Stanford vs. Notre Dame: A Complete Look at the Controversial Final Play

Kevin LeeCorrespondent IOctober 14, 2012

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 13:  Stepfan Taylor #33 of the Stanford Cardinal is stopped short of the goal by members of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish defense on the last play of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on October 13, 2012 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Stanford 20-13 in overtime.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

It was a rainy, low-scoring affair in South Bend that much of the college football world is talking about. No. 7 Notre Dame (6-0) managed to remain perfect after surviving a visit from No. 17 Stanford (4-2).

The Fighting Irish were able to pull off a 20-13 overtime victory against the Cardinal, but the big storyline is the controversial final play of the game.

Here's a breakdown of what happened, an analysis of the ruling and some reactions from Stanford players.

Setting the Scene

In a matchup that featured two outstanding defenses, it was only appropriate that a goal line stand decided the outcome of the game.

At the end of regulation, Stanford and Notre Dame were tied 13-13. The Cardinal won the coin toss to start overtime and elected to defend first, but they ultimately were unable to keep the Irish from scoring a touchdown, making it 20-13.

Stanford then went on offense and was able to drive down to the Notre Dame four-yard line.

With Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes under-performing all game, coach David Shaw decided to put his trust in the offensive line and star running back Stepfan Taylor.

Led by Manti Te'o and Notre Dame's stout defensive line, the Irish stopped Stanford three consecutive times to make it 4th-and-goal at the one-yard line. The ball was put into Stepfan Taylor's hands once again, and he ran into a pile of bodies with nowhere to go.

At this point, it was very clear that he never crossed the goal line. However, on a second effort, he twisted and turned over several players and, with a final stretch of the ball, appeared to break the goal line plane.

The Ruling

The call on the field was that Taylor was short of the goal line. This would be reviewed, and the ruling stood, meaning that there was not indisputable evidence to overturn the call. The fact that the call wasn't confirmed either also shows that it could've gone either way.

A common response by college football fans (also by Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly in his post-game interview) was that Stepfan Taylor's forward progress was stopped.

Firstly, what Taylor did to gain those few extra inches on the play is technically considered forward progress, no matter how small that progress actually is.

Secondly, forward progress was never ruled by the officials, evidenced by the fact that there was no whistle blown before he was ruled down.

Of course, it's hard to hear a whistle on television when thousands of Notre Dame fans were already celebrating, but Stanford wide receiver Michael Rector didn't hear a whistle either.

There was no whistle to end play, the ball crossed the plain, & even if it was a fumble, Stanford recovered it in the endzone. Just sayin...

— Michael Rector (@michaelrector) October 13, 2012

Also, NBC's commentators seemed to make a big deal out of the fact that Taylor seemed to have fumbled the ball in the end zone. This doesn't matter at all since the ball broke the plane before it came out, and it was recovered by a Stanford player anyway.

The most controversial point of contention is that Taylor's left elbow may have touched the ground before the ball broke the plane.

The problem is that from some angles, this seems to be true, but from others, it appears that a touchdown is quite clear. 

This is what Mike Pereira, former Vice President of Officiating for the NFL and current Rules Analyst for FOX Sports, initially had to say about the play.


We have looked at ND/STA last play from every angle & feel that it is a TD. Progress was not ruled & runner was not down. Ball broke plain.

— Mike Pereira (@MikePereira) October 13, 2012


In response to the possibility that Stepfan Taylor's elbow hit the ground before the ball crossed the goal line, Mike tweeted:

Twitter Reactions from Stanford Players

A bevy of Stanford players tweeted their thoughts about that final play.

Stanford linebacker AJ Tarpley was one of many who clearly thought that Stepfan Taylor (@KULABAFI) clearly scored.

Offensive guard Khalil Wilkes got an up-close-and-personal view of the play.

Fullback Lee Ward went a step further and implied that the officials were favoring Notre Dame, and he may have a valid point as there were a few questionable calls, especially in the fourth quarter.

Regardless of the final outcome, we should all give Taylor credit. His second effort on the last play and overall performance against one of the best run defenses in college football deserve some praise.


Lastly, here's a video of David Shaw during the postgame press conference. Clearly he's disappointed with the result, and you can see his frustration with many of the calls made by the officials.


It can be debated whether or not the final play really resulted in a touchdown, but it sure looks like the game should have gone to a second overtime. 

Another overtime would've settled things, and in such an important game for both teams, getting a fair result is what's most important. 

It's never great to have a team feel "robbed" of a win, but that's exactly how Stanford's defensive leader Chase Thomas felt.

However, the fact of the matter is that Josh Nunes' two interceptions played a huge role in determining the outcome of the game. Also, Stanford not being able to score an offensive touchdown on the road is a big problem that needs to be fixed soon.

As for Notre Dame, the true tests lie ahead. If they really want to prove that they are among the best in the nation, then they can do so against Oklahoma and USC.

It's unfortunate that a true winner couldn't be determined on Saturday, but what's done is done. Stanford will need to move on and focus on the Big Game next week against rival Cal.