NORMAN, Okla. — Manti Te’o wasn’t going to let it happen again.
After 51 minutes of keeping Oklahoma out of the end zone, the Sooners’ Blake “Belldozer” Bell had finally pushed in for a 1-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 13.
It was the first rushing touchdown Notre Dame had allowed this season, and Te’o wasn’t happy.
The Irish had just put together a 73-yard drive highlighted by a 50-yard pass from Everett Golson to Chris Brown and capped by a goal line surge by Golson to reclaim the lead.
The Sooners, a team averaging 44.7 points per game heading into Saturday, had five minutes to score again.
It took Te’o 38 seconds to stop them.
With more than 80,000 rowdy Sooner fans waving their white rally flags around the stadium, Te’o picked off quarterback Landry Jones for the Irish linebacker’s fifth — and undeniably most important — interception of the season.
No. 5 Notre Dame (8-0) went on to score 10 more points in three minutes to seal a 30-13 victory over No. 8 Oklahoma (5-2).
“We gave up a touchdown,” Te’o said. “With this defense, we get really frustrated, and we showed our maturity by how we rallied after that touchdown. We just kept going, and I’m very proud of our guys.”
Te’o led the increasingly impressive Irish defense with 11 tackles (two for loss), one sack and one interception.
Though the Irish scored 20 points in the fourth quarter, the first three quarters played out like the slugfest most people thought it would be.
After blazing down the field 37 yards on the first five plays of the game, the fast-paced Sooner offense flew too close to the sun and snapped the ball over Jones’s head for a 19-yard loss. Notre Dame took over from there, and the Irish responded to an Oklahoma field goal with a 62-yard touchdown run from Cierre Wood on the following possession, the longest run of the senior tailback’s career.
Jones was able to pass at will against the young Irish secondary but couldn’t find a way to finish with anything more than a field goal any time the Sooners entered the red zone, up until Bell’s 1-yard rushing touchdown.
Jones finished 35 for 51 for 356 yards but with zero touchdowns to show for it. Notre Dame bent, but it did not break.
“That was the way it was set up,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said of the defensive plan. “We have structured the game plan to keep the points down. We were willing to give up yardage in the passing game today to keep the points down. ... The defense did a great job with the plan, we stuck with the plan, and it proved to be a good one.”
The Irish offense was no slouch either, rallying behind the defense to put up 30 points on an Oklahoma team accustomed to only giving up 15.
Golson struggled at first against Oklahoma’s sixth-ranked pass defense, but he quickly found a groove with receiver T.J. Jones, who led the team with five receptions for 55 yards.
Golson scrambled half as many times as he threw it, meeting Oklahoma players head-on and — in one case — getting the wind knocked out of him by Sooner safety Tony Jefferson.
Golson finished 13 for 25 for 177 yards and 11 carries for 66 yards and a rushing touchdown, which came after Bell’s tying score a few minutes earlier.
“Zero to zero again,” Golson said of Bell’s touchdown. “I never really try to have the scoreboard influence what I feel. I’m not the type of guy to fumble under pressure. My whole goal was to show everyone that we could do this.”
“I kind of like playing away,” he added. “I think it’s because I like when people count me out, that’s how I’ve always been.”
Golson’s go-ahead touchdown was set up by the 50-yard completion to Brown, the freshman’s first collegiate reception. Golson had tried to find Brown deep a half dozen times this season but had never connected with him until that moment.
“I said it was about time,” T.J. Jones said, laughing. “We started joking around with (Brown), saying he didn’t know how to celebrate. He hit the ground pretty hard, so we told him we’d work on the celebration for his next catch.”
Notre Dame kicker Kyle Brindza hit 34-yard field goal in the second quarter to give Notre Dame a lead it never relinquished.
Brindza also nailed a 44-yard attempt after missing from 35 yards in the third quarter. After Golson’s fourth-quarter score, Brindza hit another field goal from 46 yards.
Notre Dame running back Theo Riddick punched in the final score of the game off a 15-yard run. Riddick finished with 19 carries for 74 yards, while Wood contributed 74 yards on seven carries.
On the other side of the ball, the Irish defense only gave up 15 yards on the ground against Oklahoma’s running backs.
“This is the consistency we need as a program,” Kelly said of the win. “We’ve got to win on the road against top 10 teams. Those are the things you have to continue to do to build your football program. It’s another step for us. ... We know we can go on the road and play with anybody.”