by John Vannie
A valiant goal line stand by Notre Dame’s rock-ribbed defense in overtime preserved an emotionally draining 20-13 victory over Stanford. The Irish overcame adversity, much of it self-inflicted, to tie the game with a field goal at the end of regulation despite an injury to quarterback Everett Golson in the final moments. Tommy Rees came on to lead the team to a score on the first overtime possession with a seven yard slant pass to T. J. Jones. The Cardinal then tried to match Notre Dame’s touchdown, and it appeared they would be successful when they drove inside the one yard line. After Manti Te’o stuffed Stepfan Taylor on a third down thrust, the senior linebacker and ten of his best friends swarmed Taylor again on fourth down.
The final play was subject to a video review, but the no-touchdown call was upheld as it appeared that Taylor’s elbow hit the ground before he was able to extend the ball across the plane. It was also impossible to determine through replay whether the whistle had blown during Taylor’s desperate efforts to keep churning toward the goal, but the initial Irish surge clearly had him stopped cold. Notre Dame now moves to 6-0 on the season while the Cardinal drop to 4-2.
As expected, each team’s defense dominated for most of the afternoon. Golson fumbled the ball away on Notre Dame’s first drive while Stanford’s Josh Nunes threw an interception on the next series. Later in the first period, Matthias Farley picked off another errant Nunes pass and returned it to the Cardinal 16. Kyle Brindza’s 29 yard field goal gave the Irish a 3-0 after Stanford stopped them cold.
Jordan Williamson tried to answer for the Cardinal, but his short three point attempt was tipped wide of the uprights by Stephon Tuitt. The teams then exchanged punts, but Notre Dame got the worst of the field position. Golson and the Irish were backed to their own ten, and Coach Brian Kelly inexplicably called three consecutive pass plays. The results were predictably disastrous. Golson lost six yards on a scramble and had to throw the ball away before losing the ball in the end zone on a third down sack by Ben Gardner. Chase Thomas pounced on the ball for a Cardinal touchdown.
Notre Dame tried to respond after falling behind for the first time all season. Golson drove the Irish downfield, but a potential touchdown pass was tipped away by a Stanford safety in the end zone. Brindza’s field goal attempt never came to pass due to a bad snap, and the Irish remained behind by 7-3 with 1;34 left in the half.
Nunes, who looked very shaky to that point, suddenly caught fire. He hit a string of passes to get the Cardinal into field goal range as the clock ran down,and this time Williamson did not miss. His career long 48-yarder extended Stanford’s lead to 10-3 at intermission.
The Irish dominated the third quarter but were frustrated again when Golson fumbled in Cardinal territory. The defense did its job, however, and gave the hosts another shot. Golson hit Theo Riddick on a wheel route to move Notre Dame into the red zone. Two false start penalties on Mike Golic, Jr. seemed to kill the drive as the third quarter ended, but Golson dropped back and threw a perfect 24-yard scoring pass to Tyler Eifert at the pylon for a 10-10 tie.
Stanford responded with a solid drive of its own, overcoming a replay reversal of a 13 yard completion and a holding penalty to move the ball inside the Irish ten. Farley saved the day for the defense that refused to allow a touchdown when he tackled Taylor for a seven yard loss. Williamson’s field goal reclaimed the lead for Stanford at 13-10 with 6:12 remaining in the game.
With its unbeaten record on the line, Notre Dame started from the 16 yard line after a short kickoff return. An option pitch to Cierre Wood earned 17 yards, and a subsequent Golson scramble had decidely mixed results. The Cardinal were flagged for a personal foul that gave the Irish a first down, but the blow to the head suffered by Golson forced him to leave the game. Rees took over with the ball at the Stanford 34 and three minutes left. His third down floater to Eifert drew an interference penalty, and two running plays brought about a third and two from the Cardinal five. Riddick was stuffed on a run up the middle, but Brindza came on to drill the game-tying field goal in the driving rain.
Rees hit all three passes in overtime after suffering a first down sack, and Jones made an excellent catch on the touchdown toss when he reached back for a ball thrown slightly behind him. Taylor tried to will his team into the end zone for the tying score, but Te’o and his posse would not yield the final inches he needed.
The game was the fourth straight outing in which the Irish defense did not allow a touchdown, and they have not surrendered a rushing score all season. As it turned out, the team needed every bit of this effort to survive the Cardinal.
Let’s review the pregame questions for the keys to the outcome.
Which offensive line will best protect its quarterback? Stanford did a good job overall protecting Nunes, while the Irish were frequently unable to block the Cardinal pass rushers. The lone Cardinal touchdown came on a sack/fumble in the Irish end zone.
Will either team commit a costly turnover? Both teams suffered turnovers in the sloppy conditions. Notre Dame earned three points due to Farley’s interception on Nunes, but it gave up one touchdown and frittered away two other scoring chances with a fumble and botched snap on a field goal attempt.
Which team will have greater success in the running game? Like the rest of the game, the rushing stats were relatively even.
Which quarterback will be able to convert in third down situations? Neither Golson nor Nunes were particularly effective, but Rees’ third down pass to Riddick in overtime was absolutely critical.
Can either team stop the opponent’s tight ends? Ertz had a few nice catches for the Cardinal, but Eifert was the best of the group on this day.
Which special teams will win the battle of field position? Stanford got the better of the exchanges all day in this category, and the poor field position made life difficult for Notre Dame.
Which young secondary will do a better job of preventing the big play? The Irish were better on the back end with Farley and Zeke Motta leading the way. The Cardinal allowed key completions to Riddick and Eifert and committed a costly but obvious interference penalty.
Next up is BYU, but the Irish will need to rest a bit after being taxed to the limit. It may also take a few days for the fans to bring their blood pressure down to the normal range as well.