Notre Dame to Stanford: "You Can't Do That"

Michael AugsbergerContributor IOctober 21, 2008

“You can’t do that,” the crowd overheard angry referee Jack Folliard, his microphone left on after a penalty call, editorialize to a Notre Dame player in the early stages of the 3rd quarter. It was basically the gist of what the Irish defense had been telling Stanford QB Tavita Pritchard during the first 45 minutes of Notre Dame’s 28-21 win on October 4.

Drop back on 3rd-and-7 for a conversion in one-score game in the 2nd quarter? You are denied access, noted freshman OLB Darius Fleming as he broke through the line.

“He’s a very fast-twitch guy,” head coach Charlie Weis said of Fleming, whose monstrous sack eight yards behind scrimmage led to field position inside Stanford territory and a Michael Floyd 48-yard TD reception. “[His] greatest strength right now when he goes on defense is rushing the passer.”

Produce more than three plays after an atrocious punt, a 15-yard coverage penalty, and gift-wrapped field position early in the 3rd quarter? We simply cannot allow this. The Irish bolted down and refused a first down, and Aaron Zagory’s 42-yard kick sailed wide right.

Cap off a comeback with a former-Stanford-great-Elway-esque drive to tie? Nope, you can’t do that, either. Pat Kuntz sacked Pritchard on 2nd-and-10 from the Stanford 13, and Pritchard’s 4th-down, 10-yard completion to Ryan Whalen fell short of the sticks.

While his defense forced three straight three-and-outs in the 3rd quarter, Irish defensive coordinator Corwin Brown produced more negative exhortations than the Ten Commandments.

But in the 4th he watched the Cardinal break almost all of them.

If Stanford were to have erased a 28-7 deficit with just over ten minutes to play, Pritchard’s one-yard TD pass high up to 6’ 5” TE Jim Dray would have been the comeback’s opening fireworks. And Doug Baldwin’s 38-yard punt return to the ND 35 two minutes later and subsequent touchdown catch would have scorched fear into Irish eyes.

But Pritchard’s three first-half interceptions—one that looked like a drawn-up play in the flat to the tattoo-clad end Kuntz—gave Notre Dame enough cushion to stay the final Stanford thrust, a potential game-tying drive with three minutes left from their own three yard line.

The Cardinal virtues didn’t outweigh their deadly sins.