Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees proved again he can effectively step into a game and produce a victory again Saturday.
This time, though, Rees' appearance in the No. 7 Irish's 20-13 overtime victory over No. 17 Stanford came under very different circumstances from the first two games the junior had to replace sophomore Everett Golson this season.
Rees entered Saturday's game with 3:27 to play after Golson was sidelined by a helmet-to-helmet hit and the Irish trailing the Cardinal 13-10.
Rees completed the 12-play, 79-yard drive by getting the Irish to Stanford's 5 to set up Kyle Brindza's 22-yard field goal with 20 seconds left that tied the game at 13.
Rees, who completed one pass for 11 yards during the final drive of regulation, then came through with three straight completions in overtime after being sacked for a 7-yard loss on the first play.
Rees' final pass was a 7-yard strike to TJ Jones for the game-winning touchdown.
"Tommy is always locked in and taking notes from where he's standing so that when he gets his opportunity, he can go in there and help our team win just like he did today," linebacker Manti Te'o said.
Rees had to help because of an injury on Saturday.
Golson was suffering from blurred vision after taking a helmet-to-helmet, coach Brian Kelly said. It was different from when Rees stepped in to run the 2-minute offense against Purdue because he is more experienced or when he came in against Michigan after Golson threw two interceptions.
In fact, Kelly praised Golson for getting himself righted after he lost of fumble in the end zone that led to Stanford's lone touchdown against Notre Dame.
"What I was really proud of, Everett hit a point there where his dauber was down a little bit; his confidence was a bit shaken, and he came back with a great drive and did some really good things," Kelly said. "I was really proud of the way overcame a little bit of adversity during the game. Whereas, when he had had that situation against Michigan, you know, we really had to move in another direction.
"He fought through that, and he made a big step today. He made some plays; he helped us win this football game."
Golson led Notre Dame 61 yards on 11 plays after losing the end zone fumble. The drive ended with a snap going over holder Ben Turk's head on a field goal attempt, but the sophomore's resolve after a tough start against Stanford stood out.
"He never gets down," said tight end Tyler Eifert, a Bishop Dwenger grad who caught a 24-yard touchdown from Golson at the start of the fourth quarter. "He's always on the sideline trying to get the guys to stay positive and keep their heads up. He's not going to get down on himself after a bad drive or anything like that. He will get right back up and be ready to go."
Ready for Stanford
Notre Dame's three-game losing streak to Stanford and the way the Cardinal pushed the Irish around the last couple years, made Saturday's victory that much sweeter for the players.
"This is a game at the beginning of the year that everybody circled," left tackle Zack Martin said. "The last two years, they've had our number and handled us. We wanted to make a point to show that we were that physical team, that we can play physical like they have, and I think we came in and showed it to them."
While winning a game that the players identified as a measuring stick is big, Martin also said the Irish are ready to meet the next challenge.
"It's a huge win, 6-0. All the credit to Stanford, they are a great team, and we beat a good team," Martin said. "We feeling good at 6-0, but it comes down to week by week, we have a good BYU team coming next week."
Notre Dame's defense came up huge again against Stanford.
Cornerback Bennett Jackson had his third interception of the season, safety Matthias Farley returned his first career interception 49 yards to set up the Irish's first field goal and for a fourth game in a row, the defense didn't give up a touchdown.
But nothing was bigger than when Notre Dame stopped Stanford running back Stepfon Taylor twice from the 1-yard line in overtime to seal the win.
Taylor's last attempt had to be reviewed before Notre Dame was declared the winner, and Farley said that stand showed what the defense is all about.
"I felt the whole game had been a battle," Farley said. "They threw some shots, and we threw some shots. It's just we had the will, and as a unit, we weren't going to let anybody by us. I think that tight-knit bound showed on that last drive."
Te'o will peek
Te'o is willing to take a quick look at the BCS poll when the first one is released Sunday night.
But the senior won't spend a lot of time thinking about where the Irish are in the poll as long as they are moving in the right direction.
"Will I look at it?" Te'o said when asked about if he is interested in Sunday's standings. "I want to see where we are going and where we're heading and I think we'll just take a glance and see how far we've come and then go from there and focus on BYU.
"As long as we are getting close to No. 1 that is all I care about."