Stanford ripped a page out of the Titanic-era playbook to help Notre Dame advance another precious step on what is suddenly becoming an improbable national title run.
Football games a century ago were brutish struggles with heavy emphasis on gouging and grunting.
Innovation was left to guys like Thomas Edison.
In 1913, however, Notre Dame exploited something called “the forward pass” to upset Army. The pass-catch combo was Gus Dorais to Knute Rockne.
The concept evolved steadily through the years — much to Alabama Coach Nick Saban’s consternation — until coming to a dead stop Saturday in South Bend.
Notre Dame sealed a 20-13 overtime win in part because Stanford insisted on bludgeoning into an Irish defensive front that has not allowed a rushing touchdown all season.
It still hasn’t.
You can argue whether Stanford actually scored on second or fourth down. If these officials can’t get crucial plays correct maybe they should replace the NFL refs next time they are involved in a labor dispute.
One thing you can’t argue is that Stanford bears little resemblance to the organic place where Bill Walsh’s incubator once hatched hitch plays.
Notre Dame improved to 6-0 and Stanford fell to 4-2 because the Cardinal kept trying to shove a Volkswagen through a keyhole.
Jim Harbaugh brought the kind of toughness Stanford was still trying to display inside Notre Dame’s five-yard line.
Except Harbaugh also had bravado and real-time intuitiveness that has been lacking since he left for the San Francisco 49ers.
David Shaw is a good man and a fine coach, yet Stanford fans have a right to wonder what’s going on. In last year’s Fiesta Bowl, quarterback Andrew Luck briskly drove Stanford downfield for what might have been the game-winning touchdown against Oklahoma State.
Instead, Shaw positioned for a game-winning field goal that was missed. Oklahoma State won in overtime.
Stanford turned conservative again last month at Washington and lost a game it should have won.
Down to Notre Dame by a touchdown in overtime, Stanford had first and goal at the Irish four-yard line.
Four times, Stanford ordered running back Stepfan Taylor into the teeth of the nation’s No. 2 scoring defense.
Was anyone surprised?
Certainly Notre Dame Coach Brian Kelly was not. “That’s what Stanford does,” he said.
Fighting Irish linebacker Manti Te’o told everyone to meet him — four times — for a giant gang tackle at the line of scrimmage.
“We knew that they were going to run the ball,” he said. “We knew that basically No. 33 [Taylor] was going to have the ball, so everyone knew their jobs.”
Maybe Taylor scored and maybe he did not — but this was an argument that could have been easily sidestepped.
Stanford’s brawny brains certainly knew about Notre Dame’s defensive prowess but elected to ignore.
The Cardinal could have gone all “Aunt Bea” crazy and run a play-action pass to one of two of the best tight ends in the Pac-12.
It could have rolled quarterback Josh Nunes on a bootleg. Or even, Google forbid, suggest Taylor run six inches outside the tackle box.
That’s not what Stanford does … or did.
“They are stout up front and we did a decent job of running and blocking most of the game,” Shaw said of Notre Dame’s defensive wall.
Too bad games don’t end at “most.”
Only hours before the first release of Sunday’s Bowl Championship Series standings, Notre Dame survived. The Fighting Irish remain in the boiler room of the early title chase, but are well aware trips to Oklahoma and USC lurk at the back end.
Kelly is in his third year at South Bend. Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine and Lou Holtz all won national titles in their third seasons.
Other teams in the top 10 also fretted and sweated.
No. 6 Kansas State survived a scare at Iowa State and No. 4 Florida struggled at Vanderbilt, but won. No. 5 West Virginia was shocked, 49-14, at Texas Tech.
“Who would have ever thought,” Texas Tech Coach Tommy Tuberville said, “that the game would have been pretty much put away going into the fourth quarter.”
Nobody in the contiguous United States, certainly, would have fathomed such a thing.
There was a Heisman-worthy performance in Lubbock, but it was by Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege, who threw for 504 yards and six touchdowns.
West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith, who entered the game as the Heisman front-runner by 100 miles, completed only 29 of 55 passes for 275 yards and one touchdown. He now has 25 touchdown passes this season with no interceptions, but averaged only 5.4 yards per completion against Texas Tech’s rugged defense.
West Virginia’s title run this year was always going to be compromised by the nation’s No. 102 defense, which was gouged Saturday for 686 yards.
And just to make things really BCS interesting, No. 9 Louisiana State sort of upset No. 3 South Carolina, 23-21, in Baton Rouge. The Tigers, after three consecutive sluggish efforts, scored the must-win they needed to stay in contention.