This time it was Oklahoma making all the plays that mattered. This time down the stretch it was the Sooners coming up with the defensive stops.
And this time it’s OU going into Notre Dame and coming out with the victory. Spurred by a strong start and finish, the 14th-ranked Sooners upended the 22nd-ranked Irish 35-21 on Saturday afternoon at Notre Dame Stadium.
OU was tied 13-13 midway through the fourth quarter when Notre Dame took control last season in Norman, Okla. It was the exact opposite Saturday.
The Irish had cut the Sooners’ margin down to 27-21 with 14:10 left in the fourth quarter. From there, it was all OU. The defense stymied Tommy Rees and the passing game. Rees missed his final eight passes of the game.
And when OU took the ball back with a 14-point lead and 5:39 left in the fourth, the Irish never saw the ball again.
“We were determined to not let that happen this time,” said OU coach Bob Stoops about Notre Dame dominating the fourth quarter. “We had a lot of good (defensive) series, particular down in the end.”
The only thing better than the end of the game was the start. Sparked by two turnovers in the first three minutes, OU raced out to a 14-0 lead.
On the first possession of the game, linebacker Eric Striker came on a blitz and drilled Rees. The ball floated into the arms of Corey Nelson who went 24 yards for a touchdown.
The next possession was more of the same. Rees’ pass was deflected by Aaron Colvin and picked off by Frank Shannon. OU senior running back Damien Williams, making his return after a one-game suspension, scored from 11 yards out to give the Sooners the two-score lead.
“It was a good start,” Stoops said. “Proud of our guys. Came out aggressive. Mike (Stoops) called a blitz, and we caught them with it. Started fast and came out ready to play.”
Rees finished the game 9 of 24 with three interceptions as Julian Wilson also picked off Rees in the first half. OU converted all three picks into touchdowns.
As for Blake Bell, he showed the coaches were right in not worrying about how he would respond to his first road start. Bell was effective both as a passer and as a runner in playing another turnover-free game.
Bell was 22-of-30 for 232 yards with two touchdowns. He also rushed for 59 yards on 12 attempts.
The question going into the game was whether or not OU had matched the physicality of Notre Dame. The results were mixed there, but the Sooners did manage to rush for 212 yards on 42 attempts. Last year was 15 yards on 24 carries.
OU finished with 19 more plays than the Irish, and part of that was because of the statement-making final drive.
The Sooners didn’t need another score, but they could make their lives a lot easier with some timely plays and staying on the field. That happened courtesy of running back Brennan Clay. OU went 38 yards on 10 plays in running the final 5:39 off the clock.
The road win has fans thinking about a potential national championship. Too early to reach that conclusion, but the Sooners proved their toughness and now have a favorable schedule to make some big things happen.
“We have a chance to be really good,” Stoops said. “Work in progress. Got a lot of young guys playing, but they’re getting better and better.”
It is only OU’s second victory against Notre Dame and the first in 57 years. OU is 2-9 against the Irish.