Trailing 10-0 at the break, Stanford first breeched the scoreboard when sophomore cornerback Quenton Meeks intercepted a DeShone Kizer pass and returned it 50 yards for a score early in the third quarter. A second interception thrown by Kizer one series later elicited a change at the trigger for Brian Kelly’s Irish with previously deposed senior Malik Zaire taking the reins.
After an ineffectual first series, Zaire’s second set of downs began with a snap over the quarterback’s head by junior center Sam Mustipher. It sailed out of the end zone for a safety, cutting the margin to 10-9 at the 1:17 mark of the third quarter.
After two improbable scores, the utterly predictable followed -- at least if you’re a fan of the 2016 Fighting Irish.
Stanford embarked on an 11-play, 67-yard drive culminating in a fumble recovery touchdown by Cardinal center Jesse Burkett – that after Irish defenders Cole Luke and Nyles Morgan had an opportunity to recover the fumble of running back Bryce Love who appeared to cross the goal as he scored.
Love added to the Stanford lead, making it 17-10 on an untouched two-point conversion sprint to the left pylon thereafter.
Had Luke or Morgan simply batted or kicked the ball out of the end zone, Notre Dame would have taken possession at its own 20-yard line (pending official review).
Zaire’s return to the fray resulted in three series and a net of negative nine yards before ceding controls back to Kizer following a Stanford punt at the 3:44 mark.
Kizer led the Irish on a last-ditch 15-play, 61-yard drive that ended with three anticlimactic snaps beginning inside the Stanford 10-yard line with the following, head-shaking results: sack, spike to stop the clock for fourth down, and a game-ending sack.
The Irish didn’t possess a timeout when Kizer took his two crippling sacks.
“We had a fade on. We got to the play we wanted,” said Kelly of the offense’s final play that instead ended with a sack.
The Cardinal owned the second half, scoring all 17 points – eight from the offense and nine from their never-say-die defense. Notre Dame managed just 100 yards on 36 second half snaps, 61 of them coming on the failed final drive.
“Defensively we won the game,” said Stanford head coach David Shaw. “(Defensive coordinator) Lance Anderson and the defensive staff deserve the credit. Getting turnovers, standing up when we needed them to.”
“The second half mantra was ‘Just keep playing hard,’ he continued. “And we started to feel it on the sideline.
“Even when the guys were moving the ball, our guys played hard and trusted. Thankfully at the end of the game our guys made plays to finish the game out."
Stanford played the contest without 2015 Heisman Trophy runner-up Christian McCaffrey, deemed unable to play Friday night after traveling to South Bend. The aforementioned Love finished with 129 rushing yards and a two-point conversion in McCaffrey’s stead.
Asked post-game about the Kizer-Zaire-Kizer substitutions, Kelly offered, “Those are coach-player conversations. I just felt like it was important to try to get some energy back. We lost some energy and I thought going to Malik would do that.
“With DeShone’s experience, felt like giving him a shot at the end would give us our best chance of winning.”
Kelly noted post-game that Kizer would return to his starting role moving forward.
Kizer scored Notre Dame’s only touchdown, an 8-yard rush late in the first quarter. He finished with 103 yards gained on the ground but lost 20 back to the Cardinal on four sacks.