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Throwback Thursday: Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football VS USC, 1930

The 1930 season culminated with a 27-0 win at USC, and a championship celebration ensued back in Chicago and South Bend. 

Knute Rockne’s Backfield
Group portrait of Knute Rockne’s famous backfield at Notre Dame, from left to right, Quarterback Frank Carideo, fullback Joe Savoldi, halfback Marchmont Schwartz, and halfback Marty Brill, South Bend, Indiana, November 12, 1930. Notre Dame was undefeated and all four were named All-Americans.
Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images

To continue my series on Notre Dame Fighting Irish national title winning seasons, this week I’m going to highlight the 1930 season and the December 6th, ND vs. USC game in Southern California. In their last game of the 1930 season, and what would be the last game that Knute Rockne would coach at Notre Dame prior to his tragic death in a plane crash, the Fighting Irish dominated USC, 27-0, to finish their second undefeated season in a row, and their second national championship winning season in a row.

In that 1930 season, Notre Dame outscored their opponents, 265-74, and won all ten of their games. It was also a historic season for another reason, in that it was the first season played in Notre Dame Stadium, “the house that Rockne built.” Five home games were played in the new stadium including Southern Methodist (20-14) , Navy (26-2), Carnegie Tech (21-6), Indiana (27-0), Drake (28-7), and Army (7-6). The season ended on the road at USC (27-0), and in the days following the game a championship celebration ensued back in Chicago and South Bend.

After that win against USC, the Irish had won 19 consecutive games and were on the way to becoming a dynasty under head coach Knute Rockne. The following excerpt is from the 1930 Notre Dame Football Review.

The 27 to 0 win over Southern California marked the 107th win of Rockne’s career as a Notre Dame head coach. In thirteen years the Rockne teams have lost only 12 games with four resulting in ties, three of them scoreless. The all-time record, beginning with the first football game played back in 1887 against Michigan, is now recorded as 254 victories, 48 losses, and 17 ties.

The summary of the ten games this season shows that Notre Dame scored half again as many first downs as did her opponents. In yards gained from scrimmage the Fighting Irish outmarched their opponents three to one.

Although Notre Dame completed only 25% of its passes while the opponents completed 36%, its successful attempts amounted to 42% of the total yardage gained by both via the air route.

Apparently not wishing to be outclassed in any field of play, the Fighting Irish were penalized slightly more than twice the amount of yardage imposed upon their opponents for infractions of the rules.

Long runs were quite numerous throughout the season but Joe Savoldi’s 90-yard return of a Southern Methodist kickoff was easily the outstanding one. Bucky O’Connor ran into second place by virtue of his 80-yard dash off Southern California’s left tackle last Saturday. Savoldi stepped 48 long yards in the game with Navy for another touchdown run.

This season has been a source of great satisfsction to me, not particularly because ‘We -won, but because of the fine feeling of friendship between myself, the boys, and the assistant coaches. The boys on the team responded as fine as any team I have ever had and in every way, on the field and off the field, they reflected credit on the school.

Heartily Anderson, Chevigny, Voedisch, and Moynihan made up the best varsity coaching staff I have ever had or ever hoped to have, and their untiring, unselfish, and unostentatious work was very largely responsible for our success. Bill Jones and Vezie with the Freshmen were excellent and did a great deal to help bring our varsity team along. And to Dan Halpin and his student managers who have helped to make our season a success; my sincere thanks! Knute K. Rockne

“The boys played the greatest ball game of the year.” This brief statement, from the lips of Knute Rockne himself tells better than we can hope to the story of the triumph of Notre Dame’s band of warriors who stormed the gates of Troy to score the most stunning upset of the season against Southern California’s Trojans.

It tells better than the frenzied flow of adjectives from the best radio announcers in the country and the reams of newsprint the next day from the nation’s most fluent sports writers the story of how these Fighting Irish rose to heights which only the day before had seemed insurmountable, a pinnacle recognized football experts and coaches said Notre Dame could never hope to attain. And, with many saying that the 1930 team was the greatest in history, it means that Notre Dame played probably the best game of football that has ever been played. They had come to an unfavorable climate battered and weary from nine man-killing battles; they were without Joe Savoldi and Larry Mullins, their seasoned full-backs; U.S.C.’s. Trojans were considered the strongest team in their history. But by some miracle, perhaps Rockne’s own silent agreement with the general opinion that Notre Dame could not hope to win, his men went out to show the world what stuff heroes are made of and to crush in the worst defeat U.S.C. has had in the five years Howard Jones has coached there a great U.S.C. eleven.

They swept an astonished Trojan defense off its feet and they held their foes with their backs to the wall almost the entire playing time. Perfect timing, precision, clean exactness carried them headlong to victory.

There were many individual heroes. Paul (Bucky) O’Connor who had replaced his injured pal, Larry Mullins, at full-back carried the brunt of the attack. Schwartz made his long, precise passes; Brill blocked like a demon and tackled with unprecedented fury; Carideo led the attack cooly and strategically; Metzger, Yarr, Kassis, Culver, Kosky, O’Brien, and Kaplan at right half all did yeoman’s work. And Captain Tom Conley! A leader if there ever was one, leading his team on, fighting off the Trojans!

A perfect offense, a perfect defense combined in the greatest football game ever played, one that brought the plaudits of a hostile crowd in a deafening roar to the players. All that the most inspiring of battle songs stands for was there exemplified. While her fighting sons go marching onward to victory!”

Heroes of the Day

Paul (Bucky) O’Connor, because he made himself forget all that he had learned in three years of play at right half, and then went in to star at full-back and to carry on as his pal, Larry Mullins, would have done, was the sensation of Southern California game. Single-handed, he gained but a few yards less than the entire Trojan team. His touchdown run of 80 yards in the second quarter was one of the highlights of the game and he aided in making the victory the greatest any team has scored since Coach Howard Jones started at U.S.C. with his second scoring run of seven yards.

Capt. Tom Conley paved the way for the first touchdown and started the avalanche when he caught Schwartz’s long pass and took the ball for a gain of 37 yards to the Trojan 29-yard stripe in the opening minutes of play. His brilliant play the rest of the game stamped him as a great leader.

For more about this game, read the Chicago Tribune game summary written by George Shaffer on page 85.

The 1930 Fighting Irish were the third Notre Dame team to win a national championship.
University of Notre Dame Archive
After defeating USC in the final game of the season, the Irish were greeted with a ticker tape parade in Chicago on Dec. 10.
University of Notre Dame Archive
On Dec. 12, fans welcomed Notre Dame at the train station in South Bend.
University of Notre Dame Archive
Notre Dame held a celebration rally in the fieldhouse following the 1930 championship season.
University of Notre Dame Archive

Cheers & GO IRISH!