Andrew Luck was pretty darn good, but not great. The Stanford defense, however, was sensational and Stepfan Taylor ran like he was a Heisman Trophy candidate.
It all added up to No. 9 Stanford's 37-14 victory over host Notre Dame Saturday, its first win in South Bend since 1992. It was also the first time in the series that the Cardinal (4-0) beat the Irish (1-3) in two consecutive games.
"It was a great job by the players," Cardinal coach Jim Harbaugh said. "We gave out a lot of game balls. The defense, in particular, did a great job. Winning on the road is extremely
important if you're going to be a champion."
Stanford, which jumped seven spots in the latest AP poll, goes to No. 4 Oregon for a Pac-10 contest next Saturday, with the time of the game changed to 5 p.m. (ABC) from 8:15 p.m.
Nate Whitaker established a personal record with five field goals against the team at which he started his football career and matched John Hopkins' school record. Hopkins had five field goals against California in 1990.
Whitaker also had a terrific game on kickoffs, consistently sending the ball into the end zone for touchbacks.
"It was a great day by Nate," Harbaugh said. "He had a really good week of preparation. I know this game meant a lot to him and his family. To come out and play well, really the way he kicked off was equally as important in the ballgame."
Owen Marecic scored a touchdown on offense and then returned an interception for a touchdown 13 seconds later.
"I've called him a lot of things. He's a perfect football player," Harbaugh said. "I've just
never been around a guy like this in 30 some years of playing college, pro football and in coaching. He does everything right. He's conditioned himself to play that kind of football game. He's worked extremely hard."
Taylor rushed for 108 yards and Luck threw for 238 yards and a 16-yard touchdown to Coby Fleener, who made four catches for 57 yards.
"He made some terrific throws all game long, including the first one, the touchdown," Harbaugh said. "They brought everybody, except for four. Zero blitz, played zero coverage. He bought some time and threw a heck of a ball to
Tyler Gaffney left the game in the first quarter with an injury. He carried twice for 15 yards.
"We would have liked to have gone to Gaffney on some of those downs," Harbaugh said. "But Stepfan really stepped up and played a heck of a game."
Michael Thomas suffered a left foot injury and left the game in the third quarter. Redshirt freshman Terrence Brown took over. Thomas still celebrated, on crutches, when the game ended.
Notre Dame ran the first 16 offensive plays of the game. Stanford ran 47 of the next 66 plays.
Harold Bernard knocked a punt back onto the field of play, which was downed on the Irish 2-yard line. Daniel Zychkinski's 37-yard punt never looked so good.
Chase Thomas went unblocked and tackled Jonas Gray for a loss on a fourth down play to give Stanford good field position in the fourth quarter.
"Thomas had a great game," Harbaugh said. "(Thomas) Kaiser came off the corner and that gave Chas a direct line. Good day for us defensively."
That defensive stop allowed the Cardinal to use 5:37 of the clock, driving 49 yards in 10 plays with Marecic going the final yard.
"We really wanted to get penetration, do a good job up front knocking them back," Harbaugh said. "We just made some plays in the back end, in the secondary, and up front."
Luck threw only four interceptions last year, his first as a starter. But he was picked off near the end of the first half and midway through the third quarter. Notre Dame couldn't do anything with either, though, going three-and-out each time.