Notre Dame drive
Notre Dame starts deep in its own territory after good Stanford special teams coverage, but marches 50 yards to the Stanford 40 against a bend-but-don't-break Stanford D. The ND receivers are open against the Cardinal secondary – though not as open as last year – but Stanford's front is doing a lot more too. Shayne Skov gets away with an apparent offsides (or times his blitz perfectly, your call) on a jaw-dropping sack, and Johnson Bademosi drops an interception on the resulting third and 12. That drop looms large, as it results in a ND punt, which the wind knocks down shorter than Doug Baldwin expected, causing the Stanford deep man to fumble it away.
Given second life, the ND offense puts Armando Allen in as a wildcat quarterback, and Stanford looks to have trouble with his athleticism -- just hanging on for a few ankle tackles. Still, after a Stanford timeout to game plan for a third and five from the Cardinal six, Delano Howell has a huge tackle of tight end Kyle Rudolph. Notre Dame's kicker David Ruffer goes to 6-of-6 on the season with a 22-yarder and it's 3-0 Irish, 8 minutes left in the first.
Stanford drive, 0-3
On its first series, Stanford gets a generous spot at the 31.5 for a first down on a third-and-one handoff to Marecic, but it's challenged. I would like to see Stanford go for it anyway if it's fourth and short, but the call stands and Notre Dame is out of challenges for the game. I'm a little surprised, but that's nothing compared to the ND folks in the press box here, who are utterly blown away. Looks like he got to the 30.5, max, to be fair. Stanford runs it right for good yardage – it's a great feeling to hear the ND crowd just go noise, noise, dead silent – then it's play-action over the top to Kondrad Reuland for 26 yards. Stanford's doing a nice job with its no-huddle and pre-snap shifts to keep the ND defense off-balance. Then, on 3rd and 7 from the Irish 16, Luck finds Fleener over the top on a perfect throw and an even better play call for the game's first touchdown. The entire offensive line let the ND front through, making it look like a jailbreak screen, but then Luck lofted it to Fleener on a fly route, and the defender never even had a chance to turn around and look for the ball. Watch out folks, I hear this Luck kid's good.
79 yards, 10 plays, 4:34. Stanford 7, Notre Dame 3, 3:37 left 1st quarter
Notre Dame drive
On the drive's first snap, Shayne Skov blows through tailback Cierre Wood's block to force a fumble and Chase Thomas recovers. Hey, Manti Te'o, we would have loved you here, but have linebackers too! The call stands up on review and now Stanford has a chance to step on Notre Dame's throat early.
Stepfan Taylor has looked good in his few first quarter touches, and runs for five to set up third and one. Stanford's 2-of-2 on third downs today, but make it 2-of-3 as Jamoris Slaughter drops a would-be interception. Stanford adds the fourth and one field goal – would have liked to see them try to bury Notre Dame there – but still, both teams have field goals off turnovers, so Stanford's touchdown drive is the difference. Stanford 10, Notre Dame 3, 2:08 left first quarter.
Notre Dame drive
Shayne Skov leaves injured as the first period comes to a close with Notre Dame nickel-and-diming its way to its 45. As the quarter comes to an end, the ND student section erupts with maybe 100 beach balls and starts popping them around everywhere, like microwavable popcorn gone crazy. Totally cute, totally fun, and seeing as we're the California school, let's have our students do this!
Some notes: Stanford entered today No. 16, its highest-ever rank when playing at Notre Dame Stadium. Notre Dame has lost 10 in a row to ranked opponents, including four in a row at home. Ruffer, ND's field goal kicker, is now 11-of-11 on his career, so I really hope this isn't close late. (Although, after two consecutive heartbreaking losses, I'm sure Notre Dame feels the same way.) And Stanford's scored at least 50 points in four of its last eight games.
Skov returns to start the second, but the Irish continue to dink and dunk it down the field on short routes to its receivers. They're now first and ten at the Card 31. Stanford needs to adjust – they're not getting the same pressure on Skov as in the first quarter. ND goes five-wide, no huddle as Skov jars loose a first down throw from the Card 23. Second down is to the imaginary 11-foot tall Notre Dame receiver in the corner of the end zone, and Michael Thomas knocks loose a third down out route to bring on Ruffer from 40. He's good and it's Stanford 10, Notre Dame 6 with 13:22 left in the first half. I'm feeling pretty good right now – Stanford's allowed just two field goals in four offensive possessions. Notre Dame had nine minutes of first quarter possession to Stanford's six, but Allen has just 22 yards on eight rushes.
Given all day on third down, Luck finds Baldwin crossing over the middle on third and five at the Card 25. Usua Amanam doesn't do much in a few reps – it was Gaffney and Taylor in the first – but Taylor's back on to convert a third and two out to midfield. I think that's 4-of-5 now on third downs. Luck again has all day on third and six and converts his third third down of the drive, finding Griff Whalen on the left sideline for seven when he needed six. The pass protection on third downs has been great – heck, Stanford's one touchdown came on a third and seven pass. Coby Fleener flinches on third and six from the ND 35, but Stanford converts its fourth third down of the drive through the air – Baldwin on a cross over the middle for 19! Stanford's been running a lot of tosses, and sends in Loukas to pitch it to Taylor on the resulting first down, but for a two-yard loss after Notre Dame can close from the backside on a play that takes too long to develop. Luck comes back to scramble for four after nothing's open on second down, and on third and 13, after a Stanford timeout, Baldwin's foot hits the inside of the pylon and then lands out of bounds on a would-be touchdown. Whitaker knuckles through a 41-yarder, and after a long drive -- 16 plays, 8:28 of game time – it's Stanford 13, Notre Dame 6. They say the best defense is a good ball-control offense, but I'd feel a lot more comfortable with a two-score lead right now.
Notre Dame drive
Hopefully Stanford doesn't go prevent here with five minutes left in the first half. Elsewhere in the country, UCLA 10, Texas 3 nearing halftime – maybe that win was better than we thought – and Temple 13, Penn State 9 mid-third. After a few ND runs, Chase Thomas is a free blitzer on second and nine and gets the sack, setting up third and 10 from the ND 40. Crist is lucky he bounce-passes it, because Floyd was double-covered and Richard Sherman was diving for the interception. Baldwin fair catches, successfully this time, the game's second punt and Stanford has 2:54 to play with.
On a bootleg [hey, look, product placement!], Luck rifles it in an impossibly thin window for 14, and then finds Fleener for 12 again in an NFL-amount of space. A bomb to Owusu is a little inside and all Owusu can do is juggle it, then Te'o makes a no-look breakup of a 15-yard cross to Fleener by sticking out his arm and matching Fleener step for step in coverage. Wow, he's the best defender I've seen this year. Doesn't matter though, Luck comes back to Fleener for 21 on an out – this is the best half of football I've seen Luck play. Of course, the next pass, another bomb to Owusu in double coverage, is tipped and intercepted. I don't think it's a bad throw, a bad decision by Luck (as he just fit the last four passes into windows that small), or a bad play call (going for the touchdown with 1:30 left in the half makes perfect sense), just ND's Slaughter making a play.
Notre Dame drive Allen runs it nowhere, Rudolph drops a dump in the flats and suddenly it's 3rd and 9. Notre Dame throws up a white flag and runs a draw to nowhere, and now Stanford's getting it back with no timeouts, 34 seconds left and the ball on midfield after a five-yard Baldwin return.
Taylor gets out of bounce on a seven-yard screen. Ball's at ND's 42, 27 seconds left. Are we going for a TD or a FG? What should we do? 25 yard cross over the middle to Griff Whalen and a seven-yard Luck scramble and there's eight seconds with the ball on the 18. We're bringing on the kicker, but I'd take one shot at the end zone here. Why not, there's time? At any rate, Whitaker's good from 36, he's a big 3-of-3 today, and Stanford has ten points of breathing room at the half. We've still got a ways to go, but the defense has been scary good, folks. Stay tuned for the second half liveblog…
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