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Throwback Thursday: Notre Dame Fighting Irish VS Stanford, 1991

A little bit of revenge ...

Stanford v Notre Dame

Following a Shamrock Series win over BYU, the Fighting Irish return home to Notre Dame to face the Stanford Cardinal. The two teams have met each other 35 times, with Notre Dame winning 21 times (and having one vacated win in 2012), and Stanford winning 13 times. Notre Dame’s largest margin of victory was in 2003 (57-7), and Stanford’s largest margin of victory was in 2010 (37-14). Notre Dame’s longest win streak is seven (2002-2008), and Stanford’s longest win streak is three (2009-2011).

How do the teams match up historically? Notre Dame’s all time record is .729 (932-333-42), and Stanford’s all time record is .577 (665-482-49). Notre Dame’s bowl record is .474 (18-20-0), and Stanford’s bowl record is .517 (15-14-1). Notre Dame has had 105 consensus All-American’s to Stanford’s 37. Notre Dame has had 7 Heisman trophy winners to Stanford’s one. Notre Dame has had 522 NFL draft picks to Stanford’s 273. And Notre Dame has spent 851 weeks in the AP Poll (98 of them at No. 1) to Stanford’s 303 weeks (zero of them at No. 1).

This week I’m going to highlight the 1991 meeting between the two teams. The following excerpt is from the Scholastic - Notre Dame Football Review 1991.

A Little Bit of Revenge

Notre Dame defeats the Cardinal 42-26, exacting some retribution for Stanford’s huge 1990 upset of the Irish

by Rene Ferran

All week before the Stanford game, Notre Dame head coach Lou Holtz insisted that the Irish harbored no thoughts of revenge as they headed into Stanford Stadium.

“Revenge doesn’t factor in at all on my part, and I don’t think it does for the players as well,” Holtz said. “That was last year and that’s over no matter what you do. It’s history.

“My main concern- and I think it’s the players’ as well- is how we’re going to win the football game.”

Holtz and his players certainly came up with a game plan, piling up 363 rushing yards against a depleted Cardinal defensive line, as Notre Dame Jerome Bettis had a career day, rushing for 179 yards and an amazing four touchdowns. defeated Stanford 42-26.

And even if in Holtz’s mind it wasn’t revenge, it was a sweet victory nevertheless.

“I knew this would be a tough football game, and it certainly was,” he said. “(Stanford) hung in there and refused to quit We’re just happy to get out of here with a win.”

The game started out exactly as last year’s had, with Notre Dame establishing dominance in the trenches early. Stanford, meanwhile, would gain plenty of yards through the air, but those yards translated to zero points. The Irish· offensive line overwhelmed a Cardinal front line that had been decimated by injuries. Two key starters on the defensive line were making their return for Stanford just in time to be steamrolled by the firm of Hall, Jurkovic, McGuire, Taylor & Knapp.

“What else can I say about our offensive line except they played a great game today?” said sophomore fullback Jerome Bettis, who rushed for a career-high 179 yards and scored four touchdowns. “Everything I accomplished today is a credit to them.”

“Notre Dame really can take it to you with its great line,” praised Stanford coach Dennis Green. ‘’They did a terrific job of rushing tonight. Their running backs run hard, and with extreme power.”

Meanwhile, a change in defensive strategy was paying big dividends for the Irish. Senior Greg Davis moved from his normal strong safety position to drop end, and sophomore Willie Clark was switched back to the secondary. With five defensive backs in the game, Notre Dame was better able to handle the Stanford passing attack.

“I thought the first 25 minutes of the game, we played as well on defense as we have in a long time,” Holtz said.

“We moved the ball, but we couldn’t score,” Green lamented. “We couldn’t stop them either.”

Notre Dame exploded to a 28-0 lead by midway through the second quarter, scoring on four of its first five possessions. Bettis and senior Tony Brooks already had over 100 yards rushing. And then, one play changed everything.

“Tony’s fumble changed the momentum in a hurry,” Holtz said. “[Stanford] fell into a rhythm and we couldn’t get them out of it.”

Just as Ricky Watters’ two fumbles cost the Irish dearly in last season’s 36-31 upset loss, Brooks’ fumble deep in Irish territory altered the complexion of the game in Stanford’s favor. The Cardinal took advantage of the excellent field position, putting points on the board just before halftime.

And just like last year, it was fullback Tommy Vardell who capped the Stanford scoring drive, breaking two tackles at the line of scrimmage before scampering 27 yards for the touchdown. Yes, the same “Touchdown Tommy” who scored four touchdowns in last season’s contest - the last with 36 seconds remaining. to put Stanford up for good was working on delivering another miracle for the Cardinal.

He was to score two more times in this year’s game-gaining 140 yards overall - ensuring himself an infamous place in Notre Dame’s long history.

“Vardell is an outstanding back,” Holtz said. “I think he is as good a back as we’ve played against this year.”

But what really hurt the Irish defense was Davis’ knee injury in the third quarter that put him out of the game and the rest of the season with torn ligaments, Notre Dame had to go back to a traditional defensive set, and Stanford welcomed the change with an 80-yard drive to draw within 14 points.

“When we lost Greg, we lost an awful lot,” said Holtz. ‘’We couldn’t do a lot of the things we had been doing and wanted to keep doing.”

Suddenly, the crowd at Stanford Stadium came alive, hoping what they had only witnessed on television last season might be reenacted live and in person. The Irish had other ideas.

“We finished off the second half pretty strong,” Bettis said. “And we knew that it was going to be tough the rest of the way. But we remembered last year, so we weren’t going to slack off any either. We didn’t want to give them any ground. We wanted to keep pounding on them.”

As the crowd fired up, so did the Notre Dame running attack. The big holes that had been there in the first five Irish possessions reappeared, and when Bettis took a Rick Mirer screen pass and rumbled 13 yards into the end zone, the only sound in the stands was from the mass of Notre Dame alumni in the north end of the stadium.

Unlike last season, when Irish mistakes on special teams would allow Stanford to come back from a 24~ 7 deficit, a Cardinal miscue would give Notre D3!fie the chance to put the game away. On the ensuing kickoff, Stanford’s Ozzie Grenardo tried to field the ball at the two, only to fall out of bounds. Three plays later, senior Rod Smith picked off a pass by Jason Palumbis at the Cardinal19.

That’s when Holtz reached into his bag of tricks and sealed the victory. Mirer pitched the ball to Brooks on what appeared to be a sweep right. But Brooks instead pulled up, turned left, and lobbed the ball to a wide-open Mirer, who dove to the one-yard line. Bettis’ fourth touchdown on the next play gave the Irish a42-14lead with 14:50 left in the game.

Afterwards, in true Holtz fashion, the Irish head coach downplayed the significance of the play.

“We simply felt that if we got ahead, they would go to man coverage, and this play is open against that type of coverage,” he said, ‘’That was just a play that we felt would be open at that time.”

And although Stanford scored two late touchdowns on Vardell runs to make the final score close, there was to be no repeat of last year’s heroics. Notre Dame got the ball back with 7:40 remaining, and the Cardinal never regained possession.

With the victory, the Irish also regained the Legends Trophy, a combination of Irish crystal and California redwood awarded annually by the Notre Dame Club of San Francisco, handed over by Cardinal players Dave Garnett and Vardell to a loud ovation in the Irish locker room.

“It’s a beautiful trophy,” said Holtz. “They took good care of it last year, and we’ll take just as good care of it this year.”

So, with trophy in hand, and a date with undefeated Pittsburgh next on the schedule, Notre Dame walked out of Stanford Stadium with its desired victory.

And with a touch of revenge served on the side.

Stanford has had a rough start to their 2022 season. Do we have a ball of wrath headed into Notre Dame stadium? Do the Irish have the right stuff to take care of business on Saturday? What say you?

Cheers & GO IRISH!