SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame prevailed in its biggest challenge of the season Saturday.
The No. 7 Irish played from behind for the first time this year, mounted two comebacks and punched out No. 17 Stanford with a goal-line stand for the ages in a 20-13 overtime victory.
Notre Dame (6-0) will find out how much it earned with its third win over a Top-25 team when the seasons first BCS poll is released tonight.
The victory over Stanford (4-2), coupled with the Irishs wins over Michigan State, which was ranked No. 10, and Michigan, which was ranked No. 18, could put Notre Dame in the top five of the BCS poll.
Weve beaten some really good teams, and if we can just keep playing well and our defense keeps playing the way they are, we can go as far as we want, said Irish tight end Tyler Eifert, a Bishop Dwenger graduate.
Notre Dames defense didnt give up a touchdown for a fourth straight game Saturday. Stanford scored its only touchdown by recovering quarterback Everett Golsons fumble in the end zone.
The Irish defense held the Cardinal to 13 first downs, gave up only six points on two field goals, got a blocked field goal from defensive end Stephon Tuitt, got interceptions from cornerback Bennett Jackson and safety Matthias Farley and they stopped running back Stepfan Taylor from the 1-yard line twice in overtime to seal the win.
I think for our defense, we have the mentality, like I said, that you can put the ball down wherever, doesnt matter, we are used to it, linebacker Manti Teo said.
The Irish will also try to make sure the buzz around the program continues to not matter as they prepare each week for the next game, starting with Saturdays home game against BYU.
Notre Dame has effectively blocked out the hype around its first 6-0 start since 2002, and the Irish were able to deal with the invasion of ESPNs College GameDay to campus for their showdown with the Cardinal.
Coach Brian Kelly said he will continue to preach to his team that they have to earn everything, that the Irish are not a team of destiny and only hard work will keep them on the path that started with a 50-10 thrashing of Navy in the opener and led them to being undefeated midway through the season.
We are halfway through the season, and six weeks left with this group, I think they leave here knowing that they can win if they stick with the plan, Kelly said. They earned the win (Saturday). They came from behind, right. They didnt luck into it. They won in overtime. I think if they lucked into it, you know, maybe a fumble on the goal line or something happened, maybe you could make that case (of being a team of destiny).
But they won that game. They earned that win. And so I think I would rather have them believe that each and every week, if they prepare, that they can beat any opponent.