2:30 PM ET, October 9, 2004
Notre Dame Stadium, Notre Dame, IN
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) -- Tyrone Willingham found a way to beat his former Stanford team for a third straight time. This one, though, was nowhere near as easy.
Notre Dame looked as if it was in trouble until a muffed punt by Stanford set up a go-ahead touchdown by Ryan Grant from 3 yards out early in the fourth quarter. The Irish added another score on quarterback Brady Quinn's 2-yard run to beat Stanford 23-15 Saturday for the 800th victory in school history.
"It was a barnburner," Willingham said. "We weren't trying to burn down the barn. It was hard for me because I didn't think we were playing the way I know we can."
Stanford (3-2), which lost to the Irish (4-2) by 24 and 50 points the past two seasons, looked as though it might finally beat its former coach. The Cardinal were leading 15-10 until punter Jay Ottovegio dropped the snap late in the third quarter despite no pressure by the Irish.
"I just dropped it," Ottovegio said. "It was an unfortunate time of the game."
Ottovegio picked the ball up and tried to get the punt off, but was tackled by Jerome Collins just as he released the ball and fanned on the kick. Stanford's David Bergeron recovered the ball on the 27 for Stanford, but the Irish took over on downs.
It marked the second straight year a punt play left fans leaving the game buzzing. In last year's 57-7 victory, the Irish (4-2) ran a fake punt late in the game.
Stanford players said they were motivated by that play as they prepared for Saturday's game.
"It was an insult to our whole program," defensive tackle Julian Jenkins said.
Grant, who missed the past two games and the season-opener against Brigham Young because of an injured left hamstring, also had a 1-yard TD run in the third quarter. Grant finished with 67 yards on 19 carries for Notre Dame.
Willingham said having Grant back was a key for the Irish.
"We said all along that Ryan is not only an excellent player, he's an excellent leader," Willingham said. "When you have him in there it just multiplies your experience."
Darius Walker ran for 82 yards on 20 carries. Notre Dame, held to 76 yards rushing in its loss to Purdue and 11 yards in its loss to Brigham Young, rushed for 149 yards and improved to 4-0 in games when they rush for at least 100 yards.
"I hope we can get out of this week-to-week situation and we can get consistent with our running game because that is critical to our success," Willingham said. "Having a run game allows us to be a better football team, that's the bottom line."
The Cardinal couldn't finish their drives, settling for three field goals by Michael Sgroi, including two on their first two possessions when they drove inside the Notre Dame 10.
"The difference may have been that we couldn't put the ball in the end zone in the first half," receiver Evan Moore said. "Instead of 6-0, it could have been 14-0. ... If we go up 14-0 on the road, it's a whole different ball game."
Despite all their troubles, Stanford had a chance to tie it from the 39-yard line on the last play of the game. But Notre Dame knocked down the pass by Trent Edwards into the end zone to hold on.
Notre Dame became just the second Division I-A team to win 800 games. Michigan has 838 victories following its win over Minnesota.
Quinn was 11-of-24 passing for 173 yards. Quinn didn't play the final series because he was shaken up on the touchdown run. Edwards was 17-of-38 passing for 267 yards for the Cardinal.
Stanford players said they felt they had lost the game more than Notre Dame won it.
"It's like having a mouse in your trap and you let him out for a little bit and he escapes," Jenkins said.