STANFORD — Top-ranked Notre Dame, playing away from home for the sixth time in its last seven games, found itself in even stranger territory Saturday.
Midway through the third quarter, the Irish and Stanford were tied, 14-14.
But then Raghib (Rocket) Ismail went 66 yards on a kickoff return to set up the touchdown that sent Notre Dame on its way to its 17th consecutive victory, 27-17.
"When they tied it up and the stadium got involved, our team responded," Irish Coach Lou Holtz said.
Especially Ismail, whose big return on the ensuing kickoff gave the Cardinal possession at the 16-yard line and quieted the crowd of 86,019.
Stanford attempted to kick high and short of Ismail, but he raced up to handle it.
"When I take it up the middle, I look for a crease," Ismail said. "Someone made a good block and I was able to cut to the right side."
Stanford drove from the 16 to the one, from where Anthony Johnson went in to break the tie.
Stanford Coach Dennis Green said: "Any time you have a momentum swing, it changes the game."
Stanford, which outgained the Irish, 316 to 296, had pulled into the 14-14 tie when Steve Smith, who threw a school-record 68 passes and completed 39 of them for 282 yards, passed two yards to Ed McCaffrey for a touchdown and Tom Vardell ran for a two-point conversion.
Smith said: "We came in wanting to win."
Said Holtz: "These guys did what they had to do, and each week it gets tougher. But this was not one of our better performances, to be honest."
Ismail had gone two weeks without handling a kickoff, since returning two for touchdowns against Michigan.
He got to handle one in the second quarter Saturday, but he was stopped by an unusual penalty against return mate Rodney Culver.
Culver had signaled for a fair catch, so even though Ismail caught the ball, the officials blew a whistle when he started upfield.
The Irish (5-0) had only one first down in the first quarter and were behind, 6-0, against a team that allowed 40 points to San Jose State a week earlier.
Notre Dame's embarrassed offense finally came to life in the second quarter, putting together a 64-yard drive that featured a 29-yard pass from Tony Rice to Ismail, and a 38-yard run by Rice. Johnson capped the drive with a seven-yard run. Notre Dame scored later in the second period on a two-yard run by Culver.
It was 21-14 after Johnson's third-quarter score, and Notre Dame increased its lead to 24-14 on Craig Hentrich's 20-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter.
Stanford (1-4) was behind only 24-17 when a pass by Smith was intercepted by safety Pat Terrell, whose return set up an 18-yard field goal.