By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — What Oklahoma feared would happen did Saturday night against Notre Dame. It couldn’t run the ball (24 carries for 15 yards). Notre Dame could (215 yards on the ground) and a 60-minute exchange of body blows broke out.
The reason the Sooners (5-2) feared that scenario was the way they’ve struggled winning those close games over the last six years. During that span OU is just 10-12 in games decided by 10 points or less. The 30-13 loss to the Fighting Irish doesn’t appear to be a very close game. But remember, the game was tied at 13-all with a little over 5 minutes left.
It was in the second half of the fourth quarter that Notre Dame elevated its play while the Sooners did not.
“You’re where you wanna be, or where you have a chance to win, “ OU coach Bob Stoops said. “And we gave up the big play, which we hadn’t done much all year. It sets up the touchdown. We try and come back, and there’s another judgment call on the interception. In the end, just that stretch. They made some plays and we didn’t.“
The game followed the Sooners’ loss to Kansas State with only a few changes. Notre Dame feasted on mistakes by OU’s offense. There was only one turnover in the game. It was costly. Manti Te’o intercepted a ball that bounced off OU receiver Jalen Saunders with about four minutes in the game and it set up a field goal to make it a two-possession game with 3:22 left.
But Notre Dame’s defense controlled the game from start to finish.
“It’s just one of those things. We moved it well. We threw and caught it well. We probably wanted to get the running game going a little more than we did tonight. We’d get down to that 35-yard line and just kind of sputter,” OU quarterback Landry Jones said. “Credit to Notre Dame. They’ve got a good defense. They don’t give up a lot of points. They kind of controlled this game.”
The Sooners have now lost two games this season for the same reason. Their opponent imposed its will in the fourth quarter. OU wilted.
There’s the issue OU must solve if it ever wants to get back in the national championship race. It’s not going to happen this season. OU dropped four spots to No. 12 in the BCS standings on Sunday.
No one should forget, those two losses are to No. 2 Kansas State and the third-ranked Fighting Irish.
But those two teams share a common trait — they win games in the fourth quarter.
The Sooners have not. Their five wins — except for the season-opening win at UTEP — were all a matter of overwhelming teams enough in the first half and third quarter, making the fourth quarter irrelevant.
In OU’s games against truly elite teams, the fourth quarter did matter. It’s now outscored 34-13 in those games.
The difference between being a good team and one that wins championships is elevating play when the game is absolutely on the line. The Sooners haven’t done it and won’t be winning any Big 12 Conference or national championships until they do.
John ShinnFollow me @firstname.lastname@example.org
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