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Stanford overpowers Notre Dame, 27-20

Matthew DeFranks | Sunday, December 1, 2013

PALO ALTO, Calif. – No. 8 Stanford gashed No. 25 Notre Dame’s defense for 261 rushing yards and dashed any hopes the Irish had for a nine-win season with a 27-20 win on Saturday at Stanford Stadium in front of 50,537 people.

The loss dropped Notre Dame to 8-4, a far cry from the 12-0 it was a year ago, and sealed a disappointing season.

“Losing is unacceptable,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “8-4 is not where we want to be. We lost some tough games but those are all excuses. We want to win football games. We come to Notre Dame to win football games.

“We needed to make one more play. We just couldn’t make the play when we needed to.”

Down 27-20 late in the fourth quarter, the Irish were on their own 32-yard line, trying to drive for a game-tying touchdown. Senior quarterback Tommy Rees dropped back to looked toward freshman receiver Will Fuller, who had man-to-man coverage on the outside.

Fuller beat his man and Rees lofted an underthrown ball to the frosh speedster that Stanford junior cornerback Wayne Lyons intercepted to seal the game. The pick was the second of the day for Lyons and gave the Cardinal (10-2) the ball back with 2:24 left in the game.

“He threw that ball as far as he could throw it to Will Fuller,” Kelly said. “He can’t get it any further than that. That’s just Tommy, he gives you everything he has.”

Rees, who finished 16 of 34 for 199 yards and two touchdowns, threw interceptions on Notre Dame’s final two drives of the game.

“We know Fuller can run and he got behind the corner and I underthrew him a little bit,” Rees said. “Corner made a nice play. We’re just trying to take a shot at the end.”

In between Rees’ two picks, the Irish forced a turnover of their own, when senior cornerback Bennett Jackson intercepted Stanford junior quarterback Kevin Hogan at the Irish 21. Notre Dame surrendered just 26 fourth-quarter yards to Stanford.

“I thought they hung in there and played hard and made some plays for us and gave us an opportunity to win,” Kelly said. “We had a chance to win the game. Our defense gave us a chance to win the game. Our offense kept us in it, we just needed to make another play.”

Stanford still needed a first down to run the clock out on the Irish, who still had one timeout remaining. They got it on senior running back Tyler Gaffney’s 33rd carry of the night.

Gaffney took the handoff and hit a hole up the middle, dragging Irish junior safety Matthias Farley across the first-down marker and icing the game for Stanford.

“That last run might have been his best run ever,” Cardinal coach David Shaw said. “That last run, there wasn’t a big hole. He squeaked through it. There was a guy after the hole. He took that guy for a ride.”

Gaffney finished with 189 yards and a touchdown as he racked up his eighth 100-yard game of the season. Stanford outgained the Irish 261-64 on the ground and improved to 31-2 under Shaw when outrushing their opponent.

Graduate student linebacker Dan Fox led the Irish defense with a career-high 15 tackles. Fox said Gaffney was able to capitalize on his good blocking up front.

“They had some pretty solid blockers and … it felt like I was stuck on some blockers,” Fox said. “I think they did a good job.”

While Stanford was having no trouble blocking, injuries forced Notre Dame to shuffle its offensive line.

With senior right guard Christian Lombard and junior center Nick Martin already lost for the season, graduate student left guard Chris Watt went down with a knee injury in the second quarter. Watt did not return and was seen on crutches with a knee brace after the game. Kelly said Watt’s injury was not to his already injured PCL.

With Watt sidelined, the Irish shifted junior Conor Hanratty to left guard and inserted freshman Steve Elmer at right guard. Notre Dame played the rest of the game with three new players in the interior of the offensive line.

The makeshift line allowed just one sack but could only muster 64 yards on the ground in 24 attempts.

Farley and Irish senior safety Austin Collinsworth were forced into more action after junior Eilar Hardy and sophomore Elijah Shumate did not travel for a violation of team rules. Collinsworth responded with a career-high 11 tackles and his second career interception.

Collinsworth’s second-quarter interception gave the Irish the ball around midfield trailing 14-3. Five plays later, Notre Dame punted but the turnover flipped field position for the Irish.

After a three-and-out by Stanford, the Irish began their next drive at their own 45-yard line. They drove 44 yards in nine plays and junior kicker Kyle Brindza knocked through a 27-yard field goal to cut the Stanford lead to 14-6 going into halftime.

Stanford started the second half with an impressive 76-yard touchdown drive, ending with senior running back Anthony Wilkerson’s 20-yard burst up the middle that put the Cardinal up 21-6. Wilkerson gashed the Irish defense up the gut and was barely touched on his way into the end zone.

The Irish finally got in the end zone midway through the third quarter on a four-yard touchdown pass from Rees to senior receiver TJ Jones. Jones finished the game with six catches for 56 yards and a score.

In Notre Dame’s four scoring drives, it had 275 yards; in the six other drives, 45.

Set up by junior receiver Ty Montgomery’s 51-yard kickoff  return, the Cardinal set up shop on the Notre Dame side of midfield. Stanford drove the ball to the Irish five-yard line and faced a third-and-four.

Gaffney took the handoff up the middle and dragged Notre Dame defenders with him into the end zone but a holding call on fifth-year senior right guard Kevin Danser negated the touchdown and moved Stanford back 10 yards.  The penalty was only the second holding call against the Cardinal and Stanford settled for a 27-yard field goal by Williamson to extend is lead to 24-13.

Rees and the Irish fought back to cut the lead to four points on a 14-yard touchdown toss to junior receiver DaVaris Daniels in the left corner of the end zone. Notre Dame converted a third-and-long inside Stanford territory when junior tight end Troy Niklas hauled in a juggling reception on the sideline for a 19-yard gain. Two plays later, Rees lofted the touchdown pass to Daniels.

Stanford could only muster a 28-yard field goal by senior kicker Jordan Williamson on its next drive, giving it a 27-20 advantage.

The Irish took an early 3-0 lead when Brindza made a 21-yard field goal attempt on Notre Dame’s opening drive of the game. Rees converted two third downs with completions of 18 yards and 22 yards to Daniels and freshman receiver Corey Robison, respectively, but the Irish drive stalled inside the Stanford 10.

Stanford answered quickly with a seven-play, 75-yard drive in 3:13 capped by Hogan’s 16-yard touchdown pass to wide-open junior receiver Devon Cajuste. Jackson bit on Hogan’s pump fake and Cajuste zoomed past the man-to-man coverage by Jackson for an easy score to give the Cardinal a 7-3 advantage.

Gaffney extended the Cardinal lead to 14-3 when he dove in from one yard out with 13:37 left in the second quarter. Notre Dame had stuffed the Cardinal on consecutive attempts inside the two-yard line before Gaffney’s score.

Contact Matthew DeFranks at mdefrank@nd.edu