SOUTH BEND – It should have been pretty apparent to Stanford that running the ball against Notre Dame with the consequence of defeat resting on it would not have worked. After all, no team this entire season has ran the ball over the goal line against the seventh-ranked Fighting Irish (6-0).
But give the Cardinal credit for trying and believing in themselves.
Trailing 20-13 in overtime, Stanford had two opportunities against Notre Dame to bowl its way into the end zone from 18 inches away and failed both times against what has to be regarded as one of the best defenses in the country this fall.
“That's what we do,” Stanford coach David Shaw emphatically said of his plan to run right at the Fighting Irish defense.
And what the Irish do is stop you.
Notre Dame stopped the 17th-ranked Cardinal (4-2) on third and fourth downs from inside the one-yard line and remained unbeaten this season. Notre Dame has not allowed an opponent to score an offensive touchdown (Stanford recovered an Irish fumble for their lone touchdown) since Purdue on Sept. 8.
“It was a great goal line stand where we controlled the line of scrimmage physically,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said.
The Irish have controlled quite a bit this season and now are poised to move up – in all likelihood higher than seventh – when the initial BCS Poll is unveiled Sunday evening.
“It was a very good opponent in Stanford,” Kelly said. “But today Notre Dame was better.”
And every other day this season, as well.
The Irish have been so dominant that they haven't even trailed this year until Saturday afternoon. Notre Dame had led over 323 minutes of action before falling behind 7-3 in the second quarter. However, Kelly never panicked and neither did his team.
“I'm so proud of my football team and how they overcame adversity,” Kelly said. “We hadn't been in that position at all this year (trailing), I told them at halftime 'Listen, what did you think, we we're going to go the whole year and not trail?' You don't do that in college football.”
Notre Dame continued to make defensive stands following Kelly's halftime message and the defensive unit held the Cardinal to just 19 yards of offense in the third quarter. That effort allowed the Irish offense enough time to gather itself to eventually tie the game at 10 on a spectacular, leaping touchdown grab by former Bishop Dwenger standout Tyler Eifert early in the fourth quarter.
Following Eifert's score, both teams traded field goals before the extra session. Irish back-up quarterback Tommy Rees replaced an injured Everett Golson in the final quarter, and he was able to hit receiver TJ Jones for a touchdown in the overtime session. That then set the stage for the dramatic defensive stand by Notre Dame.
“It's a play for every inch,” Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o said. “The inch is what it is all about. Football is a game of inches and you're fighting.”