Notre Dame quarterbacks completed two passes through four quarters of football on Saturday. Thankfully for Cardinalmaniacs™, the second one was to Stanford's Tank Williams. That interception came in the final moments of a crazy fourth quarter that saw the Cardinal shut down the Irish option and score two late, dramatic touchdowns.
But let's not mince words about the path to the promised land - it was ugly, excrutiating football through the first 3+ quarters of play. Stanford's offense in the driving rain and gusty wind looked scarily similar to the "O" across the Bay. Stanford's receivers struggled mightily all game long to get open, and the running game sputtered through most of the game against a swarming defense. Notre Dame didn't exactly outshine the Card, but they converted one costly missed tackle by Stanford DB Brian Taylor into a touchdown that looked to be the winning margin. Ironically, that Irish touchdown came on the only true forward pass completed by a Notre Dame quarterback to a Notre Dame target. It was a short ball, but with 40 yards after the catch, and after BT's attempted tackle.
Stanford had put up a field goal on its opening drive, which moved the ball an impressive 73 yards to start the game. But three plays inside the 10-yardline resulted in a loss of two yards, culminating on a Randy Fasani slip and fall on the slick turf. Mike Biselli struck the easy chipshot for a 3-0 lead.
But later in the first quarter, Notre Dame completed that 47-yard pass and run to take the 7-3 lead. The Card couldn't move the ball 20 yards on the subsequent possession, punting the ball a net of just 28 yards (33 with a 5-yard return) away to the Domers. They in turn broke a huge 59-yard run by Julius Jones that set up a short field goal for the 10-3 lead. Another field goal midway through the 3rd quarter would extend that lead to 13-3. Though it should be noted that on the prior field goal drive, Notre Dame had the ball 1st and goal, but was stuffed three times by Stanford linebackers. Keeping the Domers out of the endzone on that drive arguably saved the game.
So despite an offense that had moved the ball at the rate your shadow moves with the rising sun, there was one real hope in this game. And as crazy as it sounds in the world of Stanford football, this ray of hope was the defense. Sure enough, a swarming defense led by All-Intensity Coy "Live" Wire kept the Irish at bay, and went a long way toward winning the field position war in the second half. Wire would total a season-high 15 tackles in the game.
The play that keyed the Stanford offense back to its winning ways came rather unexpectedly. Midway through the 4th quarter, on 3rd and 10, Randy Fasani scrambled around in the pocket, unable to find a receiver. The Irish defense must have smelled blood, as the defensive backs turned back toward the line of scrimmage. It was then that Fasani saw a wide-open Nick Sebes some 40 yards downfield, now uncovered. With one heave, and a modest run after the catch, the Card took a quantum leap forward in offensive progress with a critical 46-yard pass. The Domers gave a little more help when they mugged Teyo Johnson for another 15 yards on the next play. But soon the Card found themselves in another desperate 3rd and 10 situation, with the clock ticking away. Bill Diedrick called a QB keeper, which Fasani ran perfectly to the left for a huge 11-yard first down pickup. Casey Moore then rumbled through the middle on 1st and goal to score the Cardinal's first touchdown, with just 7:22 left in the game.
The defense gave up just 15 yards and 2:05 of clock to the Tarnished Domers, and the Card was visibly pumped. The previous drive belonged to Randy Fasani, but this go-ahead drive would belong to Kenny Tolon. Tolon had 7 carries, including two first downs on the first two plays of the drive, and the final carry of the drive for paydirt. Randy Fasani picked up a huge run of his own for 19 yards midway through the drive. Tolon ran for 133 yards in the game on 18 carries.
With just 68 seconds remaining in regulation, the Card led once again, 17-13.
Notre Dame was in the most unenviable of positions, completing about 10% of its passes on the day - missing many in ugly fashion - but needing to move the length of the field through the air in very little time. So it was only fitting that a bumbling aerial attempt by Matt LoVecchio was grabbed by Tank Williams on the first play of the drive. Three snaps later, Stanford had run out the clock and finished one of the great crushing defeats in a crushing year for Notre Dame. Sadly, the Card will likely not have the inept Bob Davie to kick around, as this game seals a losing season and an upcoming pink slip for Byegone Bob.
In other relavent news today, Stanford's BCS chances improved from a sliver to a slice. Michigan was beaten by the Buckeyes, which eliminates the Big 10 from landing an at-large BCS team. Washington was exposed, just as we all expected, by the Miami Hurricanes, which also knocked them out of the BCS picture. As the sun sets on a wild week in college football, only three teams outside the Big XII appear to have any chance for the last at-large spot in the BCS. Stanford sits now at 8-2, and needs a win at San Jose State next Saturday to get to 9-2 and BCS eligibility. BYU is teetering on the edge of that 12th spot in the BCS rankings, and the loser of the Florida/Tennessee game next week will be 9-2. Stanford didn't look like BCS material today, but in a weekend that saw 4 of those top 12 BCS teams drop - an ugly win is one to be thankful for.