Notre Dame defense stands and delivers in OT victory over Stanford
BY MARK LAZERUS firstname.lastname@example.org October 13, 2012 11:34PM
Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor, who gained 102 yards on 28 carries, is stopped short of the goal line on fourth down. | Nam Y. Huh~AP
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Eighteen inches or so of soggy, chewed-up grass stood between the nose of the football and the goal line, between Stanford and the game-tying touchdown.
Eighteen inches and two snaps of the ball. And everybody in Notre Dame Stadium knew what was coming — Cardinal tailback Stepfan Taylor, right up the gut.
“It’s what we do,” Stanford coach David Shaw said.
On third down, Taylor was turned back. And on fourth down, Taylor was turned back again, a mass of Irish bodies pushing and shoving —“wiggling and shaking,” according to ND nose guard Louis Nix III — against the vaunted Stanford offensive line.
“That’s what we do,” responded ND defensive end Stephon Tuitt.
Notre Dame’s rollicking 20-13 overtime victory over No. 17 Stanford on Saturday not only cleared the path to a BCS bowl game for the Irish — with just two ranked foes left in Oklahoma and USC — it exorcized the Stanford demons, and it affirmed Notre Dame’s status as one of the nation’s most fearsome defensive units.
The Irish defense has not allowed a touchdown in four straight games now.
“We [are] legit,” Tuitt said.
And while wins over Michigan State and Michigan were encouraging, the manner in which Notre Dame pulled this one out made it all the more important.
Late in the third quarter, the Irish trailed 10-3.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Everett Golson had fumbled four times, losing three, including one in the end zone that Stanford’s Chase Thomas recovered in the second quarter for the team’s only touchdown. Golson nearly had been tackled for a safety twice. He nearly had been intercepted twice. And he had just coughed up the ball again deep in Stanford territory, killing the first decent drive the Irish had in the half.
The Irish were the only team in the country that never trailed.
“I told them at halftime, ‘What did you think, we were going to go the whole year and not trail?’ ” coach Brian Kelly said. “You don’t do that in college football, at any level. I said, ‘Stick with the plan.’ ”
And Kelly stuck with Golson — to some fans’ chagrin — and he responded by leading a nice drive that ended in a 24-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Eifert on third-and-18, tying the score at 10. Stanford responded with a field goal to make it 13-10 with 6:12 to go, and Golson again had the Irish moving before more adversity hit.
Golson was knocked out of the game on a helmet-to-helmet hit, and in came the closer, Tommy Rees, with 3:18 to go. He guided the Irish to the game-tying 22-yard field goal with 22 seconds left, then overcame a sack on the first play of overtime to throw three straight completions — the last a 7-yard touchdown slant to T.J. Jones.
“We just stayed calm,” Eifert said. “You can’t get frustrated or start freaking out. Just run the plays that are called, execute them, and make a play when it’s there.”
That’s what Notre Dame’s defense did to close things out. Stanford had first-and-goal from the 4-yard line and ran Taylor four straight times. He got to about the 1-inch line — an excruciating review taking place to make sure he didn’t get into the end zone, even after both teams and hundreds of students had spilled onto the field.
The call on the field was upheld. The Irish had the win — and the validation.
“We had the will, as a unit. We weren’t going to let anyone by us,” said safety Matthias Farley, who had his first career interception in the first half. “I feel like the win shows the character of our team. If you’re going to come in here, you’ve got to expect a fight for four quarters.”
And sometimes, a little more.