A bad break on Stanford's first drive and a bad turnover left Notre Dame in a 10-3 hole after the first quarter.
Stanford went 79 yards on 10 plays in its first drive that was assisted by an odd spot.
The Cardinal caught a big break on the third play of the drive. Facing third-and-1, fullback Owen Marecic looked like he was stopped well behind the line of scrimmage.
But the officials spotted the ball two yards forward at Stanford's 31. Coach Brian Kelly tried to challenge the spot, but the play wasn't overturned costing the Irish a timeout and their lone challenge.
Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck hit tight end Kyle Reuland for a 16-yard touchdown to end the drive and erase a 3-0 deficit.
Reuland was able to get behind linebacker Brian Smith and made a nice adjustment to pull in the scoring reception and give the Cardinal a 7-3 lead with 3:37 to play in the first.
Notre Dame's defense did the best it could after the offense gave the ball right back to Stanford after the touchdown.
Irish quarterback Dayne Crist fumbled the ball on the first play of the drive when he was hit by Shayne Skov and the Cardinal's Chase Thomas recovered the ball on Notre Dame's 15.
The defense held Stanford to a 24-yard field goal after cornerback Darrin Walls deflected a pass in the end zone on a third-and-1 play. The field goal gave the Cardinal a 10-3 lead with 2:08 to play in the first half.
Notre Dame caught a break after its first drive stalled on Stanford's 43-yard line.
Stanford muffed the punt, giving the ball back to the Irish on the 22.
Notre Dame broke out its wildcat package with running back Armando Allen taking the snaps and sharing the backfield with slot receiver Theo Riddick.
But the Irish were only able to get the ball to the 5-yard line and settled for a 22-yard field goal from David Ruffer for a 3-0 lead with 8:11 to play in the first quarter.
Ruffer has now made all 11 field goals he has attempted.