Before heading off to South Bend, Stanford football coach David Shaw explained the success of the Cardinal defense was its ability to avoid the big plays.
Stanford strong safety Jordan Richards said the team needed "to keep big plays off our back."
The Cardinal (3-2) discovered what it means to give up big plays Saturday in its 17-14 nonconference loss to host Notre Dame, losing for the 12th time in 15 trips to the venerable institution.
"We have to limit explosives," Stanford's Kevin Anderson said. "That is one of our main goals: limit explosives. We have been doing a good job so far. That changed the game. We tried to limit them and we gave up 17 tonight so it is on us. We have to give up zero points. If we give up zero points, we win the game. That's what it comes down to."
Stanford has a short week to prepare for Washington State's visit on Friday night, in a scheduled 6 p.m. kickoff.
The Irish worked their magic with ridiculous ease after Stanford took the lead at 14-10 with just over minutes remaining to play in the contest on an 11-yard run by Redmound Wright.
Stanford placekicker Jordan Williamson made the first big mistake as he sailed his kickoff out of bounds, giving Notre Dame good field position at the 35. Two minutes later, Notre Dame went ahead on a fourth-and-13 from Stanford's 23-yard line.
Irish tight end Ben Koyack wandered freely down the field, unencumbered from any sort of Stanford coverage and just waited, all alone, in the back of the end zone for his quarterback to find him.
Once again, Stanford had flushed Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson out of the pocket and were maintaining containment when he let fly, finally noticing that Koyack was busier watching the grass grow than avoiding coverage.
"There was no coverage on that touchdown pass," Shaw said. "That sounds sarcastic but he was wide open. We didn't cover the guy that caught the touchdown pass."
The only good news is that the loss does not affect Stanford's ability to reach the Pac-12 championship game. In fact, with Arizona's second straight upset of Oregon, it's a brand new race in the North Division.
The bad news is that as good as the defense has been this year, the Cardinal offense has been going backward. Kevin Hogan completed just 50 percent of his passes in an offense designed for a quarterback to complete 60 percent.
Stanford never could establish a running game either, gaining 47 yards on 32 carries, an average of a yard and a half per carry. Notre Dame outgained the Cardinal by a 370-205 margin.
"I think we played well, but we could definitely play a lot better," Stanford safety Zach Hoffpauir said. "I think we have a lot of room to improve and hopefully next game we can figure some stuff out and get a win. It's on the defense. We have to stop them no matter who it is. Not one play wins a game or loses a game. As a defense we have to play better."
The final eight minutes of the game featured three scoring drives totaling 17 points after the first 52 minutes produced just two scoring drives and 14 combined points.
The Stanford defense forced Golson to beat it on Notre Dame's last drive, dropping eight guys into coverage many times. The strategy worked for much of the game, but Golson was able to move the chains on every critical third down.
After a pass interference call moved the ball towards the red zone, the Stanford defense stiffened, with Henry Anderson muscling an offensive lineman into Golson to force a 4-yard loss and bring up 4th-and-11 from the Cardinal 23 yard-line.
Again facing a three-man front, Golson had time to stand in the pocket, keep his eyes down field, roll out to his left and find a wide-open Koyack in the end zone for the winning score.
Stanford drove the ball to midfield on the ensuing possession, but an intentional grounding with six ticks remaining mandated a 10-second runoff that ended the game.
The Stanford defense struck the first big blow when Ronnie Harris jarred the ball loose from Golson and safety Kyle Olugbode recovered it on the Notre Dame 12-yard line. The Cardinal attack did its job from there, with Hogan running the final 10 yards for a 7-0 lead.
On a rainy, windy day, throwing a slick ball was tough, catching it was even tougher, and placing it down for a field-goal attempt was near impossible.
Notre Dame had a chance to cut it to 7-3 in the second quarter with a 41-yard field goal attempt from Kyle Brindza, but holder Hunter Smith was unable to catch the snap cleanly, forcing Brindza to rush his kick and sail it wide.
Likewise, Jordan Williamson never got a chance to make it 10-0 on the ensuing drive after a snap went over the head of Ben Rhyne, forcing Williamson to fall on it.
Notre Dame had a golden opportunity to take the lead after Cole Luke picked off Hogan on the first play of the fourth quarter for his second interception of the game, but Smith had more troubles putting down the snap on a Brindza 27-yard field-goal attempt.
A.J. Tarpley caught the botched kick and returned it 39 yards to the Stanford 44 -- the longest play of the game from scrimmage.
Stanford was unable to do anything with the good field position, however, as the Cardinal would go three-and-out; one of nine such drives to not produce a first down on the day for Stanford.
"It's tough coming across the country to lose the game," said Kevin Anderson. "We come here with one purpose to win the game and you do not do that it is frustrating. We have to play our game and whenever we give them extra yards, it's a huge deal. A couple of those drives were able to keep going because we had stupid penalties, so we have to limit the mistakes and mental errors like that."