NOTRE DAME, Ind. – What was billed all week as a physical battle between two Top-25 teams turned into a turnover marred first half in the rain at Notre Dame Stadium. The rain would subside for a good deal of the game and ultimately Notre Dame prevailed 20-13 in overtime over Stanford to give the program its first 6-0 start in a decade.
Both teams had played keep away from the opposition through their first five games, but totaled four first half turnovers.
After Stanford (4-2) went three and out on its first drive, Notre Dame’s own first possession was looking promising. It took six plays to drive 25 yards just across the midfield line, but Golson fumbled a snap just two plays later to give Stanford the ball at the Irish 47. The Irish got the ball right back five plays later though when Bennett Jackson intercepted a Josh Nunes pass intended for Brandon Gottfried.
Jackson’s interception marked the 14th takeaway by the Irish defense, equaling the team’s total in all of the 2011 season. ND’s Matthias Farley made his first career interception when Nunes was trying to fire deep over the middle two possessions later. His return gave the Irish the ball at the Stanford 16 and set-up Kyle Brindza’s 29-yard field goal to give Notre Dame a 3-0 lead with 36 seconds to play in the first quarter.
It looked like Stanford was going to tie the score on the ensuing possession. The Cardinal drove to the Irish eight yard line in 13 plays before Jordan Williamson’s 25-yard field goal was blocked by Stephon Tuitt. The Irish defensive end’s big play atoned for a late hit on Nunes on the third play of the drive. Nunes fired incomplete on a pass attempt, but the drive continued for 10 more plays after what appeared to be a questionable call when Tuitt laid his hands on the quarterback after the pass was away.
The first big break of the game for either team came with 6:06 to play before halftime. On third and 16 from Notre Dame’s own four Golson was sacked and fumbled in the end zone, resulting in the first touchdown of the game. Cardinal defensive end Ben Gardner hit Golson from the blind side, knocking the ball loose. Linebacker Chase Thomas fell on the ball for the TD. Stanford’s 7-3 lead marked the first time had trailed all season.
Tommy Rees began warming-up on the Irish sideline after the blunder, but Golson stayed in the game on Notre Dame’s next drive. He led the Irish to the Stanford four-yard line and it appeared they would get three points back, but a high snap by Jordan Cowart slipped through holder Daniel Zychinski’s hands and Brindza never got to attempt a field goal.
Stanford quickly drove to the Notre Dame 31, where Williamson drilled a career-best 48-yard field goal as time expired to end the first half. Stanford led 10-3 at the intermission.
Golson was just 6-for-16 for 61 yards in the first half, while Nunes was 7-for-15 for 78 yards with two interceptions. Notre Dame rushed for 45 yards on 19 first half carries. Stanford had 75 yards on the ground. The Irish averaged just 3.0 yards on 35 total first half plays. Each team turned the ball over twice in the game’s first 30 minutes.
After punting on their first two second half possessions Notre Dame was driving in Stanford territory until another turnover proved costly. Golson scrambled to his left on first and 15 from the Cardinal 37 and picked-up what would have been a first down at the 17. However, he fumbled as he was hit near the sideline, giving Stanford the ball. It looked like Golson may have stepped out of bounds before the hit, but instant replay upheld the call on the field.
The Irish held the ball as the third quarter came to a close trailing 10-3. They outgained Stanford 119-19 in total yards in the second half’s first 15 minutes, but had no points to show for it. Nunes was o-for-3 passing in the quarter.
While the third quarter was a net wash, the fourth quarter started with a bang. Golson hit tight end Tyler Eifert on the second play of regulation’s final frame for a 24-yard touchdown pass. The game-tying drive made the score 10-10 with 14:15 remaining. It covered 52 yards in eight plays and 4:18 on the game clock.
Stanford was on its way to scoring the first touchdown allowed by the Fighting Irish defense in more than a month, but had to settle for a 27-yard field goal instead. On third and two from the ND three Matthias Farley blitzed off the left edge to tackle Stepfan Taylor for a seven-yard loss. The drive still covered 65 yards on 16 plays and chewed-up 8:03 on the clock to give the Cardinal a 13-10 lead with 6:12 to play.
The Fighting Irish then churned 5:52 off the clock while moving down the field for Brindza’s 22-yard field goal to tie the game 13-13 with just 20 seconds remaining in regulation. Rain was again pouring down as the ball split the uprights.
The drive covered 79 yards in 12 plays. Golson left the game after a helmet to helmet hit by Usua Amanam with 3:27 to play. Tommy Rees finished the game-tying drive. He completed his only pass attempt in the process.
Stanford won the overtime coin toss and elected to play defense first. Rees was still at quarterback as Notre Dame’s first possession began. Things started out inauspiciously when Rees was sacked by Trent Murphy on the first play of the extra session for a seven-yard catch, giving ND second and 17 at the 32. Rees completed three straight passes after that though, including a seven-yard scoring strike to T.J. Jones to give the Irish a 20-13 lead.
Stanford’s first play started with a bang for the Irish when Dan Fox belted Taylor in the backfield on a swing pass to the left for a five-yard loss. Nunes scrambled for 13 yards though on the next play and Taylor added another 13-yard gain right after that to give Stanford first and goal at the Fighting Irish four.
Taylor carried the ball four straight times, but the Irish defense held to preserve the dramatic victory. Taylor was stuffed by the Irish interior on fourth and goal inside the one. The call went to instant replay, but was upheld. Notre Dame students stormed the field and danced in the rain afterward.
Golson finished his day 12-of-24 for 141 yards and a passing touchdown. He ran the ball 15 times for 41 yards. Rees was 4-of-4 for 41 yards and a touchdown. Cierre Wood led ND with 66 yards on 12 carries. Eifert was the top receiver with 57 yards and a touchdown on four receptions.
Nunes was 12-of-25 for 125 yards for Stanford. Taylor led the Cardinal with 102 yards on the ground on 28 carries.
The Irish defense still has not allowed a rushing touchdown in 2012 and for a total of its last 34 quarters.
After three straight losses to Stanford, Notre Dame was able to be the more physical team when it counted the most in their 20-13 victory.