By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
NORMAN, Okla. – During a 66-game stretch in the 1950s when Bud Wilkinson and Oklahoma was defining college football dominance, the only team to beat the Sooners was Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish, a team of history and Heismans, defeated OU three times.
Two of those victories came here and bookended Oklahoma's record 47-game winning streak. For generations of Oklahoma fans, hearing Notre Dame's fight song has led to grating of teeth, seeing their gold helmets caused eyes to turn away. The 7-0 loss on Nov. 16, 1957 that ended the winning streak was a particularly stunning and galling bad memory.
Half a century later and Saturday night proved that not much has changed. Playing with a great opportunity to move up in the polls and BCS standings, Oklahoma was again left frustrated.
The Fighting Irish proved themselves worthy of their No. 5 ranking. The defense proved itself to be as good as its statistics. And Notre Dame proved it will be a player in the national championship chase with a 30-13 victory over No. 8 Oklahoma Saturday night.
"Notre Dame won a heckuva a football game," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. "We needed to be a few plays better. It was 13-13 and we were where we wanted to be but we gave up the big play, which we haven't done. They made plays and we didn't. … It stinks to lose."
Not only did the loss knock Oklahoma out of the national championship chase, it boosts Notre Dame's stock. From a Big 12 Conference perspective, an Irish loss would have helped Kansas State … and was one of the reasons Wildcats fans were giddy when the Sooners forged the tie in the fourth quarter.
Notre Dame has won nine of 10 meetings with Oklahoma. No team has that kind of dominance in that many games with the Sooners.
The Sooners (5-2) explained their 24-19 loss to Kansas State by pointing to a handful of game-changing mistakes. Since losing to the Wildcats, Oklahoma had recovered to dominate Texas Tech, Texas and Kansas. But against Notre Dame it was the same song, second verse.
Ill-timed penalties, bad snaps and dropped passes occurred were bad enough but those mistakes occurred with the worst timing. The Sooners' defense, which had limited Notre Dame to two field goals and one 62-yard touchdown run through three quarters, failed to come up with a stop after OU forged a 13-13 tie with 9:10 remaining
"This one hurts, I hate this feeling," Oklahoma safety Tony Jefferson said. "We had the game tied up and we gave up a big play. You can't do that."
Redshirt freshman quarterback Everett Golson hit freshman Chris Brown on a 50-yard pass – Notre Dame's longest completion this season and Brown's first catch - on a second-and-two play from the Irish 35. Notre Dame's running attack (215 yards) helped set up the play-action fake and allowed Brown to beat OU's Demontre Hurst on the deep post. Golson's 1-yard TD run with 4:00 remaining made it 20-13.
"We saw the man-to-man coverage and I think the play-action kind of set it up," said Golson completed 13 of 25 passes for 177 yards and gained 64 yards on 11 carries. "What we'd been hearing was a lot of people didn't think we could win this game. That fueled my fire that was already burning."
"Their offense did a great job of converting on third down, did a great job of executing," Jefferson said. "We didn't contain their quarterback and we couldn't keep their offense off the field."
A raucous, rowdy and record crowd of 86,031 at Gaylord Family/Oklahoma Memorial Stadium strained its vocal chords in an effort to help the Sooners, who frequently flapped their arms to pump up the decibel level.
Oklahoma took the opening kickoff and went up tempo, running four plays and gaining 37 yards in a minute. The OU faithful was jazzed by the Sooners' start until an errant shotgun snap – Jones was calling an audible when Gabe Ikard snapped it to air – slowed the opening drive.
"Landry was changing the play, it was loud and Gabe thought Landry was asking for the ball," Stoops said.
Notre Dame's Cierre Wood bolted 62 yards for a touchdown on Notre Dame's second possession to give the Irish a 7-3 lead. Their second scoring drive of the first half was a 13-play drive that resulted in Kyle Brindza's 34-yard field goal. That ball-control possession helped to further defuse the crowd noise.
"We just got somebody in the wrong place," Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said of Wood's scoring run. "It was a mental error. We practiced against that play about 50 times … that's football.
"Our coverage wasn't as good as it has been all year … we broke down in technique a few times, just little things that can get you beat."
Oklahoma closed to 10-6 late in the first half but even that was disappointing. Blake Bell appeared to score a touchdown when Blake Bell scored on second and goal from the 4. However, a holding call on Bronson Irwin wiped out the score and led to Michael Hunnicutt's second field goal.
Notre Dame played its base 3-4 defense and was content to let Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones complete passes underneath. The Sooners gained just 15 yards rushing on 24 attempts and a one-dimensional offense wasn't good enough to beat a team sixth in total defense.
"We moved the ball well, threw and caught it well," said Jones, who was 35 of 51 for 356 yards. "We'd get to the 35 or so and we'd sputter. Credit Notre Dame's defense, they controlled the game. They kinda just beat us. They were better tonight."
Notre Dame controlled the ball over 11 minutes in the third quarter but could expand its lead only to 13-6 when Brindza made a 44-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter.
Oklahoma forced three and outs on three of Notre Dame's first four possessions. A three-and-out with the Irish pinned inside its 15 led to the Sooners starting at their own 48. Jones' pass to Jalen Saunders (15 catches, 181 yards) for 35 yards eventually led to the Bell Dozer scoring on a one-yard run – the first rushing TD Notre Dame had allowed this season.
The apparent Oklahoma momentum disappeared when the Irish responded with the seven-play, 73-yard touchdown drive fueled by the Golson-to-Brown completion.
And here's the salt in the wound inflicted by Notre Dame's victory - OU has lost two home games in the same season for the first time in Bob Stoops' 14 years and the 17-point margin was the largest in a home loss under Stoops.
"I don't think they made a single mistake," Oklahoma linebacker Tom Wort said (Notre Dame had no turnovers and one penalty for five yards). "We made a couple of mistakes. When you go against a good team like that, you can't make mistakes."