Are undefeated Irish lucky or good?

Published Oct. 14, 2012 6:38 a.m. ET

Notre Dame had already stopped him once at the goal line. And the Irish knew Stanford would power the ball in Stepfan Taylor’s hands again. Everyone knew.

For Notre Dame, one more stop and it would be over. Simple as that.

“I love you guys,’’ Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o said in the huddle, in the emotion of a game-ending, goal-line stand. “No matter what happens, everybody stick together.’’

What happened? Notre Dame stopped Taylor again, and the Irish won 20-13 in overtime. After so many years, they’re in the national title picture again, now 6-0 and about to move to No. 5 in the rankings.

And ... what’s that? Some of you don’t want the story told that way? You think the replay showed that Taylor actually did get into the end zone, and the officials blew the call? You think that the second half of the fourth quarter, and into the overtime, was filled with officiating that only the NFL replacement refs could love?

All of it suspiciously in favor of Notre Dame?

Oh, I agree with all of that, too. College sports has too much to gain by Notre Dame being great again, and NBC has so much invested in it. Bad calls mysteriously fall their way. All the breaks. And it’s a little tough to believe that it’s some sort of mystical magic of Touchdown Jesus or the football gods.


So there are two ways to tell this story, two ways that people want to hear it: 1) Notre Dame is special or 2) Stanford got screwed by the forces that want Notre Dame to win.

Which one is it? I’m going with both. Notre Dame’s defense, anyway, is special. The offense, and lack of quarterback, will keep it from winning a championship. But this defense is something to see.

Meanwhile, there was no way to ignore all of those bad calls, stacked one on top of another at the most crucial moments of the game. At one point, Stanford was on the Notre Dame 48-yard line. The Cardinal threw a completed pass, but replay officials ruled that it was incomplete.

So officials put the ball back ... on the Stanford 48. Yes, the Stanford 48. Four yards behind where it was supposed to be. So I asked Stanford coach David Shaw if he noticed the bad spot.

“I did notice that, yes,’’ he said.

Did you say anything to the officials at the time?

“I did, but I can’t make them ... I mean, and they put the ball on the wrong hash. There’s nothing else I can do about it.’’

What about the time on Notre Dame’s final drive in regulation, the game-tying drive, when your player, Usua Amanam, was called for going helmet-to-helmet on Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson? Amanam didn’t actually do that, but instead hit his arm against Golson’s helmet in the normal course of making a tackle. And the 15-yard penalty pulled the Irish out of a jam, helping them to continue the drive and tie the game.

“No comment.’’

Shaw also said that in the fourth quarter, Stanford was on the Notre Dame 3, third down, when someone blew a whistle in the stands. It led
to his players thinking officials had stopped the play. So they stopped playing, and Notre Dame made a tackle for a 7-yard loss. Stanford had to settle for a field goal.

“The guys looked up. They tackled our running back. Guys on our sideline heard it. The players on the field heard it.

“I guarantee you one of the officials heard it. And I got it verified from two people who work in the stadium who say that’s happened repeatedly here.’’

In fact, three weeks ago, in the Michigan-Notre Dame game, officials stopped a play and played the down over because some fan blew a whistle.

This is exactly what some people find galling about Notre Dame. All the breaks. The thing is, some of those breaks are suspicious. But a lot of them come because Notre Dame is good, too.

Losers don’t get the breaks. Winners do. Cubs fans, for example, know that something bad is going to happen. For the past few years, when Notre Dame wasn’t good, the Irish did not, actually, get the breaks and the luck.

That final goal-line stand Saturday was impressive, even if it did include luck. Stanford is a powerhouse running team, and had first and goal on the 4. Notre Dame had to be good enough to keep stuffing that team at the goal line. It made great plays, tough plays, gutsy plays just to get in position to have Taylor’s questionable call.

To me, Notre Dame lovers should see this game and know they are lucky.

At the same time, Notre Dame haters should see it and know the Irish are good.

Mike Pereira, the NFL’s former VP of officiating, and current rules analyst for Fox Sports, wrote that on his review:

-- Taylor did get into the end zone at the end: “I’ve looked at the play from every angle, and I think the call should have been reversed to a touchdown.''

-- Stanford should not have been called for roughing the quarterback earlier in the quarter: “I have the luxury of watching it in slow motion ... Golson is being tackled and is almost to the ground when hit by Amanam with his upper arm, not his shoulder or his helmet. Golson was a runner at this point and he isn’t deemed defenseless unless, as the rule states, he is already on the ground.’’

You can call it sour grapes from Shaw, though he was trying, trying not to complain about the officials so much as explain that he would like clarification. Why wouldn’t he be upset?

Stanford was robbed. But at the same time, Notre Dame’s defense hasn’t given up a touchdown in four games. And Stanford had scored 54 points
last week, yet its defense scored its only touchdown Saturday (not counting the one it should have had in overtime).

“They (the Irish) know they are a good football team, more than anything else,’’ Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “They feel they earned the win today. They came from behind, right?

“They didn’t luck into it. But they won that game. I would rather have them believe that each and every week: If they prepare, they can beat any opponent.’’

When you believe it, you make it happen. Even if it does come with a little help.