Irish Survive Late Rally in 28-21 Victory

Notre Dame, IN (UHND) – For three quarters on Saturday it looked like Notre Dame was on its way to  its first blowout win of the season, but a late Stanford rally made things a lot more interesting than Notre Dame and its fans would have liked.  The Irish held a 28-7 lead at the start of the final quarter, but Stanford would score two late touchdowns to cut the lead to just seven points before time ran out on their comeback bid.

Notre Dame built its fourth quarter lead behind a career day from sophomore quarterback Jimmy Clausen who completed 29 of 40 passes for a career high 347 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.  Clausen paced the Irish passing game which had to pick up the slack for a rushing attack which struggled to get going again on Saturday.

“I tell you what, we’re starting to see it, especially the last couple weeks, his evolution, how things are heading in the right direction,” Charlie Weis said of his young signal caller.  “You know, he’s come a long way from that kid, you know, that we were playing last year in the Penn State game. Makes a lot of big plays. Very accurate,” he would add.

In last week’s 38-21 win over Purdue, Notre Dame eclipsed 200 yards rushing, but found it tougher going on the ground this week with just 83 yards rushing.  While the ground game suffered, the passing game was clicking on all cylinders for most of the game starting with Jimmy Clausen’s 21 yard touchdown pass to Armando Allen on Notre Dame’s first drive of the game.

Notre Dame’s sturggles running the football didn’t have Weis too happy in his post game comments.  “I’m not too fired up about that, if that’s what you’re asking me,” Weis answered when asked about Notre Dmae’s running woes on Saturday.

Clausen would end up throwing another pair of touchdowns to Michael Floyd (48 yards) and Kyle Rudolph (16 yards) to give him six touchdowns to zero interceptions in the past two games against Purdue and Stanford.

Before building their 21 point lead, Notre Dame used opportunistic defense to keep the Cardinal off the scoreboard. Both of Stanford’s first two drives on Saturday ended with interceptions after moving the ball down the field relatively easily.  On their first drive, David Bruton made an acrobatic interception one play after Tavita Pritchard missed an pen streaking wide receiver for a sure touchdown.  On their second drive, Notre Dame defensive tackle Pat Kuntz recognized a screen coming and dropped back into coverage to pick off Pritchard .

Stanford would go on to turn the ball over a third time in the first half when Notre Dame safety Kyle McCarthy added to his career day with his first interception of the season.  The Cardinal turned the ball over four times total in the game after adding a late fumble on the game’s final play.

The turnovers stalled what was looking to be a rather potent rushing attack.  Stanford’s second drive of the game went for 95 yards on 14 plays and it looked as though the Irish were going to have a lot of trouble stopping the Stanford ground game.  In fact, Stanford ended up running the ball for 107 yards in the first quarter alone, but managed just 54 yards on the ground in the final three quarters.

The turnovers kept Stanford off the scoreboard until the fourth quarter though and forced the Cardinal to pass more than they probably would have liked as Notre Dame built its lead.

Stanford wasn’t the only team wasting opportunities on Saturday.  Notre Dame missed another two field goals this week making Brandon Walker just 1 for 7 on the season.  Walker’s second miss, a 46 yarder at the start of the fourth quarter, seemed to provide somewhat of a spark for the Stanford offense.

After Walker’s miss, Stanford marched 72 yards in 7 plays to cut the Irish lead to 14 on a Tavita Pritchard to Jim Dray one yard touchdown pass.

A Notre Dame three and out and excellent punt return later and Stanford was knocking on the doorstep again.  Just five plays later, Stanford was in the end zone again on another Pritchard touchdown pass to Doug Baldwin.  Replays showed that Baldwin may not have had possession of the ball before going out of bounds, but Stanford wisely ran its kicking unit onto the field before the play could be reviewed and the Cardinal was down just seven points.

Fortunately for the Irish, Stanford would not get any closer and they held on for the 28-21 victory to improve to 4-1 on the season.

The story of the day for the Irish though was a passing game which looked as close to the 2005 and 2006 Irish offense as we’ve seen since the graduation of Brady Quinn.  Clausen’s career high 347 yards yards were part of the story, but his command of the offense and pass distribution was equally as impressive.

Clausen connected with eight different receivers on Saturday highlights by another standout performance from freshman phenom Michael Floyd.  A week after notching his first career 100 yard game, Floyd caught five passes for 115 yards highlighted by his 48 yard touchdown grab.  Armand Allen added seven catches for 66 yards, David Grimes seven for 60 yards, and Kyle Rudolph five for a career high 70 yards. Oddly enough, Golden Tate, Notre Dame’s leading receiver on the season, had just three catches for 30 yards.

Floyd’s performance specifically was impressive because of who he was being cover by.  “Well, I think probably one of the most encouraging things is that corner he’s going against is that PAC-10 champ, you know, at the hundred. He’s running right by him more than once,” said Weis of his freshman star receiver.

Five games into the season, Notre Dame is undefeated at home with a 4-0 record while still looking for their first road victory of the season.  Notre Dame lost its only road game to Michigan State two weeks ago.  Getting that first road win of the season will be the next step for this young team according to Weis.  “I think now the next major hurdle we have to jump is winning on the road. So that will be definitely the point of emphasis going into this week,” he said.

The Irish will look to get that first road win next weekend when they travel to Chapel Hill to square off with up and coming North Carolina who is fresh off an impressive win over Uconn.

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