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Victorious, but not glorious

Mike Gilloon | Monday, October 11, 2004

The scoreboard doesn’t care about style points. Notre Dame showed Saturday it didn’t care either.The Irish defense stood firm inside the red zone and Notre Dame scored three second half touchdowns – two coming from Ryan Grant – to grind out a sluggish 23-15 victory over Stanford.The Irish started slowly and trailed 6-3 at halftime after a pair of first quarter field goals by Cardinal kicker Michael Sgroi. But coaching adjustments on both sides of the ball and a botched punt by Stanford (3-2) in the third quarter boosted the Irish (4-2) to their 800th win in the history of the program.The opening half had the potential to be much worse for Notre Dame as Stanford quarterback Trent Edwards moved the Cardinal inside the Irish 10-yard line on their first two possessions. But the Irish defense stiffened up on third-and-goal both times to keep the Cardinal out of the end zone.”What you have to do is find a way to make a play and that is what our defense has done,” Irish head coach Tyrone Willingham said. “Things went against them but before [Stanford] went into the end zone they found a way to make a stop.”The ‘bend but don’t break’ play of the Notre Dame defense was good enough to keep Willingham undefeated (3-0) against his former team, but the lackluster performance on offense and defense in the first half did not sit well with coaches or players.”I just don’t like the way we started,” Notre Dame defensive coordinator Kent Baer said. “I just don’t know if we had a lot of energy.”Notre Dame punted four times in the first half and got its only points from a 38-yard D.J. Fitzpatrick field goal with 12:14 left in the half.”Actually, before the game in the locker room I noticed it was a lot more quiet than it usually is,” Irish tight end Jerome Collins said. “We came out, and we were just flat.”The coaches kind of got after us at halftime. We just had to come out balling and show everyone what Notre Dame football is really all about.”Stanford looked poised to defeat the Irish in Notre Dame Stadium for the first time since 1992 when the Cardinal opened the second half with a 60-yard march on seven plays to kick a field goal and extend their lead to 9-3.But a 43-yard pass from Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn to wide receiver Maurice Stovall on the ensuing drive jumpstarted the team and led to Grant’s first touchdown of the game.”We really needed that play,” Stovall said. “Our offense was in a hole, we weren’t executing things, and we needed to get some yards and keep the defense off the field at the same time. We finished it off by scoring, and that’s what we needed to do.”The Irish momentum didn’t last long as Stanford’s J.R. Lemon plunged for a 1-yard touchdown to put the Cardinal ahead 15-10 and cap off a nine-play, 80-yard drive.Two series later, the Irish were set to receive a Cardinal punt when Stanford punter Jay Ottovegio fumbled the long snap. Notre Dame defenders swarmed Ottovegio, and the punter whiffed while trying to kick.Notre Dame took possession on the Stanford 27-yard line. The play thrust the momentum right back in the Irish corner and energized the crowd of 80,795.”It definitely added fire to our stadium,” Irish linebacker Derek Curry said. “Our fans got a little more into it. That helped us get a little more energy than we had early on.”Seven plays later, Grant galloped three yards into the end zone for his second touchdown of the day. Quinn overthrew a fade to wide receiver Jeff Samardzija on the ensuing two-point conversion attempt, but the Irish would never trail again.Notre Dame cushioned its lead with 4:10 remaining in the fourth quarter when Quinn snuck behind center John Sullivan for a two-yard touchdown on third-and-goal.But the outcome of the game was in doubt until the last second as Stanford attempted a Hail Mary pass that was batted down in the end zone as time expired.Grant’s two scores highlighted an Irish rushing game that had been almost non-existent last week against Purdue. Darius Walker carried 20 times for 89 yards while Grant had 19 carries for 69 yards, as the Irish rushed for 149 yards as a team.”We knew we had to run the ball and that ended up being successful for us,” offensive tackle Ryan Harris said.