Stanford picks off Notre Dame, hands Irish fourth loss
This time Stanford didn't give Notre Dame a chance to make a game-saving goal-line stand. Now it's on to the Pac-12 title game for Cardinal and a possible trip to the Rose Bowl. A year after being stopped inches shy of the end zone by the Fighting Irish in overtime, Stanford put an emphatic stamp on the regular season behind another strong day from running back Tyler Gaffney and a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions by cornerback Wayne Lyons.
Gaffney rushed for a career-high 190 yards and a touchdown, Jordan Williamson kicked a pair of field goals and 10th-ranked Stanford beat Notre Dame 27-20 on Saturday night. It almost didn't happen for the Cardinal after it lost to unranked Southern California on Nov. 16. When No. 2 Oregon lost to Arizona the following week, however, Stanford was back in the title hunt. The Cardinal got a tougher-than-expected tune-up against the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame trailed by 15 points early in the third quarter but rallied to pull within 24-20 on quarterback Tommy Rees' 14-yard touchdown to DaVaris Daniels. That was as close as the Irish got. Rees threw two interceptions in the fourth quarter – both to Lyons – to end Notre Dame's comeback hopes.
Quarterback Kevin Hogan passed for 158 yards and a touchdown for the Cardinal (10-2), who play at Arizona State next week in the Pac-12 championship game. Hogan was also intercepted twice but was bailed out by Stanford's defense both times. Stanford led comfortably most of the game, then nearly let the game slip away in the fourth before Lyons helped secure the win. The junior cornerback ended each of Notre Dame's final two drives, the second coming with just 2:24 left to play.
Rees went 16-of-34 for 199 yards and a touchdown in the final regular season game for Notre Dame (8-4). The Irish will play in a bowl game but don't know yet where or against who. The Cardinal is also bowl bound following its 16th consecutive home win and is aiming for a trip to Pasadena. It will get it provided it can beat Arizona State. Stanford beat the Sun Devils 42-28 earlier this season.
Stanford controlled the first half with a balanced attack that kept Notre Dame's defense guessing. Hogan completed his first five passes, including a 16-yard touchdown to Devon Cajuste that gave the Cardinal an early lead, while Gaffney countered with 82 yards and a score on the ground before the break. The Irish moved the ball well on a pair of first-half drives but settled for two field goals from Kyle Brindza and trailed 14-6 at halftime. Anthony Wilkerson's 20-yard run up the middle capped a 86-yard scoring drive for the Cardinal in the third and raised their lead to 21-6.
Rees quickly brought Notre Dame back with a pair of touchdown passes. He threw a 4-yarder to T.J. Jones, then lobbed another into the left corner of the end zone for a 14-yard score to DaVaris Daniels that pulled the Irish within 24-20. Williamson's 28-yard field goal made it 27-20 heading into the fourth. Lyons and Stanford's defense did the rest. Notre Dame, which has used 18 different starters on defense this season, was without safeties Elijah Shumate and Eilar Hardy. The two did not make the trip to California because of a violation of team rules.