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Week 6: Stanford

Matthew Robison | Saturday, October 13, 2012

As the skies opened up and the rain fell Saturday, No. 7 Notre Dame did the opposite and slammed the door shut on No. 17 Stanford, holding the Cardinal on consecutive plays from the half-yard line to secure a 20-13 overtime win in Notre Dame Stadium.

Irish coach Brian Kelly said he talked to his team all week about the game with Stanford being a “heavyweight match.” That’s exactly how it played out.

“It comes to fruition in the way the game ended and our team coming up with great goal line stand,” he said. “Classic.”

After sophomore kicker Kyle Brindza’s 22-yard field goal with 20 seconds left in regulation, the game went to overtime, where the Irish scored on a seven-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Tommy Rees to junior receiver T.J. Jones.

Stanford marched the ball to within inches of the goal line on its overtime possession, but Notre Dame stonewalled the Cardinal. Twice Stanford handed the ball to senior running back Stepfan Taylor, and twice the Irish denied him.

Short-yardage situations have been Stanford’s bread and butter this season. But Notre Dame secured the victory in those situations Saturday.

“That’s what Stanford does,” Kelly said. “I don’t think you can fault [Stanford] for doing what they do. That’s their offense.”

Players and coaches ran onto the field when the referee signaled that the ball did not cross the goal line. The referees reviewed the play, ultimately deciding the call would stand.

“I thought he got in on the play before that,” Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes said. “That game was made up of a bunch of tough plays.”

The Irish defense has now gone four straight games without allowing a touchdown. It was the Notre Dame offense that provided Stanford its lone score in the second quarter when sophomore quarterback Everett Golson was sacked and fumbled in the endzone. The Cardinal recovered the ball, and Notre Dame trailed for the first time all season.

Golson threw a touchdown pass to senior tight end Tyler Eifert in the front of the end zone to tie the game at 10 early in the fourth quarter.

“We had to get the ball to [Eifert] and maybe we forced it a couple of times,” Kelly said. “But the kid came up with some great plays.

Stanford answered with a 16-play, 65-yard drive that culminated in a 27-yard field goal to go ahead 13-10.

On a 3rd-and-1 play in the red zone, freshman safety Matthias Farley tackled Taylor for a five-yard loss. Stanford coach David Shaw said his players heard a whistle from the crowd and stopped playing.

Kelly said he did not hear a whistle.

Late in the fourth quarter, Golson suffered a helmet-to-helmet hit when he scrambled for a run. He left the game and Rees entered at quarterback. Despite some of Golson’s offensive woes Saturday – five fumbles (three lost), 12-for-24 passing – Kelly said he witnessed tremendous growth in Golson on Saturday.

“I was really proud of him today,” Kelly said. “All I can tell you is that in his growth, he did some things for me as the head coach that allow us to keep progressing with Everett.”

For most of the game, both teams struggled offensively. Stanford managed only 272 yard of total offense, well below its season average of 385.

Notre Dame scrounged together 334 yards of offense, 150 of which came from its trio of tailbacks and the mobile Golson.

Rees engineered another set of game-tying and game-winning drives. Both Kelly and his teammates lauded Rees for his mental toughness after unexpectedly being thrown into a tight game.

“Tommy is level-headed, locked in,” senior linebacker Manti Te’o said. “As the game gets on, it’s easy to let your guard down a little bit thinking you’re not going to go in. But Tommy is always locked in and taking notes from where he’s standing so that when he gets in opportunity, he can go in there and help our team win, just like he did today.

“[Rees] got us into the right play,” Kelly said. “He managed the game very well.”

Every time it looked as though Stanford was ready to strike early, Notre Dame had an answer. Senior cornerback Bennett Jackson intercepted a pass at the one yard line in the first quarter to halt a five-play, 27-yard drive. Two possessions later, Farley intercepted a pass and returned it 49 yards to the Stanford 16-yard line. After a 12-play, 67-yard drive by the Cardinal, sophomore defensive end Stephon Tuitt blocked a field goal.

Halfway through its regular-season schedule, Notre Dame is undefeated, but not satisfied.

“It’s great anytime you can get a win,” Rees said. “The atmosphere was great tonight. The students did a great job. The defense obviously played really, really well again, and it feels good to get the win.”

Notre Dame will probably rise in the rankings after another victory over a ranked opponent. But Te’o and the rest of the Irish are focused on one thing: next week’s clash with BYU.

“I think we’ll take a glance [at the rankings] and see how far we’ve come and go from there and focus on BYU,” Te’o said. “I think this is a mature team and we understand that we want to look at the rankings at the end of the season. That’s when it really counts.”

Contact Matthew Robison at mrobison@nd.edu.