Pretty much everything you needed to know about the 2009 Notre Dame season could be learned by watching the 45-38 loss to Stanford.
The Irish offense compiled gaudy stats and pulled off some gorgeous big plays. Charlie Weis dipped into the bag of tricks for a few of those, including the coolest third-quarter sequence: Robert Hughes took the snap from the Wildcat and handed off to Golden Tate, who pitched to Jimmy Clausen, who had been lined up at receiver. Clausen then threw a touchdown to a wide open Michael Floyd.
You score 38 points on the road, and you should win. But, as the story has been so many times under Weis, the offense couldn't overcome a terrible defense.
The Irish actually played fairly well defensively in the first half, but they got worn down by Toby Gerhart and the Stanford running game in the second half. Gerhart had over 200 yards and three touchdowns to make his Heisman case, but the Notre Dame defense makes a lot of players look like superstars. And so an 11-point third-quarter lead turned into yet another close loss that came down to the final play.
Notre Dame had a shot from the Stanford 31 with seven seconds left, but Clausen's heave to the end zone was knocked away.
The Irish were once 6-2 but lost their final four games, all in dramatic fashion, to finish 6-6 for the second straight regular season. Their best hope now is for a low-level postseason destination like the Little Caesar's Bowl in Detroit. Weis was surely done as coach regardless of this outcome; he merely proved it's the right decision. And it was likely the final regular-season game for Clausen and Tate, who sure looked like first-round draft picks on this night.
Notre Dame may have been the most exciting 6-6 team in college football history. But that's not nearly good enough.