LOS ANGELES -- The outcome of Saturday night's Notre Dame-Southern California game was decided early. What remains in doubt is Charlie Weis' future with the Fighting Irish.
Mark Sanchez passed for 267 yards and two touchdowns, USC's hard-hitting defense thoroughly dominated Notre Dame, and the fifth-ranked Trojans rolled to a 38-3 victory over the Irish and their beleaguered coach.
Notre Dame didn't get a first down until the last play of the third quarter on a 15-yard run by James Aldridge. The Irish had run 30 plays for 23 yards before Aldridge broke loose, drawing a derisive cheer from the partisan crowd of 90,689 at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
USC finished with 22 first downs and 449 yards of total offense while Notre Dame had four first downs and 91 yards. The Trojans have allowed 10 touchdowns and an NCAA low 7.8 points per game this season.
The only time Notre Dame truly put up a fight was before the game. There was a brief skirmish about 45 minutes before the opening kickoff after the Irish entered the field down the tunnel leading from the locker rooms while USC was warming up. Law enforcement officials and coaches kept it from escalating beyond some pushing and shoving, although a few punches were thrown.
By winning their eighth straight game, the Trojans kept their national championship hopes alive and, at the very least, put themselves in position to play in their fourth straight Rose Bowl game.
With No. 17 Oregon State's 65-38 loss to No. 19 Oregon earlier Saturday, USC (10-1, 7-1 Pac-10) needs only to beat crosstown rival UCLA (4-7, 3-5) next weekend to win its seventh straight conference title and set up a New Year's date in Pasadena with No. 6 Penn State, the Big Ten champion.
The Trojans, 27-0 in November games under coach Pete Carroll, extended their winning streak over Notre Dame to seven -- their longest in the 80-game intersectional series between two of college football's storied programs. They've won those seven games by an average of 27 points.
Notre Dame (6-6) is bowl eligible, but the Irish's 15 losses the past two seasons are the most in any two-year span in school history. Weis' record has dropped from 19-6 after two years on the job to 28-21.
Even so, it didn't appear his job was in jeopardy until last weekend's 24-23 loss to woeful Syracuse at home, prompting talk of a buyout. The embarrassment of this game for Weis, a reputed offensive specialist, could be the crowning blow. Weis has seven years left on the 10-year contract he signed in 2005, his first season with the school.
Weis was hired four years ago following the firing of Tyrone Willingham, who was dismissed after three years on the job in the wake of a 41-10 loss to USC that left him 21-15 with the Irish.
Sanchez completed 22-of-31 passes with two interceptions. Damian Williams had seven receptions for 86 yards and Patrick Turner caught six for 83 yards. Joe McKnight gained 63 yards on four carries.
Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen, who grew up in nearby Westlake Village, completed 11-of-22 passes for 41 yards with two interceptions and was sacked four times.
The Trojans took a 7-0 lead on their second possession, scoring on a 2-yard run by Stafon Johnson to cap a 79-yard drive for the first touchdown allowed by the Irish in the opening quarter since Sept. 27.
USC scored on its last three possessions of the second quarter to make it 24-0 at halftime.
McKnight ran 55 yards on the first play after an interception by Kaluka Maiava, and Sanchez threw a 12-yard scoring pass to Williams to cap a 67-yard drive. David Buehler added a 35-yard field goal with 24 seconds left in the half.
The Trojans had 11 first downs to none for Notre Dame and 266 yards of total offense to 9 for the Irish in the opening 30 minutes.
C.J. Gable's 1-yard run with 5:03 left in the third quarter capped a 44-yard drive and made it 31-0.
The Irish crossed midfield for the first time on the second play of the fourth quarter, and got as far as the USC 23 before Brandon Walker kicked a 41-yard field goal to prevent USC from recording its fourth shutout of the year. Sanchez then threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Turner.