Starling returned a fumbled Dayne Crist snap from the USC 1 and 80-yards later, the Trojans had gone from a possible tied 17-17 score to a gargantuan momentum changer, 24-10......the Irish could not recover, as USC started strong but where lucky enough to hold off the Fighting Irish 31-17.
"I would say it's our team's biggest win since we've been here because of all the stuff around it," second-year USC coach Lane Kiffin said of the electric atmosphere surrounding Notre Dame's first home night game in 21 years.
With the Trojans barely ahead with a 17-10 lead, Notre Dame had the ball at the USC 1 and was on the verge of tying the game when backup quarterback Dayne Crist lost the handle on the snap.
Matt Barkley passed for three TDs for the Trojans (6-1), who jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the first half.
USC, which has now won nine of the last 10 meetings in the long rivalry, had a 443-267 advantage in total yards. Notre Dame (4-3) had three second-half turnovers, couldn't stop the Trojans' rushing attack and saw its four-game winning streak end."That was a big momentum swing," Starling said. "They were driving the ball and we come out and get a play like that on defense, it just turns the whole tone of the game."
Barkley completed 24 of 35 passes for 224 yards and Curtis McNeal finished as the Trojans' leading rusher with 118 yards on 24 carries. USC had 219 yards total rushing on 44 carries. Woods, meanwhile, made 12 catches for 119 yards and two TDs.
USC's defense held Notre Dame star WR Michael Floyd to only four catches for 28 yards and limited an Irish rushing attack, that had averaged almost 200 yards a game, to meager 41 yards on 14 carries.
"Losing stinks. For me, it's hard for me to put a stink meter on losing. They all stink," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said.
"This is the first time that I've leaned on my guys pretty hard in the locker room. I was not happy. Because we are better than that. We are better than that. And, to turn the ball over in the ridiculous fashion that we have ... just makes me crazy. I just don't understand how something so easy can come out the way it does," Kelly added.
The loss has left the Irish with a 4-3 record an almost no chance of a BCS Bowl berth. Next up is the second service academy that Notre Dame will face this season in Navy.