As the controversy over the final play in Stanford's 20-13 overtime loss to unbeaten No. 7 Notre Dame continued, one disturbing fact remained: Stanford has yet to score an offensive touchdown on the road this season.
The Cardinal's offensive struggles were not entirely unexpected against a Notre Dame team that came into the Oct. 13 game ranked second in the country in scoring defense.
But the inability of Stanford's offense to put the ball into the end zone on the road has to be a concern, especially with the Cardinal (4-2) playing four of its final six regular-season games on the road, starting with its Oct. 20 game at traditional rival Cal.
Stanford's defense has outscored its offense in both its road games this season. The Cardinal defense scored on an interception return against Washington in a 17-13 loss in Seattle, and it scored on a fumble recovery in the end zone after sacking Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson in the loss to the Irish in South Bend, Ind.
Those are the only two touchdowns scored by the Cardinal on the road. The Cardinal defense was outstanding in both those games, but Stanford's offense gave the opposing offense too many opportunities both times.
With virtually no margin for error in a tight, low-scoring game, a handful of game-turning plays by the opponent's offense doomed Stanford.
Ultimately Stanford lost when Stepfan Taylor's determined, twisting run on fourth down from the one-yard line in overtime was not ruled a touchdown. After a review, the call was allowed to stand, although it was close enough to elicit debate about whether Taylor got in.
That would have tied the game, assuming the extra point was made.
Mike Pereira, who is an officiating analyst for Foxsports.com and was interim coordinator of Pac-12 officiating last year, said in two tweets reported by ESPN.com that the play should have been ruled a Stanford touchdown.
"We have looked at ND/STA last play from every angle & feel that it is a TD. Progress was not ruled & runner was not down. Ball broke plain (sic)," Pereira said in his first tweet.
In a second tweet, Pereira said, "Back to ND/STA. Piece all the shots together. Field level shot from inside near the goal post shows the left elbow is not down before TD."
But even if Taylor's run had been ruled a touchdown, the Cardinal might not have won the game in a subsequent overtime, and it would not have erased the road struggles of Stanford's offense and quarterback Josh Nunes.
Nunes had been outstanding against Arizona's mediocre defense the previous week at Stanford Stadium, completing 21-of-34 passes for 360 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in a 54-48 overtime victory over the Wildcats.
However, he completed less than half his passes in the previous game on the road against Washington, and he completed less than half his passes in his second road game against Notre Dame, although two of his passes were dropped.
Nunes threw two pivotal interceptions against Notre Dame.
The first came after Stanford had advanced to the Notre Dame 21-yard line, ruining a Cardinal scoring opportunity in the first quarter. The second came later in the first quarter, giving Notre Dame the ball at the Cardinal 16 and setting up a field goal that gave Notre Dame a 3-0 lead.
It appeared Stanford might pull the game out anyway, but Notre Dame drove 79 yards on its final possession of the fourth quarter, with two 15-yard Stanford penalties aiding the Irish before they kicked a game-tying 22-yard field goal with 20 seconds left.
WHAT'S AHEAD: Stanford faces archrival Cal in Berkeley on Oct. 20. This game, which is known as The Big Game, is usually played at or near the end of the season, but the Pac-12 television schedule forced it to be played midway through the year. The Golden Bears have won two straight after their 31-17 victory over Washington State, which is Stanford's opponent on Oct. 27 at Stanford Stadium.
--Entering the 2012 season, Stanford had scored at least one offensive touchdown in every game since 2007. Stanford has gone without an offensive touchdown in two of its first six games this season. Stanford scored at least one offensive touchdown in every game during QB Andrew Luck's three seasons as a starter.
--By stopping Stepfan Taylor on that controversial fourth-down play in overtime, Notre Dame remained the only team in the nation that has not allowed a rushing touchdown this season. This was the fourth straight game that the Irish did not allow the opposing offense to score a touchdown.
--After yielding 45 pass completions and 617 yards of total offense against Arizona's spread option offense, the Cardinal allowed 334 yards against Notre Dame, which scored only 13 points in regulation time. It showed again that the Cardinal defense is awfully good when it plays a traditional, power-based offense, but might struggle against teams that spread the Cardinal out on defense.
--The key plays in Notre Dame's 79-yard drive that led to the game-tying field goal in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter were two 15-yard penalties. There was a personal foul on a late hit that knocked Notre Dame QB Everett Golson out of the game with 3:27 left, and an interference call on Terrence Brown on a third-and-four pass by Golson's replacement, Tommy Rees.
--The officiating crew that made the ruling that Stepfan Taylor did not score on the fourth-down run from the one-yard line in overtime was a Pac-12 crew. The replay official who reviewed the play is from the Big East. It appeared Taylor might have stretched the ball across the goal-line before losing control of the ball. It was close enough that the replay official ruled that the call on the field would stand, but did not confirm that the ruling was correct. In other words, if the ruling on the field had been a touchdown, that ruling probably would have stood, too.
--That was not the only controversial play. On a third-and-two play from the Notre Dame three-yard line with about six minutes left in a 10-10 game, Stepfan Taylor was tackled for a seven-yard loss. Taylor and QB Josh Nunes claimed they stopped right after snap because they heard a whistle, which apparently came from the crowd. Stanford coach David Shaw said he heard that a similar untimely whistle had been heard from the Notre Dame crowd in the past. Instead of touchdown, Stanford settled for a field goal and 13-10 lead.
KEEP AN EYE ON: QB Josh Nunes remains the pivotal player for Stanford, and when he plays well, Stanford wins. In the two games Stanford lost, Nunes completed less than half of his passes each time, and it's no coincidence that both those games were on the road. Four of Stanford's final six regular-season games are away from Stanford Stadium. Nunes won't lose his starting job, but he needs to be more productive on the road.
LOOKING GOOD: Stanford's OLBs Trent Murphy and Chase Thomas continue to produce big plays. The pressure they applied to Notre Dame QB Everett Golson prevented him or the Irish offense from doing much. Murphy had 2 1/2 tackles for losses, including 1 1/2 sacks, and although Thomas did not record any tackles for losses, he was the team's most effective pass-rusher, forcing Golson into several hurried throws.
STILL NEEDS WORK: Stanford's offense failed to score a touchdown against Notre Dame and managed only three points after halftime. Stepfan Taylor rushed for 102 yards, but averaged only 3.6 yards a carry. QB Josh Nunes completed less than half his passes (12-for-25) and threw two damaging interceptions. It's not surprising that Stanford's offense would struggle against Notre Dame's strong defense, but the biggest concern was the Cardinal's inability to score when it had the chance. It scored only once in four chances in the red zone, and that one score was a field goal. Stanford had drives that got as far as the Notre Dame eight-, three- and one-yard-line and failed to score a touchdown on any of them.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Stepfan swore to me that he got it. That he got over the goal line on the second effort. The officials looked at it and said he didn't get in, so he didn't get in." -- Stanford coach David Shaw, on the final play of the game, in which Stepfan Taylor was ruled to be down short of the goal-line.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--RB Stepfan Taylor hadad 102 rushing yards, his 17th career 100-yard game, moving him ahead of Darrin Nelson for sole possession of second place on the school's alltime list.
--TE Zach Ertz made four catches for 55 yards and he leads the team with 25 receptions and 371 receiving yards.
--QB Josh Nunes completed 12-of-25 passes against Notre Dame. In four home games, he's completed 55.8 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and three interceptions. In two road games, he completed 48.4 percent of his passes, with no touchdowns and three interceptions.
RB Anthony Wilkerson returned after missing two games because of a lower leg injury. He carried three times for 12 yards against Notre Dame, and was one of six Stanford running backs who carried the ball against the Irish.
DE Ben Gardner registered his fourth sack of the season and seventh tackle for a loss when he sacked Notre Dame QB Everett Golson in the end zone, causing the fumble recovered by Chase Thomas for Stanford's only touchdown of the game.
--WR Ty Montgomery sat out the Notre Dame game because of an undisclosed injury. He is questionable for the Oct. 20 game against Cal.
--TB Anthony Wilkerson returned after missing the previous two games because of a lower leg injury. Jamal-Rashad Patterson, who replaced Montgomery in the starting lineup, dropped the only two passes thrown to him.
--CB Terrence Brown played against Notre Dame after beinginadvertently kicked in the chin the previous week against Arizona.