- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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Fans love a good shootout, and Saturday afternoon Stanford and Arizona gave fans a game they'll be talking about for a longtime. Coaches, however, aren't as keen on the high-scoring nail biters.
"Awful, awful, awful," said Stanford coach David Shaw when prompted to describe his emotions during the Cardinal's 54-48 overtime victory. "Same for coaches' wives. But I told the team, this was the kind of game we needed. We needed a fight. We needed a battle. We needed to be into the fourth quarter and be down and fight back to test our character. We believe we have that kind of character to be able to fight back to the end, even when we are down. But it's great when you are tested and you respond to that challenge and we did that [Saturday]."
Shaw & Co. might have to get used to the tight ones. Unlike last year, when the Cardinal enjoyed -- on average -- a 32-point margin of victory, this year's squad seems more prone to white knuckles. Three of Stanford's four victories have come by a touchdown or less and their only loss was by four points.
Cardiac Cardinal. Has a nice, if not disconcerting, ring to it.
The stakes are raised Saturday when the No. 17 Cardinal travel to South Bend to face No. 7 Notre Dame. This is the second-straight year that both teams meet ranked in the top 25 and just the third time in the history of the nonconference rivalry that each team is ranked at kickoff. Last year, No. 4 Stanford beat No. 22 Notre Dame 28-14 in Palo Alto. And in 1992, No. 19 Stanford topped the No. 7 Irish in South Bend 33-16. The Cardinal have won the last three matchups.
The Irish, meanwhile, are off to their best start since 2002, having already taken down a pair of ranked teams from the state of Michigan.
Looking forward, Saturday's win was both a blessing and an omen for the Cardinal. On one hand, they showed some offensive grit with a fourth-quarter comeback to force overtime and the win. It was exactly the type of explosion Shaw needed to see after a bad offensive outing the previous week in Seattle.
But in the process, the defense looked leaky, allowing the Wildcats 617 yards. The good news, though, is that when a stop was needed, a stop was made.
"It's huge [for our confidence]," said Stanford linebacker Chase Thomas, who had the critical interception in overtime that stopped Arizona's march and led to Stanford's game-winner. "It shows that we can face adversity and overcome it and have that 16-round knockout fight. It really shows we're a high-character team with a never-give-up, never-quit mentality. Not many teams can say that."
Saturday's win may have altered the entire trajectory of Stanford's season. A 4-1 record, naturally, looks and feels better than 3-2. But with this week's game at Notre Dame and then The Big Game on Oct. 20 against a down-but-not-out Cal team, a loss would have been seen as a significant step backwards for a program that still hopes to contend for the Pac-12 North.
Quarterback Josh Nunes and running back Stepfan Taylor also got back on track after rough games against Washington. Taylor rushed for 142 yards and two scores while Nunes accounted for five touchdowns, three on the ground and two in the air, on 21 of 34 passing for 360 yards and no interceptions.
"It's not what we learned [about Nunes], I think other people learned," Shaw said. "He's a tough kid. He bounces back. He doesn't listen to the noise. He's steady."