Stanford 28 - Notre Dame 14

It may not have been pretty, but Stanford got the job done in its final game of the regular season, beating rival Notre Dame 28-14. The victory ensured that the Cardinal retains its position as one of the top contenders for an at-large spot in the Bowl Championship Series.

For the second straight season, Stanford finishes its regular season with an 11-1 record, including an 8-1 mark in the Pac-12. Notre Dame will end its season at 8-4, and will head to one of the bowls that have Big East tie-ins. The game also marked Senior Day at Stanford Stadium, with all of the team's fourth and fifth-year seniors honored before the game started.

Read on for the main highlights and storylines from the Stanford-Notre Dame contest, including a look at Andrew Luck's Heisman chances and an analysis of the team's postseason possibilities.

Play of the game: Stanford never trailed, but the outcome was in doubt for the majority of the contest. That all changed on one play late in the fourth quarter. After Stanford's defense killed a Notre Dame drive and forced a punt with 8:11 left in the game, the Cardinal—armed with a two-touchdown lead—looked ready to simply run the ball and try to bleed the clock as much as possible. However, Luck and tight end Coby Fleener had other ideas, with Luck hitting Fleener on a 55-yard bomb down the middle for a touchdown. The score came with 5:40 left and put Stanford up 28-7, ending any chance Notre Dame had for a comeback.

Defense makes statement: All season long, Stanford's defense was considered the weakness of this team, especially after the loss of Shayne Skov early in the season. The Cardinal came out and made a statement against Notre Dame. The defense's performance went beyond limiting the Fighting Irish to 14 points. One big moment came in the second quarter, when an interception gave Notre Dame the ball on the Stanford 11-yard line. The Cardinal held the Irish to a three-and-out, and kicker David Ruffer missed a 20-yard field goal. Stanford's defensive linemen dominated the line of scrimmage and its linebackers were in the Irish backfield all game long, notching five sacks, eight tackles for loss and five quarterback hits. The unit also contained Notre Dame's running game to just 57 yards on 31 carries.
Leading the Cardinal were safeties Michael Thomas and Delano Howell, along with linebacker Chase Thomas. Michael Thomas and Howell led the team in tackles with eight each; Michael Thomas also had an interception that he returned 42 yards down the field. Chase Thomas was a force along the line, getting two sacks, three tackles for loss and forcing a fumble. "Our coaches put us in a position to succeed," Chase Thomas said. "Credit the scheme that they put in. I saw my opportunities to make a play and had to capitalize."

Card still committed to run: Stanford's run-first philosophy was on full display against Notre Dame. The Cardinal pounded the ball against the Fighting Irish, with 42 rushing attempts against 31 passes. As usual, the load was distributed among a number of backs with Stepfan Taylor taking the brunt of the work—Taylor had 20 carries for 120 yards. However, all four of Stanford's touchdowns came through the air, with Andrew Luck connecting on 20 of his 30 attempts for 233 yards.

Turnovers, penalties still an issue: Of course, Stanford's performance against the Irish had its faults, among them an excess of turnovers and penalties. Stanford fumbled twice (though it recovered one of those fumbles) and Andrew Luck threw an interception—his fifth straight game with a pick. Fortunately for Stanford, Notre Dame was unable to capitalize on either of those turnovers, thanks largely to the play of the Cardinal defense.
While the turnovers may not have been a huge issue, penalties certainly were. Stanford was flagged 11 times for 113 yards; by comparison, Notre Dame had 10 penalties, but only for 68 yards. In my view, the Big East officiating crew made some pretty egregious calls, the biggest one being a personal foul penalty against Trent Murphy in the third quarter. Murphy came in and tackled Notre Dame quarterback Andrew Hendrix, but the officials had whistled the play dead due to a false start—though the whistles came pretty late, after Murphy really had a chance to halt his momentum. Nevertheless, that was just one penalty out of 11, and though there were some other questionable calls, it was pretty clear that the Cardinal wasn't playing particularly disciplined football. "This game was not that poorly officiated," Stanford head coach David Shaw said. "It really wasn't. The communication I had from the officials was outstanding. We talked about a lot of things—there were some things I would have liked to see differently."

No change in Heisman outlook: I'm sure lots of people have different opinions about Andrew Luck's chances at winning the Heisman Trophy, so whatever I offer here is simply my take on the matter. I don't think Luck's performance particularly helped or hurt his Heisman campaign. The four touchdowns were compelling, but the rest of his numbers— 20 for 30 with 233 yards and an interception—were rather pedestrian by Heisman standards. This game was far from the signature performance that could have solidified Luck's hold on the trophy. I believe Luck will win the trophy, since I broadly agree with David Shaw's assessment that Luck is the best player in college football regardless of what the stats might say. However, statistics matter a great deal to a lot of Heisman voters, so I expect the voting to be pretty close.

Polls and bowls: Events elsewhere in college football today helped to shape Stanford's eventual fate. With Oregon soundly beating Oregon State in the Civil War in the early afternoon, Stanford's dreams of getting into the Pac-12 Championship Game and a spot in the Rose Bowl were already dashed by the time the team took the field. Alabama's victory in the Iron Bowl over Auburn also shut the door on the Cardinal's shot at getting into the BCS title game (which, admittedly, was pretty slim to begin with). Nevertheless, as one of the best one- loss team not named Alabama remaining, Stanford has an excellent shot to earn an at-large BCS berth. Depending on next week's outcomes, the Cardinal will likely land up in the Fiesta or Sugar Bowls. The Rose Bowl isn't an option, since the bowl will take the Pac-12 champion, while the Orange Bowl is last in the BCS selection order and probably wouldn't want to take Stanford for the second straight year anyway. With Arkansas' loss to LSU on Friday, Stanford will likely move up in the BCS rankings tomorrow. Since the win over Notre Dame will help its computer ranking, the Card could leapfrog Virginia Tech for the No. 4 spot, important because a finish at No. 4 or higher would guarantee a spot in the BCS.


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