SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Nothing seemed to be going right for Stanford until cornerback Quenton Meeks changed the momentum when he intercepted a pass by Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer and returned it 50 yards for a touchdown.
Wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside recovered a fumble in the end zone after Bryce Love fumbled on the goal line to cap the comeback in a 17-10 victory Saturday night as Stanford rallied back from a 10-point deficit.
Stanford coach David Shaw said the interception by Meeks was key.
“Quenton Meeks is a ball hawk. We saw that last year,” Shaw said. “He’s got great instincts on top of his physical tools. He’s long, he’s physical, he’s smart, and he’s got a feel for the ball.”
The Irish defense, which had forced three previous turnovers in their own territory, had a chance to recover the fumble but linebacker Nyles Morgan tried to scoop up the ball. When he failed to pick it up, Arcega-White recovered it. Stanford, playing without injured Christian McCaffrey, added a 2-point conversion on a pitch to Love, who ran in untouched.
Shaw said the Cardinal never stopped fighting.
“For us, the second-half mantra that we continued to say was keep playing hard, good things happen. Just keep playing hard. Don’t worry about the last play, don’t worry about the mistake you just made, just keep playing hard, and we started to feel it on the sidelines,” Stanford coach David Shaw said.
It was the opposite for the Irish, who couldn’t do much right in the second half.
“We made some mistakes and we couldn’t get the momentum back,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said.
Stanford (4-2), which started the season ranked No. 8, averted losing three straight for the first time since 2007. The Irish (2-5) ranked No. 10 in the preseason, lost a third straight home game for the first time since 2007.
Notre Dame had a chance to tie it in the closing seconds. But DeShone Kizer couldn’t get a pass off on fourth-and-10 from the 14. He was about to be sacked and he appeared to try to pitch the ball to left guard Quenton Nelson, but the officials ruled it a fumble and blew the ball dead. It was the fourth time this season where the Irish had a chance to tie or win the game on the final possession and couldn’t do it.
Shaw said the play of the defense was key.
Meeks, who missed the previous two games with an injury, picked off Kizer on the first possession of the second half to cut the score to 10-7. “Once the ball was in the air, I felt it was mine,” he said. “I just didn’t regard him (the receiver) and just went and got the ball, and my next thought was the end zone.”
Malik Zaire replaced Kizer for three possessions but couldn’t get anything going and the Irish gave up a safety when a snap from center Sam Mustipher, who had three bad snaps in the hurricane last week against North Carolina State, snapped the ball through the end zone.
Kelly said Kizer wasn’t injured, he was just looking for a spark.
“I just felt like it was important to try to get some energy back,” he said. “I thought going to Malik would do that.”
Stanford: The Cardinal, who had one offensive touchdown in each of their last three games, continued to struggle offensively but came up with the big play when it needed it. Stanford drove 47 yards on 12 plays on its opening possession, but Conrad Ukropina’s 45-yard field goal attempt bounced off the upright.
Notre Dame: The Irish defense, which had given up at least 30 points to the first four Power 5 opponents it faced this season, held an opponent to 17 points or less for a second week.
Shaw said McCaffrey wasn’t close to be ready to play. “Now, there’s a good shot next week. There’s a chance next week. Just couldn’t go today,” Shaw said.
Kelly became annoyed at something a Stanford strength coach said to him after the game. Asked what he said, Kelly said: “Bye-bye.” Asked if that was all, Kelly said: “Yeah, bye-bye.”
Stanford: The Cardinal return to Pac-12 play with a home game against Colorado next Saturday, a team it has beaten five straight times.
Notre Dame: The Irish get the week off before hosting No. 16 Miami on Oct. 29.