The Irish struggled on offense on Saturday, but found enough offense to deny a hungry Stanford squad. The return of senior running back Ryan Grant sparked the Irish as Grant scored two touchdowns in the second half for the Irish to help the Irish pick up the victory.
The Cardinal began their first possession on their own 47-yard line. The Cardinal moved the ball to the Irish nine-yard line, fueled by a Trent Edwards to Alex Smith pass for 28 yards setting the Cardinal up at the Irish 24-yard line.
The Irish defense held, however, and drive stalled. Stanford kicker Michael Sgroi then booted a 27-yard field goal to give the Cardinal the early 3-0 lead.
Stanford then took their second possession at their own 22-yard line and marched to the Irish three-yard line before settling for another field goal attempt. Sgori converted, this time from 20 yards, giving Stanford the 6-0 lead.
The Irish got on the board early in the second quarter. Notre Dame took over at their own 31-yard line and quarterback Brady Quinn hit tight end Jerome Collins for a 21-yard strike to the Stanford 48-yard line.
Freshman Darius Walker then carried the ball for five, 19 and three yards to the Stanford 24 before Collins dropped a critical third-down pass, stalling the drive. Kicker D.J. Fitzpatrick then converted on a 38-yard field goal to narrow the Stanford lead, 6-3, and ending the scoring in the first half.
The Cardinal came out of the second half and marched the second half kickoff to the Irish 20 before stalling. Sgori kicked his third field goal of the game, converting on a 38-yard field goal to put Stanford up 9-3.
Notre Dame answered the Cardinal score, putting together their own 13-play drive, and scoring their first touchdown of the game when running back Ryan Grant plunged into the end zone from one yard out.
The Irish looked asleep at the wheel on offense until the drive, and a 43-yard Quinn to Maurice Stovall pass sparked the Irish offense giving the Irish the 10-9 lead.
The Cardinal responded, however, with their own nine-play drive behind the arm of quarterback Trent Edwards. Edwards completed five passes on the drive, landing the Cardinal at the Irish two. Running back J.R. Lemon finished the drive with a one-yard carry to put the Cardinal up 15-10.
The Cardinal two-point try failed as Irish corner Dwight Ellick intercepted the Edwards pass on the attempt.
The Irish defense then force a Stanford three-and-out series, and Stanford punter Jay Ottovegio dropped the ball on his punt attempt, giving the Irish the ball at the Stanford 27-yard line.
The Irish capitalized on the costly Stanford mistake as Grant scored his second touchdown of the day, this time from three yards out, giving the Irish the 16-15 lead.
The Irish picked up another touchdown in the fourth quarter as Brady Quinn added another score with his two-yard scramble for a touchdown, giving the Irish the 23-15 lead, and the final score.
Irish head coach Tyrone Willingham said Grant's return sparked the Irish on offense on Saturday.
"Ryan is not only an excellent player, but he's an excellent leader," said Willingham. "Having him in there was a plus not only from a leadership standpoint, but also from a playing standpoint. It was hard for him to have to be on the sidelines and watch the last few games. He believes he can make a difference when he's on the field."
The Irish struggled on offense most of the game, but Willingham said his team put together the drives when they needed them.
"It was hard for me because I didn't think we were playing the way I know we can," Willingham said. "We just couldn't get it going in the first half. We started to make plays in the second half and got the win."
While the victory might not have been pretty, with the Irish win Willingham believes his team is on track to finish the season on a high mark.
"For me, the big picture is that we are now 4-2 with a chance to do some great things this year," he said. "Today may not have been measurable in completions or in yards gained, but it can be measured in character."
The good news for Irish fans is that Notre Dame appeared to find the running game when they needed it. Notre Dame amassed just 149 yards rushing, but the Irish backs did find critical running room when they needed it. The Irish will need their running game next week when they face an undefeated Navy team on the road.