Notre Dame football had many memorable moments in 2012, but perhaps none of them were more memorable than a goal line stand vs. Stanford.
For Notre Dame football fans too young to remember the glory of the Lou Holtz years, 2012 was the first magical season of Irish football. Just like Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine, and Lou Holtz, Brian Kelly was going to win his first National Championship in his third season has head coach. The dream involved a dominant defense, a highly debated strength of schedule, and an even more questionable quarterback situation.
Of course, that all came crashing down in the BCS National Championship game, but it was still a dream of a season to get to that point. In getting to that point, despite the issues with Notre Dame’s strength of schedule, were several tests. This included both Michigan and Michigan State, along with a trip to Oklahoma.
However, none of those teams gave Notre Dame a bigger challenge than Stanford.
The Cardinal came into South Bend, and gave the Irish their biggest scare during the regular season. In fact, come the 4th quarter, as Stanford took a 13-10 lead, Notre Dame found themselves trailing for the first time all season.
While trailing was enough to make anyone tense, the offense was even worse.
Everett Golson, for all his promise struggled to get off his first read, and let the pressure bother him too much. An early fumbled snap put the Irish in trouble, and it was only by the luck of the Irish that the defense was able to stand tall time and time again. A pair of first quarter interceptions saved Golson’s fumble from costing the Irish points and set up a Kyle Brindza field goal.
A later Golson fumble would be recovered by Stanford for a 2nd quarter touchdown. No way for the defense to save you there.
That would be the case against Stanford, and much of the season. A great defense saved a frustrating offense. It was frustrating because of all the potential on the offensive side of the ball. Ronnie Stanley, Nick and Zack Martin were all on the offensive line. Tyler Eifert, Michael Floyd, Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick, George Atkinson, and TJ Jones headlined the offensive weapons. Brian Kelly just couldn’t find a quarterback. Golson was more athletic, and had all the upside, but he also only had limited understanding of how to play quarterback in college. He was a freshman after all. Tommy Rees, on the other hand, knew the offense better than Chuck Martin. He also had the most spectacularly mediocre skill set around.
Golson, the starter, ended the game with a QBR of 38.3. Rees had to take over during winning time, as was quickly becoming a theme all season. Rees went 4/4, and led both the game tying, and game winning drives. The latter would come in overtime.
Notre Dame really was lucky they had a defense that could dominate the number 17 team in the country, holding Stanford to 6 offensive points all game long. Still, even the defense needed a little luck to stop Stanford in overtime.
Of course, Stanford fans may not have called it luck, just home-cooking. It didn’t matter to the Irish, though. They would win the game on a controversial goal line stand in overtime. It certainly looked like Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor made it into the endzone, but the referees blew a quick whistle, and replay agreed. Taylor’s forward progress was stopped before the goal line.
Notre Dame wins, 20-13.
The 2012 Stanford team isn’t remembered in the same vein as the Andrew Luck teams that came before, or the Christian McCaffrey teams that came after it. Still, 2012 Stanford was a dominant team, who beat #2 USC, #1 Oregon, #13 Oregon State, along with #15 and #17 UCLA. They won the Rose Bowl, to go along with their second win over UCLA, which won the PAC-12. Their roster had household names, like Zach Ertz. This was no easy win.
For how it ended, who it was against, and what it meant for Notre Dame’s National Title shot going forward, the win against Stanford was by far the most memorable game for the 2012 Notre Dame team.