SOUTH BEND – Running back Jonas Gray came to Notre Dame because he wanted to help the Irish stop losing to their fiercest rivals.
During his recruiting, the senior watched from the sidelines alongside receiver Michael Floyd as Notre Dame lost to USC 38-0 in 2007. The blowout loss cemented the running backs decision to come to Notre Dame.
I think that is one of the reasons why we came here. We wanted to put it on USC, Gray said. I wanted to be one of the seniors who was able to start a two-game winning streak and snap that losing streak.
It took a little longer than expected, but Gray finally got to celebrate a win over USC last year, when Notre Dame closed the 2010 regular season with a 20-16 victory in Los Angeles.
That win stopped the Irishs eight-game losing streak to the Trojans. It was Notre Dames longest skid in the series.
The victory also reignited a rivalry that resumes with the first night game at Notre Dame Stadium since 1990 when the Irish (4-2) play host to the Trojans (5-1) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
It doesnt make for a great rivalry if you havent won any games, coach Brian Kelly said.
Theres a lot more of a sense that weve accomplished something by getting that off the boards because that builds itself up bigger than it is when you havent won. I didnt notice any perceived changes in our players in the way they handled themselves after the victory. I think its just been more of, Lets get this rivalry back to being a rivalry.
The rivalrys one-sided nature started in 2002 when No. 6 USC crushed No. 7 Notre Dame 44-13 in Tyrone Willinghams first season. The Trojans handed the Irish two more lopsided losses after that, winning 45-14 in 2003 and 41-10 in 2004.
Charlie Weis appeared to be ready to get the Irish to rekindle the rivalry in 2005 when Notre Dame took USC down to the wire in a 34-31 loss, but the Trojans dominated the next three meetings with a 44-24 win in 2006, a 38-0 win in 2007 and a 38-3 win in 2008.
The blowout losses piled up so much that Notre Dames 34-27 loss in 2009 was a relief, just because the game was so close against a USC program that had started to look invincible.
When I was in high school, USC was almost that mythical team. They were winning every game. They were killing teams, right guard Trevor Robinson said. Then we get here, and I go out my freshman year (2008) and we dont put a first down on the board until the beginning of the fourth quarter. We werent competitive.
As weve gone through here, we have gotten better and better. Weve been able to kind of compete, and getting that win will give a lot of guys confidence.
Kelly is trying to keep Saturday nights game in perspective as the Irish continue to try to claw into the BCS bowl picture.
Its a huge game for us against USC, Kelly said. There is no question about the tradition and the rivalry, but if we beat USC and dont beat Navy, it doesnt mean much. So that is the perspective we take.