No Luck? No Taylor? No problem.
Stanford lost its two biggest offense stars to injuries but rallied nonetheless to down Notre Dame 24- 14 in both teams' regular-season finales.
Both Andrew Luck (bruised ribs) and Stepfan Taylor (sprained ankle) are expected to return to full health within days, but they each took first-quarter shots that knocked them out of the contest. In their absence, backup Josh Nunes anchored the passing attack, tailbacks Anthony Wilkerson (102 yards) and Tyler Gaffney (67 yards) scored a touchdown apiece on the ground, and the defense played with its hair afire to eke out a most unlikely win.
"I'm glad Andrew's going to be okay, but as a backup, you always hope for moments like this, where you can come in and prove yourself, especially in a big game like this," Nunes said. "I thought it was funny it was against Notre Dame, because it was kind of a Rudy moment or me."
The coaches didn't ask for too much from Nunes, but he delivered when called upon. He finished with 92 passing yards on 7-of-11 accuracy, and scrambled for two key first downs on a five-minute drive Stanford used to run out the game.
"The best defense is a good offense," Wilkerson said. "Notre Dame's an explosive team, so the more we could run the ball, move the chains and control the clock, the better we were going to be."
Luck found Chris Owusu on an 11-yard seam route for a touchdown on the game's opening drive, but took his shot to the ribs on the throw. He went back to the locker room for medical attention, and returned after halftime in street clothes.
Taylor, meanwhile, had 52 yards before getting knocked out himself the very next drive as he struggled to extend for a first down before falling out of bounds on the right sideline. Taylor was healthy enough to come back in if needed, Coach David Shaw said, but the staff rested the bruising back as a precaution.
"It's a great problem to have, but we almost have too many backs," Shaw said. "Stepfan, Wilkerson, Tyler Gaffney and Ricky Seale all played today. Plus, there are all the new guys who are going to be just as good in a few years. Every one of our backs had success today against this defense, and I'm really proud of that."
A five-yard romp from Wilkerson pushed Stanford's lead 14-0 in the early second, but Michael Floyd responded with a nine-yard touchdown catch before the halftime whistle to keep the Irish within striking distance. Stanford added a 32-yard Jordan Williamson field goal in the third to push its margin to 17-7.
But Floyd and the Irish rallied again. This time, Floyd caught a screen at his 45, shook off one would-be tackler, sped past another and sprinted to a touchdown that gave him 198 receiving yards on the day.
"No one works harder than Michael, and no one deserves the success more than him," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. "He did everything humanly possible today, but we couldn't get him the win."
Stanford then went on a 12-play, 82-yard drive, capped by Gaffney's touchdown of 15 yards. After Notre Dame went three-and-out, the Cardinal killed the clock with its last drive, and sent off its 2012 class on a high note on Senior Day.
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