NORMAN — The last time Oklahoma experienced heartbreak at the hands of Notre Dame most of its players were in the very early stages of elementary school.
Nonetheless, the current crop of Sooners joined that group Saturday when they learned that tangling with the Fighting Irish doesn’t typically go well.
No. 8 OU’s 30-13 loss to No. 5 Notre Dame might not have been as lopsided as the score suggests. What couldn’t be refuted, however, was that for the second time this season the Sooners got into a four-quarter slugfest with a really good team and was floored.
Much like the Sooners’ loss to Kansas State on Sept. 22, the Fighting Irish (8-0) did nothing perplexing. They ran the ball (39 times for 215 yards), played great defense and leaned on OU all night.
The Sooners finally tipped in the final seven minutes.
That was when Notre Dame ran off 17 points to turn a razor-tight game into the Sooners’ ninth loss to the Fighting Irish in 10 tries, dating back to 1952.
“Notre Dame flat-out beat us, “ OU quarterback Landry Jones said. “You can’t beat around the bush after a game like that.”
Jones threw for 356 yards, and Jalen Saunders had 15 receptions for 181, but the offense consistently bogged down in the red zone.
Eventually, the Fighting Irish imposed their will.
They completely shut down the Sooners’ running game. Damien Williams led OU with 29 yards on 13 carries. OU averaged 0.6 yards on 24 attempts.
Notre Dame had no problem running the ball. In addition to all the yards, all three Irish scores came on the ground.
The rushing dominance became obvious midway through the first quarter. After OU had taken an early lead on Michael Hunnicutt’s 28-yard field goal, the Irish answered with a 62-yard touchdown run from Cierre Wood less than a minute later to take a 7-3 lead.
Wood finished the night with 74 yards. Theo Riddick matched that total and quarterback Everett Golson added 64 on 11 carries.
If only it had been limited to rushing damage, the Sooners (5-2) might have had a chance. But Golson finished the night 13-for-25 for 177 yards through the air.
Fifty of the yards came midway through the fourth quarter on a play-action pass that turned out to be the play of the night.
Despite trailing most of the game, OU rallied when Blake Bell banged his way into the end zone from one yard out to tie it up 13-13 with 9:10 remaining. At that point, the Sooners had the record crowd of 86,031 at Owen Field energized.
That buzz died when Golson hit Chris Brown for 50-yard strike on the drive’s second play. The Sooners never recovered.
“We had them and then we gave up a big play,” OU safety Tony Jefferson said. “We can’t do that — especially at that point in the game.”
Five plays later, the Irish had a 20-13 lead. The Sooners had a chance to tie it up, but the game’s only turnover was the final nail in OU’s coffin.
Jones tried to hit Saunders on a short route with 4:27 left. Notre Dame linebacker Dan Fox hit Saunders as the ball arrived — perhaps, a little early — and Manti Te’o grabbed it before it hit the ground.
“It was a double-sided call. It could have been a PI (pass interference) and could have been an interception like they called,” Saunders said. “Like I said, it’s back on me. I’m the one who dropped the ball. It was in my hands.”
Te’o, who has become the first defensive player to generate serious Heisman Trophy buzz since Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh in 2009, added more momentum to his candidacy. He finished the night with 11 tackles, one of Notre Dame’s two sacks and an interception.
He’s also playing for a team that will remain the national championship race. That aspect of the season is over for the Sooners.
It all ended when Kyle Brindza tacked on his third field goal and Riddick added a 1-yard touchdown run in the final 3:22.
“We still have the Big 12, and we still have a bowl game in front us,” Jones said. “We’ll see what kind of character we have and how much we like playing football and how much we love this game.”
What happened in the second half of the fourth quarter raised all those questions. The Sooners had their chance on Saturday night to jump back into the national championship picture.
The Fighting Irish, not for the first time, knocked them out.
John ShinnFollow me @firstname.lastname@example.org