to apply those lessons again and claim their fourth straight victory when they face No. 6 Notre Dame on Saturday night at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

If they succeed the Trojans (9-1) will remain in position to compete for a spot in the Bowl Championship Series title game for the third straight year. They’re third in the BCS standings behind Ohio State and Michigan.

Soaring confidence

With just four offensive starters back from the 2005 national runner-up, USC entered the season with plenty of talent but little seasoning. But Booty says their confidence soared by the way they handled their single stumble.

“That was the first time that this group had really been backed up and been put in a tight spot,” says Booty, a 6-foot-3-inch, 210-pound redshirt junior. “I know it was put on the passing game to give us any kind of chance to come back and put us in a situation where we could come back and win that game.”

The Trojans almost pulled it off. Trailing just 16-10 at halftime, USC watched Oregon State’s lead balloon to 33-10 after allowing 17 unanswered points in 4 minutes.

But instead up giving up, the young Trojans fought back. The defense stiffened, holding Oregon State scoreless in the final 19 minutes 51 seconds.

In the three games leading up to their date with Oregon State, the Trojans had been giving up an average of 21 points a game. Their margin of victory in those three contests? Less than a touchdown.

In the three games since the loss, USC has allowed just 19 points and has beaten Stanford, Oregon and Cal by an average of 27.

“Defensively a lot of it was we just realized what we were capable of and what we can do and how many good players we have out there,” linebacker Dallas Sartz says. “And we just started feeling more comfortable among each other and started playing as a good, solid unit.”

Nearly perfect

Offensively the Trojans also were rejuvenated by the comeback that fell just short.

Booty threw three touchdown passes in the final 15:23. And the Trojans fell short of forcing overtime by just one incomplete two-point conversion pass.

“It’s impossible to get your team up emotionally high, psychologically high, every week,” says Irish coach Charlie Weis, whose team will bring a 10-1 record into the game. “Sooner or later you’re going to have games like that.”

Says Irish running back Darius Walker, “Just playing game to game, you sort of lose track of what’s important and sort of lose focus. Maybe they just really got focused or refocused (after the loss).”

Precisely, Booty says.

“It was the first time I had to step up and make plays,” he says. “It was the first time the receivers had to step up and make plays. It was the first time the offensive linemen had to step up and make plays.”

Trojans offensive tackle Sam Baker says, “I think it was that second half at Oregon State where we really fought back, just the urgency of the moment, we realized and found out what we could do.”

as a team. (Since then) everything has just really come together.”

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