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Notre Dame vs. Stanford final score: 3 things we learned from the Irish's comeback victory

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Offensive fireworks erupted in the fourth quarter after a mostly silent three quarters.

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

With the ball and three minutes remaining, Notre Dame and Everett Golson had to drive 65 yards for the game-winning score against a stout Stanford defense. How stout? The Irish didn't have a single drive that long all day.

Golson was able to come through when Notre Dame needed him most, completing the 23-yard touchdown pass to Ben Koyack on fourth-and-11 to give the Irish the 17-14 lead and the eventual victory.

ND

Both defenses came to play, as expected -- the game's biggest play was a 42-yard kick return by Ty Montgomery, one of just three plays longer than 30 yards on the day.

The offenses struggled early, with just seven points between the two teams on the first 13 drives of the game. The teams particularly struggled to manufacture big plays --  Golson's 35-yard run was the biggest play of the first half for either team, and was one of just three that went for at least 20 yards.

Both first-half touchdowns came on plays of less than 20 yards, and Stanford's came on a very short field. The Cardinal forced a fumble deep in Irish territory, allowing Hogan to run the ball in from 10 yards out for the score. The two teams had just three combined red zone appearances in the first half (two for Notre Dame, one for Stanford), each converting with a touchdown on one of them.

No scores occurred in the game's third quarter, but the Irish nearly got on the board after a tremendous interception by Cole Luke. The Irish's second botched field goal of the day followed, keeping Notre Dame off the board. Notre Dame was finally able to convert on a field goal midway through the fourth quarter, nailing the 45-yard attempt to take the 10-7 lead (this time, the holder wore gloves).

Montgomery's aforementioned 42-yard kick return came after that field goal, setting up Stanford with excellent field position to take the lead. They did just that, as Hogan drove down the field before handing it off for Remoud Wright's 10-yard touchdown run.

Golson and the Irish were able to respond with their nine-play, 65-yard drive, scoring the game-winning touchdown with a minute to play. Notre Dame held Stanford on the ensuing drive, forcing an intentional grounding with six seconds left from Hogan, causing a ten-second run-off and the victory.

Three things we learned

1. These are two of the best defenses in the country. Both Stanford and Notre Dame were able to get repeated pressure on the opposing quarterbacks, preventing the time necessary for Hogan and Golson to make big plays. The two teams particularly performed well on third downs, in large part due to their efficiency in preventing third-and-short opportunities.

Despite the victory, the Irish averaged just 5.4 yards per pass attempt. Stanford averaged 2.0 yards per rush, while Kevin Hogan averaged 4.4 yards per attempt with two interceptions (both by Luke).

2. Stanford is officially out of the playoff race. A loss to an inconsistent USC team already had the Cardinal with one foot out of the door, but it's hard to imagine a two-loss Cardinal team making their way into the four-team field -- especially with Oregon's stock down after their loss to Arizona.

3. Everett Golson saved his wavering Heisman candidacy. The quarterback was fifth in Bovada's recent odds, but struggled against the first good defense he's faced this season. Golson hasn't always been consistent this season, particularly against Michigan and Purdue, but strong outings against Rice and Syracuse have kept him in the running. The late touchdown against one of the nation's top defensive units goes a long way for a "Heisman moment," even if his 20-for-43 for 241 yards line wasn't terribly impressive.