A Tale of Two Halves

Cardinalmaniacs had been looking forward to this game since January 1 and after the first half, it seemed like Stanford would exorcise last week's demons. Then the third quarter ended and Stanford was left wondering what could have been. Maybe next year...

"Stanford takes on its old coach Saturday" became the popular mantra in the college football world this past week.  Couple that with Notre Dame's 4-0 record and #9 national ranking and you have some impressive story lines.  Oh yeah, the new starting quarterback for the Irish is a former walk-on whose father works on the Stanford sidelines as a team physician.

There may have been more hoopla surrounding the Stanford-Notre Dame game than last week's matchup, but Stanford still managed to find itself on the short end of the stick.  The defense showed much improvement from last week's performance when they gave up 65 points.  However, Kent Baer's defense stymied the Cardinal offense all day long.  In the end, the Fighting Irish would prevail 31-7.

Notre Dame appeared to strike first blood in the first quarter when the explosive Vontez Duff returned Eric Johnson's punt 92 yards for a touchdown.  But the Irish were flagged for "roughing the center" before Johnson was able to get his punt off.  The touchdown was called back and Stanford was given a first down in Irish territory.  Stanford then ran a rarely-used "fumblerooski" play where Chris Lewis appeared to have fumbled the ball when in fact the ball was safely in the possession of Nick Sebes.  Sebes proceeded to run the ball 21 yards to the 14.  Lewis found Teyo Johnson across the middle on the next play for a touchdown and Stanford was ahead 7-0 with 46 seconds remaining in the first quarter.

With backup quarterback Patrick Dillingham at the helm, the Irish were held to three total points in the first half.  They scored their first touchdown with 4:22 left in the third when Rashon Power-Neal punched the ball in from the one.  From then on, Notre Dame did not need its offense to put the game away.  The next two scores came off of interception returns.  Shane Walton picked off a Lewis pass and took it back 11 yards for the score.  49 seconds later, Courtney Watson did the same and the Irish built up an insurmountable 24-7 lead at the end of the third quarter.

Notre Dame assumed full command as the Stanford offense continued to sputter in the fourth.  The Irish added a touchdown early in the fourth to stretch the lead to 31-7 and that's how it would finish.

While the defense seemed much improved, the lack of coverage on special teams was alarming.  Albeit, Notre Dame has one of the nation's best returners in Duff.  However, combine that with a field goal that hit another Stanford player and a bad snap on a punt early in the game and that definitely showed the team's weakness on special teams.

Vengeance will have to wait until November of 2003.

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