Irish Too Much for Stanford

A lackluster first half saw Notre Dame lead Stanford 7-3 with just under three minutes remaining. The Irish had racked up the yards but not the points. A nine-play drive, culminated by a Brady Quinn to Rhema McKnight touchdown connection, was just the cushion Notre Dame would need against an anemic Cardinal offense.

Quinn tossed three touchdowns and Darius Walker added his second straight 100-yard rushing performance as No. 12 Notre Dame downed Stanford 31-10. In front of another sellout home crowd, the Irish, although not pretty at times, improved to 5-1 on the year as they head into the bye week. It's all about piling up the wins now for Notre Dame if they want any hopes of a BCS appearance. Saturday's effort, despite lacking a powerful statement, was a step in the right direction of that goal.

"I'm content with this game," Irish head coach Charlie Weis said. "First of all, when the defense goes out there and gives them a long drive and basically shuts them down the rest of the day, that's a good thing. Offense I thought was fairly meticulous, a meticulous day. It's not about scoring 50 points; it's about how you feel about how you're playing. You convert over half of the 3rd down opportunities. You run the ball for close to a couple hundred yards. You throw with no interceptions, throw three touchdown passes. You can sign me up for that most weeks."

The key drive of the contest occurred right before halftime. Stanford was still in the ball game, trailing 7-3. Notre Dame's offense had yet to hit the Cardinal where it hurts, on the scoreboard. The Irish took over with 2:55 left in the half at their own 32-yard line and proceeded to march down the field in nine quick plays. McKnight caught a quick slant route on third down and ran it in the rest of the way to give Notre Dame a 14-3 halftime lead. The catch moved McKnight into second place on the all-time career reception list, past Jim Seymour. Quinn was 5-for-6 on the drive for 48 yards.

After the defense forced Stanford to punt on their opening possession of the second half, Weis leaned on Walker heavy. The junior halfback accounted for 65 of the 73 total yards on the drive, 51 on the ground and 14 through receptions. Walker capped it with a weaving, 32-yard touchdown run to give Notre Dame a comfortable 24-3 lead. For the game, Walker ended with 153 yards and a touchdown, this after a 146-yard performance last weekend in the victory over Purdue. Also throw in six receptions for 45 yards for a grand total of 198 yards. This was his second biggest rushing day as an Irish player. Coincidentally, his highest total came against Stanford last season when he saved Notre Dame's BCS dreams with 186 rushing yards. The offensive line did its job opening up holes in the running game to the tune of 204 yards and allowed just one sack on Quinn.

"They're big and physical," Stanford head coach Walt Harris said about the Irish's offensive line. "It's nice to have a freshman come in and play as a true freshman. You've got to look way up to see him. We're hoping he graduates early.

"They're good up front. They play a tough schedule and they've got physical guys. I think that most of those guys are veteran football players except for him. That makes it a lot better for Brady."

Stanford lacked the offensive firepower to keep up with the Irish. The Cardinal amassed 226 yards of total offense. In the first half, the yardage disparity was 223 for Notre Dame and 80 for Stanford. After three quarters, it was 345 yards for the Irish, 109 for Stanford. Credit Notre Dame's defense: they got off the field on the money down. Stanford converted just one time on third down. This was from a unit that was without starters Travis Thomas, Tommy Zbikowski and Ambrose Wooden.

"They've been very, very good on 3rd down, even when statistically we've had bad games, 3rd down has not been one of them," Weis said about his defense. "They've been getting off the field on 3rd down. I think that bodes well for the success of the defense as far as giving up points. I mean, really when it's all said and done, you give up the double pass, but other than the double pass and the first drive, they came close to pitching a shutout."

Victor Abiamiri was a nightmare for the Cardinal offensive line, registering three sacks. In last season's contest between the teams, the senior defensive end totaled an impressive four sacks. For the year, Abiamiri now has five sacks.

One negative for the defense that Weis will surely harp on is the only touchdown Stanford could muster. Anthony Kimble took a quick pitch from Trent Edwards and tossed the ball downfield to a wide open Kelton Lynn for a 57-yard touchdown. It cut the Notre Dame lead to 24-10 and it's the second time this year that the Irish have been burned by a gadget play.

It didn't take long for Notre Dame to respond. On the ensuing possession, Quinn drove the team 77 yards in 12 plays, finalizing it when John Carlson nabbed a one-handed catch for a touchdown to put the game away. Quinn ended the contest 27-of-37 for 232 yards and three touchdowns. It was the senior's third straight solid performance since the Michigan defeat.

"There aren't that many quarterbacks that can play the game the way he plays the game," Weis said. "By play the game, I mean throw it to the open guy. Most quarterbacks want to lay up to a couple good guys they have and throw it over and over and over again. Well, this offense doesn't really work that way. This offense is more read the coverage, run through the progression to try to get it to the right guys and we're a couple balls and hands away from having a humongous day. There were a couple of balls that were really, really close to having a monster day. But I thought he was pretty well on today."

Stanford also guessed wrong with the coin toss. They won it but elected to defer to the second half, putting it's 117th ranked defense on the field versus Notre Dame's explosive offense. It didn't work out too well for the Cardinal as the Irish put together their longest drive of the season, a 17 play, 91-yard march that ended when Quinn found Samardzija for an eight-yard touchdown strike to give Notre Dame an early 7-0 advantage. On the day, the Irish scored five times and four of them were nine plays or longer. Notre Dame once again won the time of possession battle by almost 10 minutes and did not turn the ball over once, a successful formula for any team.

"I think that the players clearly understand how much work we have to do as we get ready to go two weeks from now to go against UCLA," Weis said. "But I think they also feel good about themselves that they've rallied down the stretch first half.

"The season is a long season. It wasn't that long ago you're walking off the field against Michigan having gotten stomped on, and I think they've really rallied nicely. I think that the confidence is starting to grow, and that bodes well for second season, which kicks off on the 21st."


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