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Five things we learned: Notre Dame 20, Stanford 13

Oct 13, 2012, 10:10 PM EDT

Te'o Victory Stanford

Torrential rains. Phantom whistles. Heroic quarterbacking. And an epic (and disputed) goal line stand. Notre Dame’s 20-13 victory over Stanford played out like a Jerry Bruckheimer movie, with 80,795 soaked fans waiting for what seemed like eternity while replay officials decided whether or not Cardinal running back Stepfan Taylor was stopped short of the goal line on the game’s final play.

Notre Dame Stadium exploded when the ruling on the field stood, and the Irish players celebrated with a few thousand students on the field as the skies opened up and poured sheets of rain to the field. Hollywood stuff, indeed, even if the ruling was a bitter pill for Stanford to swallow.

“I didn’t get to view the last play,” Stanford coach David Shaw said after the game, disappointment dripping off his every word. “Stepfan swore to me that he got in and that he put the ball over the goal line on the second effort. Officials looked at it and they said he didn’t get in, so we didn’t get in.”

At 6-0, Notre Dame’s improbable run continues thanks to another monumental performance from the Irish defense and another improbable win in relief by junior quarterback Tommy Rees. A year after back-breaking losses and locker room dysfunction turned the season into a soap opera, the redemption story of this football team feels ripped right from a Hollywood screenplay, as the Irish defense conquered their nemesis, a Stanford team that beat the Irish by at least two touchdowns the last two years, as they kept the Cardinal out of the end zone from inside a yard on the game’s final two plays.

“When you’re talking to your team all week about a heavyweight match, and you can’t keep taking body blows, you have to stand in there,” Kelly said of the games final plays. “Sooner or later, you’ve got to be the one that delivers. It comes to fruition in the game ending and our team coming up with a great goal line stand. Classic.”

Let’s take a look at the things we learned during the Irish’s 20-13 triumph over Stanford.

Once a goal that seemed unreachable, B.I.A. — Best In America — isn’t too far fetched of a statement for Notre Dame’s defense.

When Brian Kelly came to South Bend, he wasn’t short on coachspeak or catchy maxims. Next Man In. Right Kinda Guys. Unconscious Competence. These were just a few of the building blocks he brought with him to Notre Dame, in hopes of rebuilding a program that lacked an identity that even resembled that of an elite national program.

Still, of all the catchy slogans and acronyms, one defensive goal stood out as probably the most far-fetched. B.I.A. Best In America. That was defensive coordinator Bob Diaco‘s goal, one that drew more than a chuckle from Irish fans that had just watched Rick Minter, Corwin Brown and Jon Tenuta turn the Irish defense into a roller derby team.

Now look at this group.

Notre Dame’s defense hasn’t allowed an offensive touchdown in sixteen quarters, its fourth straight game holding offenses out of the end zone. The 8.7 points allowed per game ranks second behind only Alabama, while the Irish still have yet to give up a rushing touchdown to an opponent, an impressive feat considering Stanford had four shots at it from inside the four yard line and spent all evening bringing in an extra offensive lineman to try and bulldoze the Irish defensive front with an off-balanced line that cleared the way for Stepfan Taylor. With a touchdown streak on the line, the Irish held the Cardinal out of the end zone, winning the game with its defense.

“We don’t talk about it but certainly it’s a source of pride,” Kelly said of the team’s touchdown streak. “They hear about it. They talk about it amongst themselves. It’s not something we stand up and talk about, other than when we go over our goals on Monday and we’ll go over them again and talk about what we are doing defensively. Again, the game ball went to our defense. How do you not give the defense the game ball after the way the game was played.”

Once again, Manti Te’o led the team in tackles and Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix were sometimes unblockable along the defensive line. The defense continued to force turnovers, with Bennett Jackson and Matthias Farley snatching interceptions. And while there’s no complacency in this team’s defense, they also realize that they’ve taken their game to the level they’d long thought was merely a goal.

“If you’re not trying to be the best at what you’re doing, then why are you playing this game,” Te’o said. “If you’re just trying to be mediocre, then football’s not the game for you. We try to be the best at everything we do. That’s part of us now. That’s not just something we just preach anymore. That’s part of us now.”

Another game, another clutch save for Tommy Rees.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. With the game on the line and Everett Golson still dazed from a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit, Kelly once again called on Tommy Rees to come in and win the game for the Irish. With the Irish down three and a 15-yard penalty taking Notre Dame to the Stanford 34 in the game’s final minutes, Rees walked into the game and led the Irish to the game-tying field goal, then completed three clutch passes in overtime, including a game-winning seven-yard slant to TJ Jones.

Four throws, four completions, and another gutty win by the Irish’s deposed starter. As usual, Rees said everything right, rolling with the punches that come with being college football’s only quarterback closer.

“The best way I can describe it is really, you don’t have time to think,” Rees said after the game of getting called into action. “You have ten guys on offense and then a hundred guys on the team that are counting on you, let alone the University of Notre Dame and just playing for everyone here. You don’t have time to think about that kind of stuff. You just get out there and play.”

That it took as long as it did for Rees to come in the game says something about Kelly’s resolve in keeping Everett Golson as the team’s starting quarterback. Golson completed just 12 of 24 passes for 141 yards, took three sacks, was hit early and often and had three crucial turnovers.

Still, with Golson woozy from a hit and the game own to what looked like Notre Dame’s final possession, the team had nothing but confidence when they saw Rees go in.

“When Tommy goes in there, we don’t have any worries,” Te’o said. “It’s just, okay, Tommy’s in now. We have confidence in Tommy and he knows that. He’s just going to get better.”

Again, there’s no reason to believe that Golson won’t be the Irish’s starter when Notre Dame plays BYU next weekend. And as long as the Irish keep winning, maybe this formula can find a way to keep working.

It wasn’t all negative for Everett Golson out there.

In a game plan where Everett Golson needed only not to turn the ball over and manage the game, the sophomore quarterback had a hard time doing even. Golson fumbled the ball four times, losing three of them, and almost single-handedly kept Stanford in the football game through the game’s first three quarters. Throwing from his own end zone, Golson fed Stanford their only touchdown of the game, when he sacked from behind by defensive end Ben Gardner and the ball was scooped up by Chase Thomas for the score. (Though this touchdown is as much on the head coach as the quarterback, with a befuddling play call that Kelly admitted he wanted back.)

Golson lost a slippery center exchange in the first quarter. He lost another on a run in the second quarter that Theo Riddick recovered. The strip-sack and touchdown on the next series gave Stanford its lead.  In the third quarter, Golson killed a nice drive in the red zone, cutting up field instead of getting out of bounds and giving the ball to Stanford in a huge momentum shift.

While thousands of eyeballs fixated on the Irish sidelines looking to see if Tommy Rees would warm up, Kelly stuck with his young quarterback, and Golson rebounded down the stretch.

“I was really proud of Everett,” Kelly said. “His confidence was a bit shaken and he came back with a great drive and did some really good things. I was really proud of the way he overcame a little bit of adversity during the game, whereas when he had that situation against Michigan we really had to move in another direction. He fought through that and he made a big step today. He made some plays. He helped us win this football game.”

This performance wasn’t all on Golson. Notre Dame’s offensive line struggled to protect the young quarterback all evening, and Golson’s physical gifts helped him make some plays from outside the pocket and move the chains with a few athletic plays that certainly don’t happen with Tommy Rees on the field. At the same time, in film review tomorrow, it’ll be apparent that Golson left a ton of good looks on the field, missing a wide open Davaris Daniels who didn’t have anyone within 20 yards of him.

Still, that’s living and learning with a young quarterback. And credit to Kelly for growing with Golson, getting his confidence back before he was knocked from the game.

With a collection of great tight ends on the field, Tyler Eifert reminded people why he is still the class of college football.

So that’s the Tyler Eifert we all expected to see this year. Sharing a field with Stanford tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo, it was Eifert that was the difference maker, as the All-American made the play of the night snatching a third-and-18 throw down between two defenders for a 24-yard touchdown that got the Irish back in the game.

Held to just three catches over his last three games, Eifert caught four balls for 57 yards, including the big touchdown. And while its definitely a step in the right direction, the Irish are still looking for ways to get the ball to their best playmaker.

“It was tough. He had double coverage on the weak side, and one-on-one on the front side. We just didn’t do a good enough job of taking advantage,” Kelly said of the use of Eifert. “We had to get the ball to him and maybe we forced it a couple times, but the kid came up with some great plays.”

Eifert’s statistics might be down, but his draft stock might be getting a bump up. With Ben Koyack disappointing in the blocking game, Eifert’s taken on the role of a more traditional tight end, showing really strong blocking skills at the point of attack. But when the chips were on the table, it was Eifert split wide this evening and making big plays.

If the Irish are going to keep winning, that’s where they’ll need him.

With David Shaw and Brian Kelly settling into their jobs, expect the Notre Dame – Stanford rivalry to pick up some intensity.

Don’t tell the guys on the football field that this was a battle of academic heavyweights. While both schools were touting a top 20 match-up between two schools ranked not just on the field but in the classroom, this looked to be the first of many epic clashes between Notre Dame and Stanford in the coming years.

With the ACC scheduling venture trying up five games a season, Notre Dame made sure to protect its rivalry with Stanford, an aspirational peer both on and off the field. While letting Michigan walk and likely making some other tough calls on more established rivalries, its telling that Notre Dame’s athletic director would immediately protect the annual series with the Cardinal, a program not necessarily entrenched as a football power, for reasons more nuanced than just another November destination on the West Coast.

Great games between Stanford and Notre Dame are good for college football. When quarterbacks at Ohio State are making waves for their dislike for class and SEC programs continue to push athletes onto the field that are student-athletes by name only, there’s something quite aspirational about a great battle between schools that do it right both on and off the field.

Add a little bad blood over botched calls, phantom whistles from the stands, and overtime games that come down to a matter of inches, and you get an annual match-up that can only get better with age.

 

 

 

142 Comments (Feed for Comments)
  1. cpfirish - Oct 15, 2012 at 3:43 AM

    How many times this year is GAIII going to run into his own player on a kick return.?

  2. c4evr - Oct 15, 2012 at 3:45 AM

    The guys in the ESPN BCS show just mentioned that even if ND runs the table they are still on the outside when it comes to playing for the NC. Their reasoning is that ‘Bama and Oregon are locks if they go undefeated and the Irish schedule is losing its glitter by all the poor play of ND opponents. They even had a one loss ‘Bama team ahead of them if they lost the SEC championship game. Let’s hope Oklahoma and SC don’t lose any more games…

    • ctfivula - Oct 15, 2012 at 10:38 AM

      I don’t understand how you can set up your schedule as the hardest in the country to start the season win every game and not be in the title game? What else could you possibly do to put yourself in position to win a title. Also does anyone other than myself think that Kelly might be holding Wood back a little this year in hopes that he will come back next season? I just can’t help but think that is what he is doing

  3. c4evr - Oct 15, 2012 at 4:12 AM

    And oh yeah, Cam McDaniel is the second coming of Rocky Bleier once he gets some PT.

  4. alsatiannd - Oct 15, 2012 at 7:00 AM

    I know this comment is way late, but I just watched the game after a very busy weekend, but Zeke Motta is crushing people. I think he’s most improved D-man over last year. He was kind of a background player then, but this year he seems to be the second man on every tackle, except when he’s the first man on the tackle. And when he’s second on the tackle, he’s not coming in with a love tap, either. He’s flying in and pounding people. That’s awesome.

  5. 1historian - Oct 15, 2012 at 7:36 AM

    Any quotes from some of the potential recruits?

  6. edlut63 - Oct 15, 2012 at 9:24 AM

    It seems obvious to me that much of the college game is too fast for Golson right now. And, he is embarrased by his inability to quickly catch-on. Watch him when he walks off the field. He is too embarrased to talk with Kelly. He heads for the back of the bench and Kelly has to chase after him. Golson rarely looks the coach in the eye. He appears to be in a hurry to get away from the coach. Rees never does that. No other ND QB did that to Kelly. They listened to the coach and tried to learn their lessons. Golson, in my book, is not mature enough to be the current ND QB. But, he is the coach’s choice. And, he will stay come hell or high water. And, I wish Kelly would teach how to run with the football. Golson runs like a high schooler carrying a lady’s purse.

  7. irish2011 - Oct 15, 2012 at 12:06 PM

    Can we just forget all the talk about ” running the schedule, still looking outside cause of Bama n Oregon” Lets take one efn game at a time ppl. Bring on BYU!

    • nudeman - Oct 15, 2012 at 12:12 PM

      I don’t disagree, but then again … last time I checked we are just fans.
      For the sake of the team’s success does it really matter if WE take it one at a time?

      I say beat BYU, Wake, OK, BC, Pit and USC
      Beat them ALL
      Let’s take them ALL AT A TIME, Baby!!

      Or one at a time.
      I’m fine with either

  8. seamus0317 - Oct 15, 2012 at 8:49 PM

    Irish2011 made the best comment on here…BYU is the most important game on the schedule! Beat the Mormons!

  9. irishdrg1 - Oct 15, 2012 at 9:44 PM

    Would love to see the Irish against BAMA again, we owned that BEAR…. Kicked his a$$ three times in a roll with 73 being for the NC. Funny how BAMA claims the NC in 73 even though we beat them in the Sugar Bowl… As for the call at the goal line against Stanford, you can see the side judge running in having whilstle the play dead a long time before the runners elbow hit the ground and he finally reached over the goal line. Will be traveling to see the BYU game from Texas…. GO IRISH ( not roll on IRISH)

    • 9irish - Oct 16, 2012 at 6:27 AM

      Funny that you mention 1973…my dad was quite aware and pissed about such things. Back then, one of the polls, AP I think, came out before the bowl games. They didn’t really matter back then. ND won it in 1966 and didn’t even go to a bowl game. Change of times, and stuff way before my time, by the way.

      I have a little pamphlet that details all of NDs Championships…it could technically be about 15, I think…the accepted number is 11. Alabama claims about 30 or something because the American Legion voted them Nat’l champs…or something. (kidding…but they go way high)

      So yes…I would love to see the Irish kick their ass…just for old time’s sake

      Go Irish

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