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Irish defense keys victory over Stanford

| Sunday, October 5, 2014

The play that will be remembered is the fourth-and-11 touchdown pass, Everett Golson connecting with Ben Koyack for the 17-14 victory over Stanford.

But it was the Irish defense that made it possible by keeping the game close enough that a last-second score would matter.

TOP 20141004, 2014-2015, 20141004, Football, Kevin Song, Luke, Notre Dame Stadium, vs StanfordKevin Song / The Observer
Entering the game, the Cardinal (3-2, 1-1 Pac-12) had converted just 42 percent of their red-zone opportunities into touchdowns, but they had moved the ball down the field effectively, averaging 229.8 passing yards per game and 141.8 rushing yards per game.

Notre Dame (5-0) surrendered just 205 yards of total offense to Stanford — 158 passing and a miniscule 47 rushing.

“We’re doing it with guys that are just stepping up and being aggressive on the outside,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said. “We talked about the need to clamp down on the perimeter, if you’re going to play great defense you have to clamp down. That’s where we’ve really made significant improvement over the course of the year.”

Sophomore cornerback Cole Luke was part of that perimeter defensive attack as he snagged two interceptions.

“It is something that I knew was coming during practice when I was watching film, but it really is just all about execution and somebody making plays, so tonight I stepped up,” Luke responded when asked how he capitalized on his two interception opportunities.

Luke and the Irish succeeded in containing Cardinal senior wide receiver Ty Montgomery, an athletic deep threat with three touchdown receptions this year.

“One thing that was stressed to me before the game is that you have to have no fear,” Luke said. “It does not matter what receiver you are going against or what offense. We knew he was a great player, but when the lights come on and you are on the field, it does not really matter. You just have to make plays and play ball.”

Sophomore linebacker Jaylon Smith and senior linebacker Joe Schmidt anchored the middle for the Irish and led the team in tackles with 14 and seven, respectively.

“We prepared so great this week,” Smith said. “We all knew going into the week, Stanford week, it’s going to be physical. They are going to hit you in the mouth, and we just had to match that intensity, and penetration was key.”

The Irish were ready for Stanford’s challenging offense, Schmidt said.

No 8 20141004, 2014-2015, 20141004, Football, Kevin Song, Notre Dame Stadium, Trumbetti, vs StanfordKevin Song / The Observer
“This is what you dream of as a linebacker, as a defense,” Schmidt said. “They run some fun plays: power, counter, tosses, fun stuff. This is so much fun. I stayed on the field. It was a pretty surreal feeling.”

The Irish defense was a concern in the offseason as Notre Dame lost several key starters and moved to a new scheme under defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. But it has found a way.

“There are a lot of people that we lost, but it is all about how you step up,” Luke said. “It does not really matter how great the players were that we lost. It is all about now, and even if we cannot get them back, we cannot play with one player down, so you just have to step up.”

Those extra efforts set up the electric final-drive touchdown and powered the Irish to their fifth win.

“I can’t tell you how good it feels,” Schmidt said. “I don’t think there’s a word in the dictionary to describe the feeling that I have right now.”

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