Sept. 25, 2010
NOTRE DAME, Ind. (AP) – Owen Marecic enjoyed his trip to the end zone so much, he wasted no time getting back.
Marecic, one of the few players to play both offense and defense, scored on a run and interception return 13 seconds apart Saturday, helping No. 16 Stanford to a 37-14 victory over Notre Dame that gives the Cardinal their first 4-0 start since 1986.
“He’s the perfect football player,” Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh said. “You’ve just got to take your hat off to him and enjoy watching him. I sure do.”
There was plenty for Harbaugh to enjoy.
Nate Whitaker tied a Cardinal record with five field goals, from 24, 41, 36, 33 and 29 yards. The victory was only Stanford’s third in South Bend, and first since 1992. And the Cardinal have now won two in a row against Notre Dame (1-3), a first in a series that dates to the 1925 Rose Bowl.
Notre Dame got only a field goal off three turnovers – including Andrew Luck’s first two interceptions of the year – as it dropped its third straight and seventh in the last eight games. The loss also was Notre Dame’s 11th straight against Top 25 teams, with five of those coming at home.
“They’re not going anywhere,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said of his players. “They’re going to be back next week and they’re going to strap it back up and they’re going to fight and play as hard as they can. We’re going to build this program to where it needs to be.”
Luck and Stanford didn’t look quite as sharp as the team that piled up 155 points in the first three games, with Luck throwing multiple picks for the first time in 16 starts. But the Cardinal simply overwhelmed the Irish, piling up 404 yards on offense and stifling any hint of a Notre Dame rally.
Dayne Crist finished with 304 yards passing, but the Irish couldn’t get into the end zone until there was 6:01 left and the game was well out of hand.
“There’s going to be a lot of 1-3 football teams across the country,” Kelly said. “Some are going to finish 1-11, some are going to be 8- or 9-3. It’s what you decide to do from here on out. … There’s going to be success down the road for them if they stay with it, and I’m certain that they will.”
Notre Dame appeared to have the momentum early, when Doug Baldwin muffed a punt return on Stanford’s first possession. After signaling for a fair catch, the ball bounced off his hands and Zeke Motta recovered at the Stanford 21. But the Irish could only get a few yards here and there on the drive, and had to settle for David Ruffer’s 22-yard field goal.
Stanford caught a break on its next drive. On third-and-1 at the Notre Dame 20, nose guard Ian Williams appeared to stop Marecic about a half-yard short of a first down only to have officials credit him with a 2-yard gain. Notre Dame challenged the call, but it was upheld to keep the drive alive.
Seven plays later, Luck connected with Coby Fleener on a 16-yard touchdown pass, and Stanford never trailed again.
“Decent throw,” Luck said, “(heck) of a catch.”
If Notre Dame had any hope of getting back in the game, Marecic put an end to it with his 13-second scoring spree midway through the fourth quarter.
With 7:58 to play, he scored on a 1-yard run. After only a few minutes to catch his breath – he had to be wishing for a few more commercials – he intercepted a pass from Crist on the very next play, running it back 20 yards for the score to put Stanford up 34-6.
“It was great,” Marecic said. “I give a lot of credit to the guys around me blocking.”
Even some rare miscues by Luck didn’t help the Irish.
He 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 – both times as he looked for big-play receiver Chris Owusu. Notre Dame couldn’t do anything with either, though, going three-and-out each time.
“It will give me something to work on during the week,” Luck said. “Not like I won’t have anything to work on, but something more.”
The rare victory in South Bend should give the Cardinal some added confidence as they head into the two toughest weeks of their season. They travel next week to No. 5 Oregon, one of the toughest places in the country to play, then return home to face No. 20 Southern California.
Beat those two teams, and Stanford might find itself in more rare territory: the Rose Bowl.
“It’s a big win for us,” Harbaugh said. “We look at every game like it’s a championship game. In order to win a championship, you’ve got to win your next ballgame.”