This Date in Cardinal Football: 10-03-92
Forget talk of malfunctioning clocks. Save the metaphors of blind, tree-minded rodents for other conversations. Stanford's startling 33-16 victory at Notre Dame on this very date in 1992 was less of a fluke and more of a punishment leveled against a team ranked in the top ten. After scoring 33 unanswered points, Stanford left the In-Fighting Irish just plain shell-shocked.
"The most physical secondary I've ever played against," commented wide receiver Lake Dawson, whose broken rib resulted from being on the business end of a vicious John Lynch tackle.
Irish eyes were crying, literally, on the sideline late in the game. NBC television cameras caught tears welling up in the eyes of Irish quarterback Rick Mirer (see cover of program), whose Heisman Trophy hopes and national title dreams went "kaputt" after he managed to complete just 13 of his 38 throws.
Stanford led 20-16 early in the fourth period when Notre Dame appeared ready to take back the lead. From third & goal at the Cardinal eight yard-line, Mirer saw his primary receivers covered before firing to the far sideline in the direction of tight end Irv Smith. Lynch, a former quarterback himself, immediately broke toward the ball and intercepted it in stride, the Cardinal pitcher and one-time quarterback returning the interception 24 yards up the sideline.
"That was the biggest play of the game," said Stanford senior linebacker Dave Garnett.
Lynch totaled six unassisted tackles on the afternoon, the biggest coming on the second half's very first play. Irish fullback Jerome Bettis, who had scored four touchdowns in Notre Dame's convincing win in Palo Alto the year earlier, had a head of steam going before getting spun around by an initial hit deep into the Cardinal secondary. Lynch met him head on, forcing a fumble recovered by Garnett at the Notre Dame 22. The 247-pound Bettis had a good 30 pound advantage on his future NFL foe.
"Lynch just labeled him," Garnett said. "The ball was just sitting there."
Stanford's star tailback Glyn Milburn ran 20 times for 119 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Much of that came late against a tired Irish defense. A full 18 minutes of the second half saw Stanford owning possession. Bruised ribs may have sidelined him from practicing until the Friday before the game, but Stanford QB Steve Stenstrom dissected Notre Dame in ruthlessly efficient fashion - to the tune of 21 of 32 throws for 215 yards.
"Our line did a great job," said the redshirt junior quarterback, who found all-conference receiver Justin Armour and fullback J.J. Lasley for key touchdowns. "I told the line all week that if they gave me time, there were holes in the Notre Dame defense."
This was Stanford's first NBC appearance since Notre Dame inked its national TV contract with the Peacock a year earlier. Tom Hammond had the play-by-play. Former Bengals wide receiver Cris Collinsworth handled the same commentating duties held by Coach Walsh the previous season alongside veteran broadcaster Dick Enberg. For the 104th straight game, Notre Dame Stadium was completely sold out.
The Cardinal would not disappoint! They had been confronted with a formidable challenge! After all, Notre Dame had garnered a No. 3 rating in the AP's preseason poll. Only 1991 co-national champs Miami and Washington were ranked higher. Mirer and Bettis would each be first-round NFL selections the following spring. Linebacker Demetrius DuBose had nabbed All-American honors in 1991. The late Domer star had certainly looked like one on the game's first play from scrimmage.
Stenstrom dropped back near the goal line, only to be leveled from his blind side. Fortunately for Stanford, senior guard Brian Cassidy recovered the ball in the end zone to salvage a safety. The scoreboard showed the home side up 2-0 and the lead was soon to grow. Notre Dame took the free kick and capped a drive with a star tailback Reggie Brooks' nine-yard scoring run. Stanford fell into 9-0 hole just three minutes into the game. "Touchdown Jesus" looked down upon a 16-0 margin with nine minutes remaining in the first half.
Notre Dame had won the Sugar Bowl over Steve Spurrier's Florida Gators nine months earlier. Their previous foray against an SEC outfit featured an epic comeback, a stirring 35-34 win by Tennessee after the visiting Vols had fallen behind 31-7.
"We only watched films of this year's Notre Dame games because last year's games have no bearing on this year, except the Tennessee game," commented Stenstrom, who watched the Irish amass 200 yards of offense in the game's first 22 minutes. "We definitely looked at it to get the right understanding of what can be done when you're behind."
Averaging an impressive 512 yards per-game coming in, Notre Dame began to stall. Mirer missed wide open receivers, especially on third down. Stanford clawed within 16-6 at the break following Milburn's six-yard run (the two-point pass failed). Just as it had for the Cardinal's first score, a Notre Dame fumble set up the second touchdown.
After Lynch roughed up Bettis, Stenstrom hooked up with Armour cutting across the middle for a six-yard score. A 16-13 deficit stood as Stanford's next operation began at its own 34. The Cardinal mixed passes to JC transfer Mike Cook (a game-best nine catches for 78 yards) and runs by University of Miami-transfer Ellery Roberts (who ran free on a fourth & one during the march) before moving to the Irish 20.
Rolling to his left went Stenstrom. Curling out of the backfield ran Lasley, on play designed to find the Crespi High alum in stride while running toward the near sideline. Stenstrom took a mean hit but lofted the short pass perfectly. Lasley was uncovered. The free-spirited fullback sprinted untouched toward the goal line and found himself facing NBC's end zone camera.
"Hi mom!" he barked into the lens, a celebratory pointer finger directed skyward.
Some how, some way, Stanford had gained its initial lead with 4:49 still remaining in the third. The Irish's ensuing 12-play drive died with Lynch's aforementioned interception. Down went the Notre Dame comeback hopes as the fourth quarter elapsed. Sandwiched around two Eric Abrams field goals, Milburn's score was the decisive dagger.
The backpedaling Irish dug in from their 14. Milburn took a handoff on a sweep to his right. Dalman pulled ahead of him. The play - dubbed "18 BOB" in the famed Walsh playbook - ended with the fifth-year senior tip-toeing inside the pylon. A crushing lead block saw Dalman send DuBose to the turf. The 72-yard march culminated with a comfortable 30-16 Stanford edge. Pure punishment! Not that Stanford's players expected anything less that day.
Walsh broke into tears of joy in the visitors' locker room. "This game is as big as any I've won," he said after Notre Dame experienced just its fourth home loss in the previous six years, with two of those coming courtesy of the Stanford Cardinal! Senior linebacker Ron George reflected a more unfazed attitude.
"We were hanging off the rafters," he said, recalling the aftermath of the previous 36-31 upset of #1 Notre Dame in 1990. "This year we won. That's it."
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