Stanford beats Notre Dame in Weis’ possible finale
November 30, 2009
STANFORD – Toby Gerhart turned what could be Charlie Weis’ final game as Notre Dame coach into his own Heisman Trophy infomercial.
Gerhart ran for 205 yards and three scores, threw an 18-yard touchdown pass and scored the game-winning touchdown with 59 seconds left to help Stanford hand Weis and the Fighting Irish a fourth straight loss to end the regular season, 45-38 Saturday night.
“There’s a bunch of 22, 23-year-old young men right there finishing out their career losing the last four games,” Weis said in a postgame radio interview. “They feel miserable and I feel miserable for them.”
Weis only conducted a radio interview after the game, declining to take part in the postgame news conference. He did not address his job status, but that should come to a resolution soon.
Weis was set to go back to Indiana with the team instead of going on a recruiting trip as originally planned and will meet soon with athletic director Jack Swarbrick.
“We’ll engage in the evaluation in earnest following this game and we’ll go from there,” Swarbrick said before the game. He declined to comment after the game.
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Weis, who has six years left on his contract, has a 35-27 record in five years as Irish head coach. His .565 winning percentage is worse than the .583 marks that got his two predecessors, Tyrone Willingham and Bob Davie, fired.
While Weis’ future may have already been decided, this signature performance by Gerhart may have been enough to earn him a trip to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist in two weeks.
“He’s made that statement the entire year,” coach Jim Harbaugh said. “He was incredible to watch. He said it all by the way he’s played. He’s been about it and not talked about it. He just kept going at it week after week.”
He threw his touchdown pass to Ryan Whalen on fourth-and-4 to help the Cardinal tie the game early in the fourth quarter. After Stanford (8-4) stopped Robert Hughes on third-and-2 from the Irish 35 with less than 6 minutes left, Gerhart carried seven times for 54 yards on the winning drive, bowling over would-be tacklers before scoring his 26th rushing touchdown of the season.
The fans chanted “To-by! To-by!” throughout the drive that was capped by a 4-yard run that the Irish (6-6) allowed him to score on in order to have time for a possible game-tying drive.
Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate helped move Notre Dame down to the 24 before Chase Thomas sacked Clausen for a 7-yard loss. On the final play, Clausen’s desperation heave into the end zone was batted down by Michael Thomas, giving Stanford its first win against Notre Dame since 2001.
“It’s frustrating,” Clausen said. “It seems like every time we lose a game, we lose it by a touchdown or less. I’m a competitive athlete. It’s just really tough.”
All six losses by the Irish have been by seven points or fewer, with Notre Dame also winning four games by similar margins.
The game could also be the last at Notre Dame for Clausen and Tate, who must decide whether to skip their senior seasons to go into the NFL draft. The Irish also have not decided whether to accept a bowl bid.
Clausen matched a career high with five touchdown passes, completing 23 of 30 for 340 yards. Tate had 10 catches for 201 yards and three scores, while Michael Floyd also caught two touchdown passes.
“Everybody’s a little upset, a little emotional about this game just because it’s our last regular season game with our seniors and everybody who’s leaving,” Tate said.
Weis opened up the playbook in what could have been his goodbye game. The play of the game for the Irish came early in the third quarter when they lined up in the Leprecat formation. Hughes took the direct snap out of the shotgun and handed to Tate on an end-around. Tate flipped it to Clausen, who was lined up as a receiver to start the play, and Clausen then found a wide open Floyd for a 46-yard touchdown.
Tate added his own highlight reel play early in the fourth quarter catching a short pass from Clausen at the 19 with Stanford giving him a huge cushion. Tate then wove his way through nine defenders, running all the way across the field to complete the 28-yard score that made it 38-30. He also scored on a 78-yard catch and a 5-yard catch, setting the school record for career receiving yards at 2,707 yards.
Harbaugh had a few of his own tricks as well, calling the fourth-down halfback option. That could have been Gerhart’s so-called Heisman moment in a season in which he set a Pac-10 record with 26 touchdowns and leads the nation with 1,736 yards rushing.
“We practice that once a week,” Gerhart said. “I threw up a prayer and he made a great play. In practice those plays are wide open.”
Andrew Luck’s pass to Jim Dray for the 2-point conversion tied the game at 38 with 8:59 to go.