STANFORD, CA – When Notre Dame needed a spark to get going late in the first half, the special teams delivered.
Isaiah Foskey’s blocked punt set up Ian Book’s second of four touchdown passes and No. 15 Notre Dame reached double-digit wins for the third straight season by beating Stanford 45-24 on Saturday.
“It started with the punt block,” coach Brian Kelly said. “From there we got some momentum and started to settle down a bit offensively.”
Book turned the blocked punt into a 6-yard TD pass to Tommy Tremble late in the second quarter and then threw his first of two TD passes to Chase Claypool with 1:20 remaining in the half as the Fighting Irish (10-2, No. 16 CFP) quickly erased a 10-point deficit and snapped a five-game losing streak at Stanford Stadium.
Notre Dame also put together three straight seasons of at least 10 wins for the second time in school history, having previously done it under Lou Holtz from 1991-93.
Book was a big reason why, throwing for 255 yards with a 16-yard TD pass to Tony Jones Jr. in the first quarter.
“He's found a stillness in him that he’s never had before,” Kelly said. “He plays the game differently now. His calmness is really about his confidence now and what he can do.”
Davis Mills threw two TD passes for the Cardinal (4-8), who have lost four straight for the first time since 2007. Stanford also finished with its first losing record since 2008, ending a streak of 10 straight bowl bids.
“At the end of the day it was on us and we weren’t up to the task,” senior linebacker Casey Toohill said. “There were a lot things in our own play that weren’t right and have to get corrected.”
Despite having nothing to play for, the Cardinal started fast and led 17-7 when Mills got stopped just short of a first down on a third-down run with about five minutes left in the half.
Foskey then blocked the punt from Ryan Sanburn, giving the Irish the ball at the Stanford 1. Three plays later, that turned into a TD.
“It was definitely a game changer,” defensive lineman Adetokunbo Ogundeji said. “Special teams was big for us this whole game. ... Special teams definitely got a spark for us the first half.”
Book then capped a three-play, 76-yard drive with a 41-yard strike to Claypool with 1:20 left in the half to give the Irish the lead for good.
Book had a 26-yard scramble on fourth-and-2 to set up an 8-yard TD pass to Claypool that made it 28-17 in the third quarter, putting the Irish in control.
Notre Dame: The Irish responded from a lopsided loss to Michigan in late October to win their final five games of the regular season. Book has been especially sharp late in the season with 12 TD passes and no interceptions in the final three contests. His 33 TD passes on the season are second in school history to Brady Quinn's 37 in 2006.
Stanford: The Cardinal scored on three of their first four drives on two TD passes by Mills and a short field goal after Tucker Fisk committed a false start on fourth-and-goal from the 1. Stanford then had seven punts and a fumble the next eight possessions before getting a late TD run from Cameron Scarlett. It was a fitting end to a disappointing season as the Cardinal posted their worst record since also going 4-8 in coach Jim Harbaugh's first season on The Farm in 2007.
For the second straight week, an opponent celebrated a rivalry game win at Stanford Stadium. California ended a nine-game losing streak in the Big Game last week and Notre Dame won here for the first time since 2007 on Saturday.
“I plan on celebrating on a lot of other people’s fields next year,” coach David Shaw said.
Notre Dame: Bowl game to be determined