by John Vannie
Notre Dame answered the challenge in resounding fashion after Oklahoma tied the game with nine minutes remaining, and the Irish pulled away for an impressive 30-13 victory over the Sooners. A long pass from Everett Golson to freshman Chris Brown set up Golson’s go-ahead touchdown, and a diving interception by Manti Te’o ended Oklahoma’s last real hope. Theo Riddick rushed for a 15-yard score with 1:36 left to add an exclamation point to a win that will finally cause many Notre Dame detractors to take notice.
The Irish defensive game plan worked to perfection as they allowed Sooner quarterback Landry Jones to complete short passes in the middle of the field, but held the Sooners to only four of 13 conversions on third down. Notre Dame was also tough in the red zone, allowing only 13 points in four trips. Oklahoma’s dangerous receivers were frustrated all evening as the underrated Irish secondary tackled well, did not permit many yards after the catch and absolutely took away the deep throw.
Offensively, Golson protected the ball with crisp passes and darting runs. Both Riddick and Cierre Wood chipped in to give Notre Dame more than 200 yards rushing, and T.J. Jones lead the receivers with five catches. Most importantly, the Irish did not commit a turnover and had only one five-yard penalty. Although the special teams struggled most of the evening, Kyle Brindza’s clutch 46-yard field goal after Te’o's interception gave Notre Dame a 23-13 lead with only 3:22 remaining.
Although the Irish had plenty of late game heroics, the first couple of possessions for each team contributed significantly to the outcome. The Sooners started fast behind Jones and had Notre Dame on its heels until a bad snap from center sailed over Jones’ head for a 19-yard loss. Oklahoma’s next opportunity ended with a field goal by Mike Hunnicutt, but the red zone stop was a victory for the Irish. Trailing 3-0, the visitors answered when Wood burst through the line on a draw play for 62 untouched yards and a 7-3 advantage.
The defenses settled in and the teams could only manage an exchange of field goals in the second period as the Irish took a 10-6 lead into the locker room. An apparent touchdown by Blake Bell was nullified by holding, and Te’o stopped another threat with a crushing third down sack of Jones.
Notre Dame dominated the third quarter by holding the ball for over twelve minutes, but had nothing to show for it until Brindza squeezed a 44-yarder inside the near upright for a 13-6 lead. The Sooners got the ball back in good position after an exchange of punts, and Jones finally hit a big play to Jalen Saunders to set up a one yard dive by Bell to tie the game. Golson then silenced the suddenly active Sooner crowd with a 50-yard bomb to Brown at the Oklahoma 15, and a subsequent third down conversion set the stage for his one yard plunge into glory with 4:27 left.
Dan Fox got his hands on a Jones pass four plays later, and Te’o lunged for the ball before it hit the turf to knock the wheels off the Sooner Wagon.
The game unfolded in the way Irish fans had hoped. Jones’ early success and up tempo passing attack was brought to earth by a combination of Sooner mistakes and Notre Dame adjustments on third down. Golson was able to ease into the game without the pressure of being behind on the scoreboard, and he remained poised throughout the evening. The Irish were able to overcome Oklahoma’s dominance on special teams, which only serves to underscore the play of Te’o and the defense. Cornerbacks Bennett Jackson and KeiVarae Russell also deserve special recognition for solid performances.
Let’s review the pregame questions for additional insights:
Which quarterback will best protect the football? Although Jones played reasonably well, he is a fifth year senior. One cannot say enough about the job Golson did in this environment.
Can Notre Dame shut down the run and make the Sooner offense one dimensional? Absolutely. Oklahoma had approximatley 35 yards rushing.
Will the Irish get off to a solid start on the road? Yes. The early defensive stands and Wood’s TD run to give them the lead were critical to the outcome.
Can Notre Dame’s receivers get open against the talented Sooner secondary? Yes, and this was a key element in Notre Dame’s ability to control the ball. Several receivers made clutch receptions on short passes while Brown’s ability to burn Oklahoma deep was decisive.
Will poor special teams play finally cost the Irish? It did not cost them the game, but it did cause me to double my blood pressure medication.
Can Notre Dame improve its own efficiency in the red zone? Definitely. Golson’s go-ahead score came at a point when the Irish really needed seven points instead of three.
At what point in the broadcast will you hit the mute button on Brent Musberger? Brent got the axe in my house when he became confused during Oklahoma’s near-touchdown in the second quarter.
The Irish will now return home next week to become the hunted rather than the underdog. Ten years a go, an 8-0 Notre Dame team entertained a purportedly weak Boston College team, only to fall flat in an ugly 14-7 loss – and let’s not even think about 1993. This team has a different feel to it, however, and a bit more firepower as well now that Golson has come of age.