Saturdays battle against Stanford will go down as one for the ages, and rightfully so. In recent history this is the type of mentally grueling game the Irish would have found a way to lose, but yet for another week this squad found a way to persevere and win. This is just another sign of Brian Kelly’s reinvention of an Irish football program and one more building block on the road to national relevancy and respect. This victory was truly one of a team effort and while the defense was the star again, the offense made plays when it absolutely had to. As with any game there were key plays that helped mold the outcome, but we are going to focus on five that helped the Irish walk away with another win against another quality program.
TOP FIVE PLAYS AGAINST STANFORD
1. NUNES PICKED OFF BY BJAX – With the Cardinal driving early and looking to score first, Bennett Jackson stepped up and grabbed the Nunes toss for an interception at the one yard line of the Irish. Even though this play happened very early on in the game, it was such a confidence boost for the Irish and gave Notre Dame fans something to explode about in the stands. This interception set the tempo for the game, and was just another sign of the growing maturity of a young Notre Dame defensive secondary. Another very important interception was the one made by Matthias Farley and returned 39 yards. While this one only led to a field goal, who knows what would have happened if this play never took place.
2. STANFORD SACKS GOLSON/FORCED FUMBLE/RECOVERY FOR TOUCHDOWN – As much as Irish fans love seeing the agility of young quarterback Everett Golson in play, sometimes it can be curse. In situations like the Stanford game where Ben Gardner hit Golson from behind forcing him to fumble in the end-zone, and Chase Thomas snatching it up for a touchdown, it was a curse. This was not the first time during the game that Golson danced around the end-zone while the internal clock every quarterback is supposed to have, ticked down with no decision being made. The Irish QB had flirted with this just a few series before also, and while fun to watch, sometimes the end result can be disastrous.
With points at such a premium during this defensive battle, this easily could have been the play Irish fans pointed to as to why they lost the game.
3. TYLER EIFERT’S 24-YARD TOUCHDOWN – At the beginning of the fourth quarter with the Irish down by seven and in desperate need of a big play, Golson finally took advantage of his All-American tight-end and drilled a pass in the front corner of the end zone to tie the game up at 10 all. Eifert climbed the ladder and pulled the pass out of the air. What was even more impressive was the Cardinal defender had his hand on the ball, and Tyler found a way to secure the ball and pull it into his body for the catch.
4. TOMMY REES TD TO TJ JONES(Oz) Once again, back-up quarterback Tommy Rees comes in due to an injury to Everett Golson, and delivers. There are two areas that make what Tommy did so impressive here. One, he had been sitting on the bench in the rain and cold for over 4 hours. Two, he was facing a defensive front that was extremely good at getting pressure up the middle, and most people know that agility is not his middle name. Regardless, Touchdown Tommy stood in there and made the plays in crunch-time when they needed a big time play. The Irish fan base loves giving credit to Golson for making plays happen, and we think it’s about time that Mr. Rees gets a little of that love also.
5. GOAL LINE STAND(OT) – Whether you believe that Stepfan Taylor scored or not is irrelevant. The facts are that on a dark, cold, rainy evening the Irish defense dominated a Stanford team at the point of attack on the line of scrimmage for four downs. While this would be impressive against any team, the fact that Stanford’s strength is smash-mouth football up the middle makes it even more impressive. Taylor was initially hit by Bennett Jackson and Carlo Calabrese, before the rest of the Irish defense caved in to stop any momentum the Cardinal offensive line may have started with. This effort started with the front four of the Irish defense and ended with eleven men acting as one. This goal-line stand is one of the best in recent history and will be remembered for years to come.
Obviously there were many more plays that could have ended up on this list, but we felt like these were the top five that helped shape this game into its final outcome. It truly was a grind for Irish players and fans alike, and a game that will not be forgotten anytime soon. The Irish schedule gets no easier as they welcome the defensive minded Cougars of BYU into town this Saturday and then hit the road for the hardest test of the year in Norman Oklahoma. The importance of winning this game cannot be overstated though as it had huge BCS bowl implications. Even if the Irish lose a game or two by year’s end, this game will still be looked at as a statement game for the Notre Dame football program of 2012.