- Jake Trotter, College Football
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NORMAN, Okla. -- After Notre Dame sacked Landry Jones on the game's final play, the Oklahoma offensive line looked like a bowling ball had rolled through it. Left tackle Lane Johnson crumbled when he tried to stand up. Right tackle Daryl Williams keeled over to his knees. And moments before, tailback Damien Williams had limped his way to the locker room.
In Norman once again, football tough and sound prevailed over finesse and style as the Fighting Irish slugged their way to a resounding 30-13 victory to knock the Sooners permanently from the national title picture.
"We played hard, we played with energy, we played with toughness," said Oklahoma center Gabe Ikard. "But when it comes down to it, they controlled the line of scrimmage.
"Things are not going to go your way when that happens."
In September, it was Kansas State's Collin Klein and Arthur Brown setting the tone. Saturday night, it was Everett Golson and Manti Te'o. Like Kansas State, the Irish didn't do anything flashy. But they avoided mistakes, controlled the clock and beat the Sooners up in the trenches.
"Kind of a similar-type team," Ikard said. "They just grinded it out on us."
After the game, Bob Stoops pinned the loss on the two big plays the Sooners surrendered. In the first quarter, Cierre Wood blasted through Oklahoma's front untouched for a 62-yard touchdown run that put the Irish on the board. Then in the fourth quarter, Everett Golson found Chris Brown on a 50-yard, play-action bomb over the middle to set up Notre Dame's go-ahead-for-good touchdown.
But it was the small plays in between that also truly doomed the Sooners.
Those seven third-down conversions that kept the Oklahoma defense on the field, and the offense off it. Those Notre Dame open-field tackles on every receiver not named Jalen Saunders. Those one-on-one pass plays in the second half the Irish receivers kept coming down with, no matter how tight the coverage.
"They out-fought us for the ball here and there," Stoops said. "Our guys were in great position, but they were able to get up and get the football."
The Irish also out-fought Oklahoma up front. The Sooners had come into the night on a three-game tear rushing the ball since inserting Williams into the starting lineup. Against Notre Dame, Williams ran into a golden wall, with only 29 yards rushing on 13 carries.
The Irish were so confident they could stone the Oklahoma ground game, they didn't even bother putting a fourth man on the line of scrimmage.
"They played very vanilla defense," Ikard said. "They were able to drop eight and still stuff us in the run game."
Early, the Sooners had Notre Dame on the ropes with their four-wide, up-tempo attack. But just like in the loss to Kansas State, Oklahoma self-destructed at inopportune moments.
On their opening drive, the Sooners completed their first four passes into Notre Dame territory. Then Ikard snapped the ball when Jones was trying to check the play. The ball sailed past Jones' head for a loss of 19 yards, forcing Oklahoma to punt.
"There were opportunities early to get more points," said offensive coordinator Josh Heupel. "And make a change in the way the game was played."
Instead, the Irish imposed their tempo on the Sooners in the second half with slow, methodical drives that wore down the Oklahoma defense while preventing the Oklahoma offense from generating any rhythm.
"They kept us off the field," said fullback Trey Millard. "And just out-executed us."
Tough, sound teams will do that. To the Sooners, they've now done it twice.
For the second time this year, toughness prevailed over finesse in a big game in Norman. And for the second time, it was the Sooners who came out on the losing end of that battle.