Here we are at the last game of the regular season . . . where has the time gone? This week the Notre Dame Fighting Irish travel to Palo Alto, Calif., to face the Stanford Cardinal. This week I’m going to look back at the 2003 meeting between the two teams.
Notre Dame and Stanford have met a total of 35 times, with Notre Dame winning 21, and Stanford winning 14. Notre Dame’s all time record is 946-338-42, and Stanford’s all time record is 670-495-49. Notre Dame’s largest margin of victory was 57-7 in 2003, and Stanford’s largest margin of victory was 37-14 in 2010, Notre Dame’s longest win streak is 7, and Stanford’s longest win streak is 3. Notre Dame has had 525 NFL Draft picks, to Stanford’s 278 NFL Draft picks. Notre Dame has spent 870 weeks in the AP Poll to Stanford’s 303 weeks in the AP Poll. And Notre Dame has had 7 Heisman winners, to Stanford’s one.
The following excerpt from the 2003 meeting between Notre Dame and Stanford is from the January 29, 2004, edition of the Scholastic Magazine, and the 2003 Notre Dame Football Review.
Irish Scoring Barrage
by Jimmy Atkinson
Tyrone Willingham’s first game back in Stanford Stadium as Notre Dame’s head coach was a remarkable success. The Irish offense erupted for 41 unanswered points and never looked back, as Notre Dame defeated Stanford 57-7, giving the Cardinal their worst loss ever at Stanford Stadium.
Running back senior Julius Jones set the tone on the game’s very first play with a 25-yard carry that put him over the 1,000-yard mark for the season. His first carry was only a sign of things to come. Jones, who had battled back from academic ineligibility a year ago to regain his position on the team, finished the game with 218 yards rushing on 23 carries and became the first player in Notre Dame history to record three 200-yard games in a single season.
“It’s incredible,” Jones said. “I never would have thought that it would be me to have three 200-yard games, let alone 1,000 yards. I didn’t know what the season would be like this year. But I give all the credit to my offensive line and my fullbacks. They played a hell of a game.”
The Irish win over Stanford was their third in a row and improved their record to 5-6 going into their final game at Syracuse. Stanford, already finished at 2-6 in Pac-10 play, dropped to 4-7 overall to end their season on a three-game losing streak.
The Irish opened the scoring on their first possession, a 10-play, 90-yard drive, the longest of the season. Jones capped the drive with a l0-yard run during which he ran over two Cardinal defenders en route to the end zone. Notre Dame’s next seven points came courtesy of a 65-yard touchdown strike from freshman quarterback Brady Quinn to the up-and-coming junior wide receiver Matt Shelton to give the Irish a quick 14-0 lead. Shelton ran a post route against man coverage, as the safety came up to defend the tight end on the play. Shelton beat the cornerback to the inside and Quinn threw a perfect pass that hit Shelton in stride.
The Irish had been running the play all week in practice, but the pass usually was thrown to the tight end, Quinn’s first-look receiver. “I was surprised as anyone else when he threw it to me,” Shelton said. “I was thinking, ‘The ball’s coming. Oh God, what do I do?’ It was a surreal feeling.”
Quinn recognized the importance of Shelton’s catch. “It was a big play,” Quinn said. “I was looking forward to getting back in the next drive and doing the same thing.” And the Irish offense did just that for most of the night, scoring at will against a battered Stanford defense.
After coming into the second half with a 34-0 lead, the Irish offense struck on its first possession, courtesy of a 45-yard touchdown pass from Quinn to sophomore wide receiver Maurice Stovall. “That was more what I anticipate out of our football team,” Willingham said. ‘’We’re still not where we’d like to be, but it was an outstanding performance by our young men.”
The Irish defense was equally impressive in the blowout, holding Stanford to only seven points and 20 yards rushing, thanks mostly to a stifling pass rush that recorded seven sacks. Junior defensive end Justin Tuck was unstoppable throughout the night and registered 3.5 sacks, equaling the performance he had against Pittsburgh earlier this season.
“No matter what protection they got it, they couldn’t block him,” Defensive coordinator Kent Baer said. “So they had to get in max protect and run two-man routes. That really helped us. He really set the tone of how we played today. It was good to see.”
Notre Dame’s defense also scored its first touchdown of the season, after scoring repeatedly only a year ago. At the end of the first half, Stanford wide receiver Mark Bradford made a reception, turned upfield, and was stripped of the ball by Irish junior cornerback Dwight Ellick. Junior safety Quentin Burrell picked up the loose ball near the sideline and ran 65 yards down the field for the Irish touchdown, giving Notre Dame a 34-0 halftime lead.
The Irish defense struck again in the third quarter when junior linebacker Brandon Hoyte forced Stanford quarterback Chris Lewis to fumble. Senior safety Garron Bible picked up the loose ball and raced 48 yards to the end zone, improving the Irish lead to 41-7.
After being one of the nation’s leaders last season in defensive scoring, the Irish had failed to score a defensive touchdown in their previous 12 games. “It’s about time,” Baer said. “It’s good to see those kids play and have some fun.”
After Notre Dame jumped out to a 21-0 lead by the end of the first quarter, the hopes of the Stanford Cardinal had faded into the Thanksgiving weekend Bay Area night. The sparse crowd of only 46,500 was about 40 percent Notre Dame supporters, and they were the ones making all the noise throughout the evening. By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, with the Irish up 57-7 and everyone simply waiting for the final 15 minutes to mercifully tick off the scoreboard clock, all but a few Cardinal supporters had headed home.
“We were making plays,” Quinn said. “Everyone was doing their jobs and executing. That’s a glimpse of what we can do when we play like that.”
Willingham agreed with Quinn. “if you compare [this game] to the rest of the season, there is no comparison, he said. “We’ve been trying to get to that point. This was a good performance. . . . Tonight was a good win for us.”
Although much of the Irish coaching staff had previously recruited and coached many of the Stanford players, there were no apologies for the lopsided score. Offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick summed it up best. “Tonight I’m in blue and gold,” he said.
Enjoy the last regular game of the season ... and Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!
Cheers & GO IRISH!