NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly challenged his Fighting Irish football team all week in their preparation for Stanford. Kelly reminded his charges of the physical Cardinal opponent that they would be facing on Saturday – the same Cardinal squad that had pushed Notre Dame around while winning the last three meetings in as many seasons.
It was only fitting that Notre Dame was more physical in the game’s final moments as the Irish (6-0) staged a goal line stand inside the one yard line to preserve a 20-13 overtime win over Stanford (4-2). The Irish had never trailed at any point all season prior to the game, but twice had to overcome deficits to gain victory.
“(I’m) so proud of my football team and the way they overcame adversity,” Kelly began his postgame comments. “We hadn’t been in that position at all this year. I told them at halftime, listen ‘what did you think we’re going to go the whole year and not trail and be ahead the whole year’? You don’t do that in college football at any level. “
While the Irish defense still has not given-up a touchdown since Sept. 8 against Purdue, Stanford scored the first overall touchdown against the Irish since that game when Chase Thomas recovered an Everett Golson fumble in the end zone to put the Cardinal up 7-3 with 6:06 to play before halftime. The Irish later tied the game 10-10 and 13-13 before scoring the deciding touchdown in overtime.
Stanford went to its bread and butter after ND scored the eventual winning touchdown on the first OT possession with four straight runs up the middle by running back Stepfan Taylor, who ran for a game-high 102 yards, to end the game. Taylor’s final run came on fourth and goal inside the one yard line and Kelly says it was a fitting end to a game that lived-up to its “physical” billing.
“When you’re talking to your team all week about a heavyweight match and you can’t keep taking body blows you have to stand in there,” Kelly said of the dramatically hard-hitting ending. “And sooner or later you’ve got to be the one that delivers. It comes down to fruition in the way the game ended and our team coming-up with a great goal line stand. Classic.”
Classic indeed. Irish players stormed the field after the final play, but had to go back to their sideline when it went to instant replay. The call was ultimately upheld and bedlam ensued on the field as students stormed the field to hug their heroes as rain showered down inside the stadium.
“There’s a high level of confidence that our football team now can carry on to the next game and the next game,” Kelly said when asked if the victory is a turning point for his team. “We are halfway through the season and (we have) six weeks left with this group. I think they leave here knowing that they can win if they stick with the plan.”
Golson’s Bell Rung
Everett Golson was knocked out of the game after a personal foul was called on Stanford’s Usua Amanam with 3:27 to play in regulation.
“Blow to the head and his vision was blurred,” Kelly said afterward. “He wanted to get back in and our medical personnel would not clear him.”
Golson was 12-for-24 for 141 yards and a touchdown before being forced from the game. He also rushed for 41 net yards (61 gross, but sacked three times for 26 yards in losses).
“He started feeling more comfortable with the rush,” Kelly said of his sophomore quarterback. “Obviously, he’s learning about a pressure situation where they are just four down (defensive linemen) where you have to slide in the pocket.”
“I was really proud of him today. He grew up. I know it wasn’t as clean and the numbers…you can analyze them and say ‘well he didn’t play well’. All I can tell you is that in his growth he did some things for me as the head coach that allow us to keep progressing with Everett.”
Rees To The Rescue
For the third time this year Tommy Rees came off the bench to help lead the Fighting Irish to victory. Rees completed his only pass attempt of the drive he entered, an 11-yard completion to Tyler Eifert, to help the team ultimately tie the game on Kyle Brindza’s 22-yard field goal. Once Rees found his helmet on the sideline he was ready to go when he hit the field.
“He couldn’t find his darn helmet, so just get in his helmet” Kelly joked when asked what he said to Rees before the junior entered the game. “I told him listen, here is what you have to manage. We’re going to give you a run pay and you’re going to have to get us in the right play and we’ll keep it really simple. We had three or four plays – you manage the rest. He got us into the right play. He managed the game very well.”
It looked momentarily like Kelly might go to Rees in the first half after Golson’s fumble netted Stanford its lone touchdown of the game. Rees began warming-up on the sideline immediately afterward, but Kelly says he never seriously considered sending him in the game.
“No, he got banged-up a little bit,” Kelly said of Golson’s health after the simultaneous sack, fumble and touchdown in the end zone. “We just wanted to make sure he was going to be okay. He was cleared. He was fine.”
Rees was 4-for-4 for 43 yards, including the game-winning seven-yard TD pass to T.J. Jones, in his third relief outing of the season. Kelly has had nothing but praise for Rees for the way he has helped his team after losing his starting job entering the season.
“What he has is a great mind for the game,” Kelly said of Rees. “He can manage difficult situations and he comes in and he can close games if we need him. He’s an incredible young man that can stay so focused in the game (and) know what’s going on during the game.”
“At halftime I’m talking with him and Everett and he’s pointing out some things about the outside coverages that we should maybe think about running as well. He’s just a very smart football player.”
The poise Rees has shown this season in pressure situations has shown the preparation he puts into each week despite the fact that he knows he is not the starter. Rees says he prepares nearly the same as a back-up this year as he did when he was starting in 2011.
“Obviously roles are a little different during practice, but the film study (and) the knowledge of what the offense’s game plan (is) – just understanding the defense – that has not changed,” he said after the game. “The day-to-day preparation stays the same and I think that’s why we are having the success.”
Rees is now 17-for-27 for 218 yards and a touchdown in his cameo appearances this season.
Stanford head coach Brian Shaw was asked just eight questions during his post-game press conference. His most notable comments came without the prompt of a question though. After the assembled media had stopped asking questions, Shaw took the opportunity to “respond” to a thought of his own before leaving the media room.”
“I’ll just make one comment in case you were wondering – out last field goal down there (with 6:12 to play to put the Cardinal up 13-10) there’s a third and one and there was a whistle that came from the crowd,” Shaw remarked. “That’s why our guys stopped playing. It was verified. It was heard. The play did not stop.”
The result of the play Shaw was referring to was a seven-yard tackle for loss by Irish safety Matthias Farley when he came off Stanford’s right side to corral Taylor in the back field, making the Cardinal settle for their 27-yard field goal.
Kelly says he did not hear the whistle Shaw was referring to and he also did not know about Shaw’s complaints.
“No, I was not aware,” Kelly said when asked about Shaw’s phantom whistle. “This is the first I’ve heard of it.”
Farley did not hear it either, but Shaw had a hard time letting it go after the game.
“I’ll check the rules and talk to the officials about what can be done there just to…we’ll see,” Shaw said. “Once again, I’m not going to comment on what the officials said and I’m not going to comment on what I hear back from them the league. I know enough about that. That’s a question that we have to get the answer to.”
- Notre Dame improves to 4-8 all-time in overtime with the rain-soaked victory. All four of ND’s overtime wins have come at Notre Dame Stadium.
- ND’s last overtime game was two years ago that ended with the “Little Giants” play loss at Michigan State.
- The Fighting Irish defense is yet to give-up a rushing touchdown this season. They are the only FBS team that can still make that claim this year.
- Notre Dame is 6-0 to start a season for the 30th time in school history and for the first time since 2002.
- Bennett Jackson and Matthias Farley each collected first half interceptions for the 14th and 15th forced turnovers of the season by the ND defense. The Irish forced just 14 turnovers all of last season.
- Stanford’s defensive touchdown was the first of any kind against the Irish in a span of 13 quarters. ND still has not allowed an opponent an offensive touchdown in its last four games/16 quarters. The last time an ND team went as long without allowing an offensive score was 23 quarters in 1980.
- Shawn Hoculi, the son of longtime NFL official Ed Hoculi, was the head referee for the game. The elder Hoculi is known for his bulging biceps and was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated when the recent NFL referee’s lockout ended.