As Chris Berman of ESPN routinely says, "That's why they play the game." After a Stanford field goal cut the lead to 23-17 in the fourth quarter, the Cardinal intercepted USC's John David Booty. After already converting a 4th-and-20, Stanford faced 4th-and-Goal with under a minute remaining. Quarterback Tavita Pritchard, starting his first college game, lofted a jump ball to Mark Bradford, who came down the catch for the winning touchdown.
Game over, Cardinal 24, Trojans 23. Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis saw the Stanford players displaying a ton of confidence that day despite the long odds.
"I tell you what, you could see it that day, that's for sure," Weis said on Tuesday. "Wherever we were, I was watching a little of that game. That was on right before us. I didn't see any of the game, until after I watched it on tape.
"They hung in there, hung in there, hung in there. Next thing you know, it's a six-point game. Next thing you know, they're throwing a fade ball in the red zone. Just what we were talking about before. Get down there, they throw a fade ball in the red zone on fourth down, touchdown, they win.
You could see this is a team that hangs in there, same thing with Arizona. They win 21-20. Hang around there, hang around there, hang around there, win the game."
Notre Dame will travel west to face Stanford this weekend. Kickoff in Palo Alto is at 3:30 PM and ESPN2 will have the national television broadcast. The Cardinal have just two other wins on the year, a 37-0 victory over San Jose State and a narrow 21-20 decision at Arizona. One thing is for sure: the 2-9 Irish are not taking anything for granted, especially since Stanford showed they are capable of knocking off a premier team.
"They beat USC, and they beat them at USC.," Weis said. "I think our guys will be ready to go."
***Jim Harbaugh took over as the head coach for Stanford before the 2007 season. Harbaugh has already tripled the win total from last season in his first go-around at the Division I level. As the head coach of San Diego, Harbaugh led the Toreros to two straight Division I-AA Mid-Major national titles. Notre Dame fans might know the Stanford head coach from his Michigan days. Harbaugh quarterbacked the Wolverines from 1983-86.
"I know he was a fine player at Michigan," Weis said. "I know he was a nice, solid pro for a long time. Obviously as a head coach, whether it was at San Diego or now at Stanford, he's always been known as being a tough guy with a very good understanding of the passing game. That usually bodes well for being a success, especially in the environment he's in where they like to throw the ball."
***Stanford has been successful this season at getting after the quarterback. The Cardinal are tied for 11th nationally in sacks, notching over three a contest. Stanford has doubled the number of sacks from all of last year. In 2006, the Cardinal totaled 14 while already in 2007 the team has 31. In tackles for loss, Stanford had 46 in 2006 and have amassed 79 this year. The Cardinal puts pressure on the opposition and Weis knows what his offense will see this weekend.
"Blitzing, blitzing, blitzing and blitzing some more," Weis said. "It's a blitz-a-thon. I'll tell you right now, if you're waiting to see whether they're blitzing or not, they are. They're coming. So you better be ready to block them."
The problem for Notre Dame: the Irish are dead last in sacks allowed. Notre Dame has surrendered 53 sacks on the season for a grand total of 378 yards. The fewest sacks the Irish have allowed in a single game is two, which has happened three times. The most: nine in the opening loss to Georgia Tech. Last weekend, Notre Dame surrendered just two and Weis thinks the offensive line might finally be seeing the light in pass protection.
"I think the offensive line really hasn't been the root of our problems in the last few weeks even when we have given up a few sacks," Weis said. "We gave up a few unnecessary sacks back in the Air Force game and that was more running back-related in that game than it was offensive line related. Really for the last few games, almost the last month, they've been a lot better in doing their jobs."
***Stanford is coming off a bye. The only other bye the Cardinal have had was before San Jose State. Stanford won the contest 37-0 in Palo Alto.
***Notre Dame has won the past four meetings against the Cardinal by an average of 22 points. The Irish lead the all-time series 15-6.
***Stanford players and coaches are honoring the late Bill Walsh with a decal on the players' helmets and a patch on the coaches' shirts. Walsh died back in July. Before his death, Walsh won three Super Bowls in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers and coached the Cardinal in two different stints from 1977-78 and 1992-94.