No. 8 Sooners fade late, lose 30-13 to No. 5 Notre Dame
NORMAN, Okla. – Landry Jones and No. 8 Oklahoma couldn't have been on a much bigger roll offensively, right up until they ran into Notre Dame's defense.
Everett Golson threw for 177 yards and plunged in for the decisive 1-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, Manti Te'o bolstered his Heisman Trophy candidacy with a late interception and No. 5 Notre Dame beat the Sooners 30-13 on Saturday night to remain undefeated.
Jones threw for 356 yards with no touchdowns for the Sooners (5-2), who were still clinging to hope they could get back in the national title race before the loss.
"We're better than we were at the start of the season," Jones said. "We hit a bump in the road. Maybe the national championship's not in the picture, that's probably gone, but we still have the Big 12 and a bowl game up in front of us."
Te'o and the second-ranked Irish defense frequently gave up underneath passes but prevented them from turning into big gains, making the Sooners snap the ball over and over while the Irish waited for a mistake that would snuff out the drive.
Oklahoma's first two red-zone possessions ended with field goals, and the Sooners turned to backup quarterback Blake Bell and their "Belldozer" short-yardage run package to finally punch one in and tie it at 13 with 9:10 remaining.
Notre Dame (8-0) scored 17 unanswered points after that while limiting the Sooners to their lowest-scoring total of the season.
"We moved it well. We threw and caught it well. It seems when we got to the 35, we sputtered down," Jones said, "but give credit to Notre Dame."
It was exactly the kind of game the Irish — averaging nearly 20 points less than Oklahoma's 44.7 — wanted to be in.
"That was the way we set up. We were going to give up yards to keep the points down," Irish coach Brian Kelly said. "We could not let the points get out of reach for us."
Jalen Saunders caught 15 passes for 181 yards in just his third game with Oklahoma, but was also involved in the late interception.
Te'o, the standout linebacker who has a penchant for causing turnovers, dove when Jones' pass ricocheted off Saunders and got his gloved hands under it. Kyle Brindza tacked on his third field goal soon after, and Theo Riddick added a late touchdown run as the Fighting Irish put it away with 20 fourth-quarter points.
"We knew what we could do. Today's no surprise," said Te'o, who has five interceptions and two fumble recoveries this season.
"We knew that if we came to work, we came into today with confidence and everybody doing their job that we would be fine. I'm glad we came out the right way."
The game revived a rivalry that had been largely dormant since the 1960s, with only one meeting since then — in Stoops' first season as the Sooners' coach in 1999. The Irish won eight of the first nine meetings, including three times when they handed Oklahoma its only loss of the season — most notably in 1957, when the Sooners' NCAA-record, 47-game winning streak was snapped.
This meeting between two of college football's two traditional powers was no different, and Notre Dame's throwback defense gave the game a taste of days gone by.
"There's going to be ebb and flow in any game," Stoops said. "You're not going to always be the one that everything's going to work for you. You're playing the No. 5 team in the country, who's playing great defense, so you can't truly expect that you're going to continually move every time you have the ball."
Golson, who had to come out for the final play of the third quarter after getting flattened by Oklahoma's Tony Jefferson, answered Bell's touchdown on the very next play with a 50-yard post pass to freshman Chris Brown — his first career reception.
It took five more plays for Notre Dame to punch it in from the 15, with Golson taking a shotgun snap for a quarterback draw and diving into the line from the 1 to make it 20-13 with 5:05 remaining.
Jones tried to rally the Sooners, but linebacker Dan Fox slammed into Saunders as the pass arrived and Te'o — seemingly always around the ball — was right there to pick it off. The Irish, who were giving up just 9.4 points per game, haven't allowed more than 17 in a game this season.
"With this defense, when somebody scores, we get really frustrated," Te'o said. "I think it showed our maturity by how we rallied after that touchdown. We just kept going."
An Owen Field-record crowd of 86,031 responded to the university's request to "stripe the stadium," with a candy-cane look of alternating red and white sections — appropriately so with a cold snap running through Norman.
The Sooners never could get their offense producing points, and Stoops was denied his chance to tie Bud Wilkinson for second place in school history with his 145th career win.
"It stinks to lose, but in the end let's recognize we played a really good football team and we're there with a little over 5 minutes to go with an excellent opportunity to win," Stoops said. "Again, I'm not looking through any rose-colored glasses, trying to get a moral victory for sure.
"But in the end, we've got a lot of Big 12 games coming that we need to get in position to win."
Cierre Wood put the Irish up early, taking a handoff and racing untouched right up the middle for a 62-yard touchdown two plays after Oklahoma struck first on Michael Hunnicutt's 28-yard field goal.
Te'o racked up 11 tackles in the first half, plowing through Jones for his first sack to end one drive. The Irish plodded 13 plays afterward, eating up nearly 6 minutes while driving for Brindza's 28-yard field goal and a 10-3 advantage.
It was one of three 13-play drives for Notre Dame.
The Sooners thought momentarily they'd tied it up on a 4-yard touchdown run by Bell, but a holding penalty against guard Bronson Irwin kept the Irish's run of not allowing a rushing touchdown intact a little while longer.
Te'o was disappointed that piece of trivia eventually slipped away — or any touchdown was scored at all — but satisfied with another step toward a title.
"We've come a long way," Te'o said. "We're going to continue to get better. That's our main goal right now. Just continue to get better and not be satisfied with being 8-0."