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Game Wrap: Deafening silence

Michael Bryan | Tuesday, December 1, 2009

STANFORD, Calif. — The game followed the template of nearly every game of 2009: outstanding  performances by Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate, an inconsistent defensive effort and a last-second finish. And like the 2009 season as a whole, the final game was a disappointment for the Irish, who fell to the Cardinal 45-38 at Stanford Stadium.

Stanford senior running back Toby Gerhart rushed for 205 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner with 59 seconds left as Notre Dame lost its fourth straight game to finish 6-6.

Another late comeback effort by Clausen and Tate fell short, as Notre Dame gave up two sacks on the final drive and Clausen’s Hail Mary pass was batted down as time expired.

“It’s just the way the year’s been,” Irish coach Charlie Weis said in a press release. “I feel really bad for the outgoing players. There’s a bunch of 22-, 23-year-old young men right there finishing their career losing the last four games. They feel miserable and I feel miserable for them.”

Clausen finished with 340 yards and five touchdowns, tying a career high. Tate caught a career-high 10 receptions for 201 yards and three touchdowns.

“It’s frustrating, anytime you lose the game we’re losing by a touchdown or less,” Clausen said. “I’m a real competitive athlete and it’s really tough.”

After a big stop on Stanford’s first offensive possession, the Irish offense had a critical giveaway on their first offensive play. Freshman running back Theo Riddick was stuffed on an inside run and fumbled, which the Cardinal recovered on the Notre Dame 13.

Gerhart ran three straight times on the ensuing possession, refusing to go down on a four-yard touchdown run that put Stanford up 7-0 early.

Notre Dame responded by forcing a turnover of its own, gaining the ball deep in Stanford territory after safety Sergio Brown forced a fumble that was recovered by Braxston Cave. Starting on the Stanford 16, the Irish evened up the score with a five-yard touchdown pass from Clausen to Tate.

A big sack by Brown helped the Irish hold Stanford to a Nate Whitaker field goal on their next possession. They responded with a long drive of their own. After completions to Tate and Robert Hughes, Riddick took a short pass from Clausen 24 yards to the Stanford 18-yard-line for a key third-down conversion.

The 10-play drive finished in spectacular fashion, as sophomore Michael Floyd caught a touchdown pass from Clausen on the next play, staying in bounds on one foot and extending over the sideline to make the catch and give Notre Dame its first lead at 14-10.

Stanford took advantage of good starting field position on their next drive, as David Ruffer’s kickoff went out of bounds. After several Gerhart runs, the Cardinal were set back by a holding penalty and had to settle for a 47-yard field to cut the lead to 14-13 early in the second quarter.

Notre Dame went back to the running game to ignite its next drive, beginning with three straight runs by Hughes for a total of 24 yards. After two Clausen completions and a quarterback sneak, Hughes broke free for a 15-yard gain on fourth down to extend the drive.

An incompletion and fumbled snap led to Notre Dame settling for a 41-yard field goal from Ruffer, extending the lead back to four points at 17-13.

The defense forced a Stanford punt on their next possession, with senior defensive end John Ryan making a key tackle for a five-yard loss after several big runs by Gerhart.

The ensuing Irish drive started out moving the wrong direction, with false start and holding penalties on their first two plays. A personal foul call on Stanford finally gave the Irish some breathing room, and on the next play Clausen connected deep with Tate for a 78-yard touchdown.

With the catch Tate broke Jeff Samardzija’s school record for career receiving yards (2,593), and gave the Irish a 24-13 lead.

“It was about concentration and being competitive,” Tate said. “I knew that could change the game, and if I dropped it I would have been devastated.”

The Cardinal retaliated with a touchdown of their own before halftime, with quarterback Andrew Luck completing passes for two big first downs. Fullback Owen Marecic punched it in for the touchdown with just 11 seconds left in the half to make the score 24-20.

The Irish continued moving the ball at will in the second half, gashing the Stanford defense with runs by Hughes and Tate. Weis then dialed up a trick play out of the Wildcat formation for a 48-yard score, with Hughes receiving the snap and handing off to Tate, who pitched back to Clausen. No Cardinal player was within 20 yards of Floyd, and Clausen hit him for his fourth touchdown pass of the game, giving Notre Dame a 31-20 lead.

Stanford continued to respond to Notre Dame scores, however, turning to its strength and the ground game to respond with a touchdown of its own. Gerhart led an 81-yard drive that was comprised of nine straight runs, and finished the effort with a 10-yard romp into the end zone.

“Our players did a great job,” Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh said. “Handling success, facing adversity, rising from adversity. It starts from the seniors, their fire and desire to win has fueled this team.”

After the Cardinal defense finally made a stop, the Stanford passing attack began clicking. Luck found Gerhart for a 33-yard gain, and then Chris Owusu for 21 yards one play later. The Irish made stops for losses on two straight Stepfan Taylor runs to hold the Cardinal to a 29–yard field goal to end the third quarter at 31-30.

Clausen and the Irish then went to the air, throwing several deep balls for Floyd and Tate. Both drew pass interference calls, moving Notre Dame well into Stanford territory. On second down and nine, Clausen found Tate wide open. After receiving the 12-yard pass, Tate juked two Stanford defenders and weaved his way back across the field for a 28-yard touchdown, putting the Irish up 38-30.

“I took a risk, I felt like I could maneuver through some guys, and I had some downfield blockers, and I was grateful for those guys to show up when I needed them,” Tate said.

The Cardinal answered yet again, using a 28-yard run from Gerhart to start the drive and completing it with an 18-yard pass to Ryan Whalen on a fourth-down play. Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh elected to go for two, and converted it with a pass to tight end Jim Dray, tying the score at 38.