Blue and Gold Illustrated

February 2020

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 27 of 47

28 FEBRUARY 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED Top Five Wins There was no colossal "one for the ages" victory this decade for the Fighting Irish — and hasn't been since defeating No. 1 Florida State on Nov. 13, 1993. However, we believe these wins were the most impactful when combining surprise with value against a quality foe. And there was one in hindsight that turned out more remarkable than perceived at the time. 1. Oklahoma, 2012 Although the 7-0 Irish were ranked No. 5 and the 7-1 Sooners No. 8, Notre Dame was a 10.5-point underdog because it had a recent history of collapse in night games against ranked opposition on the road. Plus, Oklahoma was 79-4 at home under head coach Bob Stoops. The score was knotted at 13 in the fourth quarter before 17 straight Fighting Irish points resulted in a surprising 30-13 triumph — and a sudden realization nationally that Notre Dame was rising from the dead again after a school-record five straight seasons with at least five losses from 2007-11 (32-31 overall). A month later, Notre Dame elevated to No. 1 in the AP poll for the first time in 19 years. 2. Stanford, 2012 Two weeks before the showdown in Norman, the Irish had to battle the ghosts of a physical Stanford outfit that had defeated Notre Dame three straight times and had an odor of having their number. A late Irish rally led by backup quarterback Tommy Rees put the game into overtime, and a dramatic goal-line stand preserved a 20-13 conquest over the No. 17 Cardinal. By earning the victory, a feeling enveloped the Irish unit that they could vanquish everyone else on the slate. Stanford finished the season ranked No. 7 with a 12-2 mark after winning the Rose Bowl for the first time in 41 years. 3. Michigan, 2018 Our feeling was that if Notre Dame could win this opener at home while rebuilding on offense, it could run the regular-season table. Indeed, the Irish quickly raced to a 21-3 lead and held on at the end for a 24-17 tri- umph against a Wolverines team that would start the year 10-1. And yes, it propelled a second 12-0 regular season in seven years to earn Notre Dame its first invite to the four-team College Football Playoff. 4. USC, 2017 An evening where just about everything went right during a 49-14 slaughter of a Trojans outfit led by quarterback Sam Darnold that won the Pac-12 — and might have snuck into the CFP had it not been for this game. It was the first of three straight defeats of the Irish archrival, which hadn't occurred since 1999-2001, and part of a 7-3 record this decade against USC. 5. Michigan State, 2013 Maybe the most impressive "hindsight victory" in school history. At the time on Sept. 21, the Spartans were unranked, and the No. 22 Fighting Irish rallied in the fourth quarter for an old-school 17-13 victory. When the college football dust cleared four months later, it was the lone defeat for 13-1 Michigan State, which won the Rose Bowl and finished No. 3 in the country. Not since 1993, when Florida State finished No. 1, had Notre Dame defeated an opponent that finished that high in the AP poll. Overall, Notre Dame was 2-12 from 2010-18 against opponents that finished in the AP top 10, with the victories coming against Stanford in 2012 and Michigan State in 2013 (Georgia this year could make the total 2-13). Honorable mention: Although USC finished only 7-6 in 2012 and 5-7 in 2018, we would be remiss not to include the 22-13 Irish triumph in 2012 and the 24-17 conquest in 2018. Both were at the Los Angeles Coliseum — a past House of Horrors for the Irish — and both clinched an opportunity for the Irish to compete for the national title after finishing the regular season 12-0. The former put them in the 2013 BCS National Championship Game versus Alabama, and the latter in the four-team CFP against Clemson. Notre Dame was outscored 72-17 in those two outings, but the opportunity to be there demonstrated much progress after the worst decade (2000-09) in school history that produced five finishes of 6-6 or less and only one top-10 showing (No. 9 in 2005). Top Five Plays On the 125th anniversary of Notre Dame football in 2012, our Football Preview that year featured a countdown of the 50 most famous and impactful plays in the program's history. At least a few of these five from 2010-19 could make the cut some day. 1. Hail Mary In Hoos-ville — Virginia (2015) Following a phenomenal season-opening performance in a 38-3 victory over Texas, Irish quarterback Malik Zaire suffered a season-ending injury the next week in the second half at Virginia. Without him, the Irish went from a 26-14 lead to falling behind 27-26 with 1:54 left. Sophomore quarterback DeShone Kizer and the offense had a final chance at victory when they took possession at their 20-yard line. Kizer kept the drive alive with a scramble for a four-yard gain on fourth-and-two. Later, on second-and-nine from the Virginia 39-yard line, Kizer scrambled around in the pocket before selling the farm, launching a pass 50 yards in the air that speedy junior wide receiver Will Fuller caught over his shoulder near the goal line and scored with 12 seconds remaining. That dramatic victory made possible a 10-1 start and a chance at the College Football Playoff entering the final regular-season contest. 2. Making The Stand — Stanford (2012) After rallying in the closing seconds to send the game into overtime, the 5-0 and No. 7 Irish tallied first on a seven-yard pass from quarterback Tommy Rees to wideout TJ Jones to take a 20-13 edge. On its turn, Stanford drove to a first-and-goal at the Notre Dame 4-yard line, and sent running back Stefan Taylor into the line for gains of one and two yards on the first two plays, and one foot on the third. On fourth-and-goal, the Irish defense converged around Taylor again, stopping him short of the goal line as the whistle blew … but several minutes needed to be taken by the officials to review the play. When it was announced the call stood, elation overtook Notre

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