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Owens: Success under pressure provides season-defining moment (Oct. 15)

Andrew Owens | Sunday, October 14, 2012

As daylight turned to dusk underneath the stormy sky, the 2012 Irish encountered their season-defining moment.

Eleven Cardinal players and 11 Irish defenders lined up with the ball resting inside the 1-yard line. While the difference between a Notre Dame win and a tie game was mere inches, there was plenty more on the line for an Irish program starving to be among the nation’s elite.

On consecutive plays, the Irish held snuffed the Cardinal threat and onlookers poured onto the field, but the referees cleared the field for a video replay.

As the slugfest’s final, gasping breath expired after the review, a jubilant Notre Dame Stadium collectively exhaled and relished the fantasy-turned-reality:

Notre Dame is 6-0.

The Irish, ranked No. 5 in the first Bowl Championship Series (BCS) standings of the season, have earned a spot among the nation’s elite with nasty, smashmouth football, and there’s no other way Irish coach Brian Kelly would have it.

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

Notre Dame beat Stanford for the first time since 2008, and it did so with a smothering defensive effort. For the fourth consecutive game, the Irish defense did not allow a touchdown. In its three-game losing streak to the Cardinal, Notre Dame surrendered point totals of 45, 37 and 28, respectively. On Saturday, the defense yielded just six points in four quarters and an overtime series.

The stifling defense should keep the Irish in every game, but its offense will make it vulnerable in nearly every contest. With a potential BCS prize waiting at the end of the journey, Kelly’s squad needs to tune out the distractions and only worry about its next game.

“Championship football for us at Notre Dame, I think you can make the conclusion that it equals BCS,” Kelly said.

At this point in the season, anything short of a BCS berth would be a disappointment. The Irish have road dates with No. 9 Oklahoma (Oct. 27) and No. 10 USC (Nov. 24) looming, but the other four games are ones Notre Dame can – and should – win handily.

A jovial Kelly provided a telling comment during his postgame press conference. In overtime, he said he typically looks ahead to offensive calls for the next series while his team plays defense. On Saturday, he didn’t glance at his play sheet, even when Stanford was so close to the goal line.

“I think you think something is going to happen,” he said. “You know what I mean. You’re going to get a tackle for a loss; the ball is going to come out.”

Saturday’s win wasn’t the season’s most monumental because of the opponent, the point in the season or due to Notre Dame’s recent struggles against Stanford.

It was about the circumstances.

While it wasn’t the first close contest, it was the first in which the Irish trailed. It was the first that losing seemed like a possibility. In the end, the Irish will be better for it.

Unlike past Irish squads that folded quicker than a card table, the 2012 version remains calm under pressure.

“We weren’t worried about it,” said junior nose guard Louis Nix on trailing Stanford for much of the game. “We stayed together, level-headed and kept pushing.”

It’s what the 2012 Irish thrive on.