NORMAN, Okla. — Notre Dame had to be nearly perfect.
If the Irish hoped to beat offensive powerhouse Oklahoma in the heart of Notre Dame’s most hostile road audience of the year, several cogs would have to move together for it to happen.
As the 30-13 final score shows, Notre Dame (8-0) moved like a well-oiled machine. Mostly.
“The entire week, (the team) didn’t talk about Oklahoma,” head coach Brian Kelly said. “They talked about what they needed to do to play well (Saturday). They put in the time and preparation to be successful today. It’s not just, ‘I hope we play well today.’ They knew they were going to play well.”
Here were Notre Dame’s keys to the game, and here’s how the Irish got it done:
CONTROL THE CLOCK
Notre Dame knew it wasn’t going to win in a shootout against an Oklahoma team averaging over 44 points a game.
With the game still close at 10-6 after the first half, Notre Dame put together a 6-minute, 54-second drive that ended in a missed field goal followed by a 5:44 drive that ended in a 44-yard field goal.
By the time Oklahoma’s Blake Bell scored the Sooners’ only touchdown of the day, Notre Dame had the ball back with nine minutes in the game, plenty of time for the Irish to score 17 more points before time expired.
All week, Kelly had stressed the importance of holding on to the ball; Oklahoma was already a large enough threat on the offensive side of the ball. The Sooners defense didn’t need to be scoring, either.
After sitting out last week against BYU and losing the ball twice against Stanford, sophomore quarterback Everett Golson was facing a sixth-ranked Sooner pass defense on the road.
Though he looked a little too loose for comfort with the ball at times, Golson held on through all of his bruising and crashing through the Oklahoma defense. Not losing the ball to a defense like Oklahoma after last year’s turnover turmoil is something of a catharsis for Kelly.
“Two years of being demanding on our football team is starting to show,” he said.
WIN SPECIAL TEAMS BATTLE
Notre Dame’s punt return team still leaves something to be desired, but every other aspect of the Notre Dame special teams shined on Saturday. Cam McDaniel had a big kickoff return game in place of George Atkinson III, who was ill with the flu.
McDaniel brought back four kickoffs for 77 total yards, which Kelly said earned the sophomore running back the game ball.
Kicker Kyle Brindza did miss a 35-yard attempt in the third quarter but hit crucial 34-, 44- and 46-yard field goals when the game was still close.
“I told him on the sideline, ‘I’m proud of the way you hung in there. Some may have hung their head, but you bounced back.’” Kelly said he told Brindza after the miss.
DON’T GET BEHIND
Simply put, Notre Dame was not going to replicate the comeback victories it dramatically produced against Stanford and BYU.
For one, Oklahoma’s offense was too talented. For another, Memorial Stadium isn’t as kind to the Irish as Notre Dame Stadium.
The Irish did trail early in the game, for exactly 48 seconds before Cierre Wood streaked down the field with a 62-yard touchdown run.
Oklahoma breathed down Notre Dame’s neck all game, even tying the score with nine minutes left in the fourth quarter. The Irish responded with 17 unanswered points to put the game out of reach.
“It was a complete team victory,” Kelly said of his team executing its game plan. “We did all the things necessary to win the day.”
He paused for a moment before joking: “We’re coaches, though, so I’m sure we’ll find something wrong.”