From the beginning the pattern was a familiar one with Bell slowly warming to his task. On his first carry he fumbled and scrambled to recover. In his first five he gained only six yards, and was dropped by Niehaus for a three-yard loss. On its second offensive formation Notre Dame swept in front on Al Hunter's 52-yard run and every time Bell carried he was mobbed by blue shirts. Bell's longest run in the first half was 10 yards. "He's a marked man," said McKay. "So what else is new?"
In pinching down with their ends, stunting their linebackers and converging on Bell like wolves on a hunt, the Irish sacrificed themselves in other areas. "What else could we do?" said Notre Dame Coach Dan Devine. USC Quarterback Vince Evans caught the Irish massing for Bell on first down at the Notre Dame 21 in the second quarter and threw a strike to Shelton Diggs on a crossing pattern to put USC ahead 7-6, the Irish's extra-point try being deflected.
Bell had gained only 65 yards in 25 carries in the first half, and Notre Dame had blocked a punt and gone ahead 14-7. But two plays had been run that were harbingers of bad times for the Irish. The USC fullback is a 6-foot, 225-pounder from Hawaii named Mosi Tatupu, who is a fine blocker. McKay personally recruited him ("I go for the ones in the tough areas—Honolulu, Palm Springs, Las Vegas") and isn't ashamed to let him carry the ball now and then. Like Bell, Tatupu is a punishing runner.
In each of the two times he got the ball in the first half Tatupu gained more than 10 yards on a play USC calls a 25-slam. Against a five-man front the blocking is head on, and when the Irish linebackers stunted outside the tackles to jam Bell's lanes, the middle guard alone had to handle Tatupu and the center. Mosi, on a direct handoff, read the block and went to the other side, and the room he had in two plays was about as much as Bell had in 25.
Bell's two-yard run tied the score in the third quarter. If you could say a two-yard run is awesome, then Bell's was. At the line he was sealed off. He made a stutter step to the right, then cut back left and plunged headlong into a swarm of blue, somehow slicing between the tackle and end and ramming Safetyman Tim Simon into the end zone. Bodies moved under Bell's onslaught. Especially Simon's, which weighs only 170 pounds.
By the fourth quarter, attrition had taken hold. The tough, seasoned USC defense kept Notre Dame at bay save for a brief spurt when a field goal put the Irish ahead 17-14, and midway through the period the Trojans put together their most impressive drive of the season. With Tatupu getting big slabs of yardage on slams inside, the Irish began to hesitate ever so slightly before pursuing outside. And here came Bell on the power sweeps, on which he has the option to cut back at any time and run for delight. But he didn't. He strung them out, and was able to turn the corner and get one on one with the deep backs. He ran 19, 12 and 11 yards as the Trojans drove 71 in a little more than four minutes to their winning touchdown. Evans got it on a keeper left after faking to Bell inside. An interception moments later set up a USC field goal that was the wrapping.
McKay thus finishes with a 8-6-2 record over the Irish, if you are to believe his advance departure notices. Right now he is understandably mum. He is in good position for his fourth straight Rose Bowl and, on a 12-game winning streak, has better than an outside shot at his fifth national championship, which would break his tie with Bear Bryant and Frank Leahy. With folks like Ricky Bell to help in the harvest, it is a nice position to be in.