The Oklahoma team that knocked off Notre Dame, 35-21, on Saturday looked a lot like the way the Sooners used to be.
OU’s defense played with aggression and pressured ND into backbreaking miscues. The offense stuck with the running game and eventually wore down the Irish D. Best of all, the Sooners went on the road, took some shots from a quality opponent and came out alive.
Just as they did a year ago, the Fighting Irish tried to outmuscle Oklahoma. With ND quarterback Tommy Rees struggling to beat OU’s pass rush and lockdown secondary, Brian Kelly leaned on his physical running game against the small Sooner front. ND found success going the rugged route, hammering out a net of 220 yards on the ground, averaging nearly 8 yards per attempt.
Whereas some of the recent OU teams might have tried to outgun the Irish with a high-octane aerial attack, this one decided to run stride for stride with its opponent. Despite some struggles in short-yardage situations, Oklahoma managed to compose methodical drives behind the legs of tailbacks Brennan Clay and Damien Williams and quarterback Blake Bell. Once in control late in the game, OU used the ground attack to salt away the win.
In his first road start, Bell had his share of misfires in the passing game, especially throwing the deep ball. However, he hit plenty of throws that are staples of OU’s system and did an excellent job of finding the Sooners’ dangerous skill players in space. From my couch, Bell’s cool demeanor also appeared to play a big part in the O countering when ND was threatening in the fourth quarter.
The win left at least one player talking about national title hopes. Realistically, though, beating this Notre Dame squad doesn’t automatically elevate a team to BCS contender. The Irish have clearly taken a step back from the group that had an undefeated 2012 season. Come December, this win might not look so hot, seeing as ND still has games with Arizona State, USC, Stanford, Pitt and BYU left on the slate.
Still, in one of college football’s most historic venues, the Sooners of old made a welcome appearance Saturday. Let’s hope they’re here to stay.