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USC hands Notre Dame fourth consecutive loss in rout

LOS ANGELES — There wasn’t a lot of drama Saturday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

USC quarterback Cody Kessler made sure of that.

But there could be plenty moving forward as a result of Notre Dame’s quarterback situation.

Kessler threw six touchdown passes — the most by any opponent against the Irish — as USC trounced Notre Dame 49-14 in front of 79,586 fans.

The Irish suffered their fourth consecutive defeat. That hasn’t happened since the program lost the last four games of the 2009 season. Notre Dame closed the regular season with a 7-5 mark.

“Two years ago, we were playing for a national championship,’’ Irish coach Brian Kelly said. ‘‘[Saturday], we got our butts beat. And it wasn’t as close as the score. [USC]coach [Steve Sarkisian] was very generous running the football to keep the score where it was.”

Notre Dame will go to a bowl game with several questions, including who will start at quarterback.

Everett Golson went 7-for-18 for 75 yards and had two turnovers (one lost fumble, one interception) before getting pulled with 5:09 left in the second quarter.

“I just told him we were mixing things up and going to give Malik [Zaire] a chance to get the offense moving,” Kelly said.

Zaire entered with the team trailing 35-0. He completed a 49-yard pass to Chris Brown on the first pass of his career. On the next play, Zaire scored on an 11-yard run.

“I really don’t have an answer,” Kelly said when asked whether Golson would return as the starter. “We tried to get a spark offensively, and Malik gave us that spark. We had a couple of drops that could have kept a drive alive, and we missed a field goal.

“He did some pretty good things. He missed some things in the red zone, which is to be anticipated with it really being his first significant time.”

Zaire completed 9 of 20 passes for 170 yards.

“Everything in life is about getting an opportunity, and when the opportunity came, I didn’t even look at it as a make-or-break [situation],” Zaire said. “It was more of a chance for me to go out there and help the team win the game.”

The game already had been decided by that point. Kessler threw five TD passes in the first half.

“It was obvious how tough it was for them to get lined up with the up-tempo,” Kessler said. “It really played to our advantage.”

Kessler completed 32 of 40 passes for 372 yards to put an exclamation point on Notre Dame’s late-season slide.

“They got punched in the nose,” Kelly said. “You want to see a response, too. They are young, but I want to see some bite, too. The bowl preparation, we’re going to have to see a response. All jobs are available. We’re going to have to see something from this group.”

IN BRIEF

Injuries keep piling up for the Irish defense

LOS ANGELES — Notre Dame lost five defensive players because of injury in the 49-14 loss Saturday at USC.

Safety Max Redfield suffered a broken rib. Fellow safety Austin Collinsworth had a shoulder injury. Defensive linemen Jay Hayes and Jacob Matuska left because of a high ankle sprain and a brachial-plexus injury, respectively. Linebacker Greer Martini exited with a quadriceps injury.

It has been that type of season for the defense.

Only three defensive players — linebacker Jaylon Smith, cornerback Cole Luke and defensive lineman Isaac Rochell — started all 12 regular-season games.

Matuska became the 19th player to start for the defense.

‘‘It’s had a big impact on the season, but we have to move forward,’’ Luke said. ‘‘Someone has to step up.’’

Big day for Bryant

Running back Greg Bryant rushed for a career-high 79 yards and one touchdown.

‘‘It was nice to get him in and get him more touches,’’ coach Brian Kelly said. ‘‘That’s what our intentions were. The more he’s in the game, he’s starting to feel more comfortable running the ball. He’s a nice addition to our offense with a backfield now where we feel like those kids are just getting better and better.’’

This and that

The 49 points were the most USC has scored against Notre Dame since the Trojans scored 55 in 1974.

◆ USC’s 35 first-half points were the most the Irish have allowed before halftime since giving up 42 against Michigan State on Sept. 12, 1998, in East Lansing, Michigan.

◆ Will Fuller became the eighth Irish receiver to have at least 1,000 receiving yards in a season. Fuller has 1,036 yards. He’s ninth on the school’s single-season list for receiving yards.

Email: lpope@post-trib.com

Twitter: @lamondpope