Andrew Luck set the school record for the most career touchdown passes and eclipsed his own single-season mark, throwing for 233 yards and four scores to lead fourth-ranked Stanford past No. 22 Notre Dame 28-14 in his home finale Saturday night. Â Luck topped John Elway’s record of 77 touchdown passes and helped the Cardinal (11-1) build a 21-0 halftime lead. He has thrown for 80 touchdowns in three years – while it took Elway all four – and 35 this season. Â Read more after the jump.
“There’s no player in America like Andrew Luck,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “Forget about the stats. Forget about the comparisons of other guys. It doesn’t matter.”
Luck of the Irish? Forget it.
Luck is on Stanford’s side.
The victory likely vaulted the Cardinal into consideration for an at-large BCS bowl bid for the second straight year – with the Fiesta Bowl among the leading possible destinations – but they will not play for a major championship this season. The lone loss to Oregon put the Ducks in the Pac-12 title game out of the North Division and crushed Stanford’s dreams of a national title.
“I think one loss, that’s great,” said Luck, who turned down a chance to be the NFL draft’s top pick this year. “We’ve been on a 23-2 run for a while, I think it’s pretty impressive. We put ourselves in position to be in a good bowl game, and that’s what we wanted to do.”
Notre Dame’s stumbled at the finish line again.
Tommy Rees threw an interception, lost a fumble and took a bruising blow to the ribs for Notre Dame (8-4) before getting benched. Andrew Hendrix threw for 192 yards and a touchdown and ran for another score in a second-half rally for the Fighting Irish that came up short.
Keeping Stanford close gave the Irish little satisfaction.
“We didn’t come here for second prize,” said Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, who would not name a starting quarterback for the bowl game. “We got off to a slow start and battled against it. To me, the scoreboard showed 28-14 and that’s not good enough. The slow start put us in a tough position.”
Stanford coach David Shaw shined the spotlight on his program and his quarterback’s Heisman Trophy campaign with a calculated rip of the “flawed” BCS system this week. The Cardinal’s play matched his words for 30 minutes.
A sloppy second half almost took everything else Stanford had worked for this season.
Kelly benched Rees in favor of Hendrix to start the third quarter, and the move pumped some life into a stagnant Irish offense. Notre Dame took advantage of pass interference and roughing the passer penalties for its first score.
Hendrix threw a 6-yard TD to Michael Floyd to slice Stanford’s lead to 21-7 halfway through the third quarter. Floyd finished with 95 catches on the year, breaking the single-season mark of 93 set by Golden Tate in 2009.
The Irish were driving for another score when Hendrix overthrew a receiver, the ball was tipped and intercepted by Michael Thomas. When Notre Dame regained possession, Hendrix was sacked by A.J. Tarpley for a 13-yard loss that sent another drive tumbling.
“Consistency is the one thing I have struggled with the most,” said Hendrix, who completed 11 of 24 passes.
Only room for one quarterback to steal the show.
Luck quickly connected with Coby Fleener for a 55-yard TD pass to extend Stanford’s lead to 28-7 with 5:40 remaining to put the game out of reach. Fleener also caught a 28-yard TD in the first half that gave Luck every major school touchdown record.
Stanford’s Senior Day belonged to the redshirt junior.
Luck lobbed a fade to the short corner of the end zone to complete a 3-yard score to Levine Toilolo, giving Stanford a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. Even he had to hold back a smile running to the sideline to a swarm of well-wishes from teammates for the records-tying toss.
But Luck lost his rhythm when a back-side blitzer closed the pocket, and he tossed a short pass that Darius Fleming intercepted and returned 35 yards. Notre Dame took over at the Stanford 10 after a 15-yard penalty on Fleener for a horse collar.
Stanford stifled the Irish on consecutive plays and forced a 20-yard field goal that David Ruffer missed wide right.
Luck followed with a 28-yard TD pass to Fleener. The tight end dragged cornerback Robert Blanton the final 10 yards into the end zone, sealing Luck’s marks in the school record book.
“I think it’s something I’ll be able to tell my kids and grandkids when I’m watching Andrew on TV someday,” Fleener said. “He’s got my Heisman vote.”