Irish a BCS team in good (goal-line) standing

Notre Dame up to challenge of stopping Stanford with more than game on line

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Forget what the Notre Dame Stadium ticket brochures say. The best seat in the house is in the defensive huddle before a goal-line stand.

One day NBC will figure out how to stick a camera in the middle of all those gold helmets to capture more drama than any reality-TV show, moments like the one right before the final play of Saturday's 20-13 overtime victory over Stanford.

Notre Dame defensive players always will remember a change in atmosphere that had nothing to do with the rain beginning to fall as hard as it had all afternoon.

"It changed from just be physical to, 'We have to stop them!''' Notre Dame defensive end Stephon Tuitt said.

"Everyone kept saying, it's now or never,'' safety Matthias Farley added.

"I got to witness the passion everybody has, the will to win,'' Notre Dame safety Zeke Motta said with a smile.

Stanford stood inches away from sending the game into a second overtime. Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o knew the only thing stronger than his defense's front seven was its bond and that nobody was ready to give up a touchdown for the first time since Sept. 8. He reminded everybody of Saturday's Cardinal rule: Nobody gets into the end zone.

"I love you guys,'' Te'o recalled telling his teammates after calling the defense. "No matter what happens, everybody sticks together.''

Stick together they did, forming an impenetrable wall for Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor. Before the snap, Te'o read the eyes of Taylor that made him anticipate a power play slightly over the right guard. Notre Dame's 326-pound nose tackle Louis Nix, taken off the field two plays earlier after getting a helmet to his chest, dug in and dared Stanford to try.

"I just grinded,'' Nix said. "Then there were lots of men stacked on top of each other.''

One of them was Taylor, whose legs kept churning after cornerback Bennett Jackson and linebacker Carlo Calabrese stopped his progress as he tried extending the ball past the plane. Officials reviewed the replay but the goal-line stand coach Brian Kelly called "classic'' stood and Notre Dame survived its biggest scare in a season that keeps getting better.

In beating its best opponent so far, Notre Dame now has no excuse not to win at least 10 games and qualify for the Bowl Championship Series. It would be hard for an MBA from either esteemed academic institution to calculate what winning meant to Notre Dame's season. Expectations suddenly soared so high that Kelly was asked about being a team of destiny.

"I don't know that,'' Kelly said. "They know they are a good team. They earned the win today. They didn't luck into it.''

Try convincing Stanford coach David Shaw, who didn't have (Andrew) Luck or good fortune on a day he could have used both. Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes threw two bad interceptions but Shaw sounded more upset by the officiating of referee Shawn Hochuli's crew that was indeed curious.

Two 15-yard penalties aided Notre Dame's game-tying, field-goal drive, the second being a pass-interference call on third down that moved the ball to the 13. The first came when Stanford's Usua Amanam knocked quarterback Everett Golson out of the game with a helmet-to-helmet hit that blurred Golson's vision. That was not how I expected Stanford to use its head to affect the outcome.

Former NFL official Mike Pereira tweeted that he thought the penalty shouldn't have been called because Golson wasn't defenseless trying for more yardage but Kelly countered that Amanam was "in a tackling form.''

Shaw?

"No comment,'' he said.

Nor did Shaw elaborate on the explanation he received for losing four yards on an incorrect spot after a negated a catch.

"I'm not going to comment,'' he snapped.

Barely praising Notre Dame, Shaw left the news conference like a guy who planned to keep his hand on his wallet until boarding the team bus. Unsolicited, Shaw blamed a whistle from the crowd that caused Stanford players to "stop playing,'' on a 7-yard loss on third-and-goal that forced Stanford to settle for a field goal. Shaw planned to pursue a matter to which Kelly — surprise — seemed oblivious.

"I didn't hear a whistle,'' Kelly said.

Now the noise surrounding his program only will increase. Notre Dame lost three fumbles, committed nine penalties, brought in backup quarterback Tommy Rees with 31/2 minutes left to get the save, and still found a way.

That's how resilient teams act. That's what championship defenses do.

"Goal-line D, game's on the line …'' Te'o said, pausing. "That's where big-time players step up.''

With mere feet separating an unbeaten record and uncertainty, the Notre Dame defensive huddle was full of them.

dhaugh@tribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh

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