John Klein: Confident Irish were simply better than Sooners
BY JOHN KLEIN Senior Sports Columnist
Monday, October 29, 2012
10/29/12 at 5:25 AM
Go to John Klein's Blog Original Print Headline: Notre Dame simply outplayed OU
There is a simple explanation for Notre Dame's victory at Oklahoma.
The Fighting Irish absolutely owned the game up front.
Notre Dame could run it and stop it.
"We controlled the football and limited the possessions for Oklahoma," said Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly. "We structured the game plan to keep the points down.
"Our kids were confident."
Notre Dame won 30-13 because it is the better team.
Forget the what-ifs. The Fighting Irish, even with the score tied at 13-13 in the fourth quarter, controlled the game. They had better players, especially along both lines, and made just enough plays to keep Oklahoma in a hole much of the game.
"That is always tough when you're not able to run it and when you throw it more than you want," said OU coach Bob Stoops.
Notre Dame may not be the best team in the country, but the Irish are following the lead of teams like Alabama, LSU and Kansas State. Great defense. Good offense. Confidence.
"This is no surprise," said Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o. "We knew that if we came into (the game) and worked with confidence that we would be fine."
Notre Dame won because it felt it was the better team. It had a decided edge on the lines and had players ready to step up and make big plays.
"My whole goal was to show everyone that we could do this," said Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson.
There are a number of plays that were key in Notre Dame's victory. Te'o's interception late in the game was huge. Golson's 50-yard pass to answer OU's touchdown was big.
"Now you have to go out and make plays," said Kelly. "We made some plays out there."
Notre Dame made plays and controlled the lines. That changes the game and gives you a huge advantage.
That opened up passing lanes for the Irish and turned the Sooners into a one-dimensional offense.
Sound familiar? It should. Those are the same issues that led to the earlier loss to Kansas State and a struggling victory at UTEP.
"They played vanilla defense all night," said OU offensive lineman Gabe Ikard. "They were just really talented guys, really strong. They have players that get off blocks well and they stuffed us in the run game.
"They just made us play inside a box. They set that edge really well with their talented defensive ends. They were closing everything inside."
Make no mistake. Notre Dame has a defensive front seven worthy of Alabama. Te'o earned his way onto a few Heisman ballots with another big game - 11 tackles, one sack, two tackles for losses and a huge interception to seal the victory.
The Irish love to run the ball because Notre Dame is tough and physical on the offensive line. That gives Golson just enough room to complete important passes.
The simple run numbers show the contrast.
Oklahoma had 15 yards on 24 carries. OU's Damien Williams, who was getting some comparisons to Adrian Peterson as recently as last week, had 29 yards on 13 carries (2.2 yards per try).
Notre Dame, without a marquee running back, ran for 215 yards, some of it on straight handoffs and some of it from designed quarterback runs.
Notre Dame averaged 5.5 yards per run. OU average 0.6 yards.
That would be enough to win virtually any game. Now, add a very effective throwing game set up by those runs. When Golson needed to hit passes, there were open receivers and Golson made the throws.
"They executed," said OU linebacker Tom Wort. "I don't think they made a single mistake. We made a couple of mistakes.
"When you go against a good team like that you can't make mistakes. They're a solid team that didn't make any mistakes. Their defense played great. They shut down our offense. The offense played great and managed to score on us."
There will be plenty of talk in coming weeks about whether Notre Dame is really back to an elite level. There was every indication against the Sooners that the Fighting Irish are definitely back.
They have elite-level athletes and play with a good share of confidence.
"It's another step for us," said Kelly. "This does not mean we have in any shape or form arrived.
"We've got a lot of work to continue to work toward, but it's a real big step for our team to know we can go on the road and play with anybody."
Make no mistake. This was big for Notre Dame. A record crowd of 86,031 was worked into a frenzy during a week-long buildup toward the game that many said was the biggest in Norman in 12 years.
To win in this environment was impressive.
"The environment was great," said Golson. "I kind of like playing away. I think it's because I like when people count me out."
More than a few folks will now count out Oklahoma.
Certainly, the Sooners, who were talking about BCS games last week, will have to readjust their expectations. There are five games ahead that are winnable if OU can regain some confidence and remain motivated.
"We have to show some character and turn it around," said OU's Tony Jefferson.
"This team is not going to fold," said Wort.
OU plays three of its final five games on the road (Iowa State, West Virginia and TCU). All of those could be a struggle. In addition, Baylor and Oklahoma State come to Norman.
The Sooners, even with the lingering issues on the lines, are probably good enough to win out.
However, Oklahoma will have to limit turnovers, be more consistent on defense and run the ball better.
All of the things that might have changed the result with Notre Dame should be enough to get OU to 10 wins.
OU receiver Lacoltan Bester tries to get Notre Dame cornerback after a turnover in the first half of their game in Norman. MICHAEL WYKE / Tulsa World