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Week 8: Oklahoma

Andrew Owens | Monday, October 29, 2012

NORMAN, Okla. – With the game and national championship implications on the line, Irish coach Brian Kelly placed his trust on the arm of Everett Golson. The sophomore heaved a strike through the chilly Oklahoma air to freshman receiver Chris Brown, who pulled it in for a 50-yard gain.

Five plays later, Golson dove into the end zone to put Notre Dame ahead for good in its 30-13 signature victory in Norman, Okla., on Saturday.

For Kelly, the gutsy play-action call, drawn up for a true freshman, was a no-brainer.

“I wanted to win the game,” he said matter-of-factly after the game.

Notre Dame indeed won, and proved its validity as a national championship contender in the process.

“Our kids were confident,” Kelly said. “They came in well prepared. I told them that I was very confident in their ability to go out on the road and play very good football.

“I thought that they exhibited that confidence in the first half and in the second half the focus was on physical and mental toughness.”

Before the game-winning, seven-play, 52-yard drive, Oklahoma backup quarterback Blake Bell knotted the score with a 1-yard touchdown run – the first rushing score Notre Dame had allowed since last November.

Though miffed after surrendering the touchdown, the defense still wasn’t concerned about the game’s outcome, graduate student defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore said.

“We’re always confident in our offense,” he said. “Whatever happens, happens.”

But Golson showed a primetime audience he’s not the same quarterback that had struggled at times and been pulled in previous weeks.

“I don’t think six or seven weeks ago I could’ve done something like that,” he said. “I didn’t have the same feel for the guys then.”

Golson, who finished 13-of-25 passing for 177 yards and added 66 rushing yards, said he doesn’t let the game situation influence his play. He saw Oklahoma in man-to-man coverage, and knew it was up to him and the freshman speedster to execute.

“We saw that they were in man coverage and I think the play action set it up,” he said. “[Brown] ended up winning with a great move and I just kind of stepped up in the pocket and gave it a little bit of air and let him run under.”

After the Irish regained the lead, they sealed the victory on a deflected pass into the hands of senior linebacker Manti Te’o, his fifth interception of the season.

Officials reviewed the play and upheld the call, but Te’o didn’t need to wait for their confirmation.

“[The coaches] came up to me and said, ‘Did you catch it?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, I caught it,” he said. “It bobbled around a little bit, but I had possession of it.”

Four rushes later, kicker Kyle Brindza converted a 46-yard field goal to give Notre Dame a 23-13 lead. The sophomore had missed a 35-yard attempt on the first drive of the second half after the Irish had driven 60 yards on 13 plays in a possession that lasted 6:54.

Brindza, who finished the game 3-for-4 on attempts, said the redemption was sweet.

“I tried to keep my head down,” he said. “I was going to let the crowd tell me if it was good or not. I peeked up. It was just a weight lifted off of my shoulders. It felt really good to see it go through.”

Notre Dame controlled the tempo by outrushing Oklahoma to the count of 215 yards to the Sooners’ 15. The Irish took a 7-3 lead in the first quarter when senior running back Cierre Wood burst through the middle for a 62-yard touchdown.

Moments before, on the game’s first drive, the momentum was in Oklahoma’s favor as the Sooners marched down the field for 42 yards on five plays before the drive was stalled by a snap that sailed past quarterback Landry Jones out of the shotgun formation. The Sooners recovered it, but lost 19 yards on the play and punted two plays later.

“We changed the play and there was miscommunication between myself and Landry,” Oklahoma center Gabe Ikard said. “I snapped it when I normally snap it, and nothing good came from that. That was a huge drive kill for our team.”

The game’s most controversial sequence occurred late in the second quarter with the Sooners trailing 10-3. Bell rumbled into the end zone, but the play was called back due to a holding penalty. The Sooners settled for a field goal and a 10-6 halftime deficit.

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops was visibly livid after the call and voiced his frustration to the referees through the remainder of the half.

“We had it in the end zone, and it’s a judgment call, they call holding,” Stoops said. “Those are frustrating situations, but that’s the way it is. We didn’t get the calls.”

With three games remaining before the season finale at USC and an undefeated season and possible berth in the national title game on the line, Kelly said the focus must shift to Pittsburgh, and only Pittsburgh.

“We’ll lose,” Kelly said bluntly about his team if it looks ahead. “If we start listening to national championship and BCS, we’ll lose a football game.

“They’re a pretty smart group and know if they start with what we’ve done and the process of preparing for Pittsburgh, they’ll be fine. That’s what I told them in the locker room – I said to enjoy a great victory against Oklahoma. Now let’s find a way to beat Pittsburgh.”