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Game of the Year of the Day, 1931: USC 16, Notre Dame 14

Howard Jones’ USC Trojans: one of the 50 best* of all time.

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The date: November 21, 1931

The matchup: USC (6-1) at Notre Dame (6-0-1)

The stakes: Notre Dame hadn’t lost in nearly three years, and USC had never won in South Bend.

The back story: Taking down the Fighting Irish away from home was the final step toward national prominence for the Trojans. Notre Dame had only grown larger in stature in the years following its mid-1920s breakthrough, and after Knute Rockne’s plane crash death in March 1931, the Irish still had yet to lose.

USC, meanwhile, had high expectations for ‘31 but stumbled out of the gates, beginning the season with a 13-7 loss to St. Mary’s. Since then, though, the Trojans had won six games in a row by a combined 215-6. This was the heavyweight battle of 1931.

The game: From the Chicago Daily Tribune.

Notre Dame led 14-0 heading into the fourth quarter. The Trojans were finding success offensively but were coming up short of the end zone; still, thanks to long drives, the Irish were tiring, and substitution rules meant that they would be playing the fourth quarter without a few of their starters.

USC star Gus Shaver scored on a one-yard plunge, but the PAT was blocked. Notre Dame went three-and-out, and USC quickly drove 57 yards to score again. 14-13.

The Irish went three-and-out AGAIN, but USC fumbled. After yet another Irish punt, though, USC got the ball back with four minutes left. Two long passes set the ball up on the N.D. 17 with 2:30 left, and despite the failed PAT, Jones asked Johnny Baker to kick a 23-yard field goal a few plays later. He nailed it. USC picked off a desperation pass, and the upset was complete.

Highlights, intermingled with hilariously cute reenactment scenes, here:

The box score: Full play-by-play description here. (They were pretty common back in the day.) And here’s a sliver of a box score.