By DAVID VANTRESS
THE GOSHEN NEWS
SOUTH BEND —
When you spot the No. 14 team in the country a 14-0 lead in the opening three minutes, chances are it’s going to be a long afternoon and one that’s not going to end with a win.
That’s exactly what No. 22 Notre Dame did Saturday afternoon at Notre Dame Stadium against visiting Oklahoma en route to a 35-21 loss to the Sooners.
Notre Dame dropped to 3-2 with the loss. Oklahoma improved to 4-0.
“You spot a great team like Oklahoma 14 points, you’re putting yourself in a tough situation,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “Hat’s off to Oklahoma. I thought they played extremely well. (Oklahoma) Coach (Bob) Stoops and his staff, we have a lot of respect for them.”
It didn’t take long to get an idea how this afternoon was possibly going to go for the Irish.
On third-and-7 from the Irish 23 on Notre Dame’s opening possession, senior quarterback Tommy Rees was hit as he released the ball, and the wounded duck was picked off by Sooner outside linebacker Corey Nelson, who rumbled 28 yards to score with 14:11 left in the first.
On the ensuing series, it was Rees intercepted again at the Notre Dame 49.
From there, the Sooners needed just three plays to cash in the miscue, getting an 11-yard scoring run from Damian Williams.
And with less than three minutes gone, the Irish were down 14-0.
But after a good defensive series, the Irish got off the turf and got their offense untracked, going 80 yards in 20 plays as Rees and T.J. Jones hooked up on a 6-yard scoring strike. With 4:03 left in the opening stanza, Notre Dame trailed 14-7.
Midway through the second quarter, the Irish put together anther good derive and looked to be getting into position to tie the contest just before intermission. But Rees’ third pick of the first half snuffed out the Notre Dame drive at the Oklahoma 12.
Oklahoma finally got its offense in gear late in the first half, with Blake Bell and Lacolton Bester connecting on a 26-yard TD pass with 43 ticks left until intermission.
With the Sooners getting the second-half kickoff after winning the coin toss and deferring, the late score was crucial.
Notre Dame needed a defensive stop on the first series of the second half – and the Irish got it.
It was time for the struggling Notre Dame offense to make some plays.
And the Irish did just that: Junior running back George Atkinson III ripped off the longest run of his career, an 80-yarder off left tackle on the first play from scrimmage for the TD. With 12:31 left in the third, the Irish trailed by just one score at 21-14.
The Sooners got an excellent kickoff return to their 48 and used it as the springboard to pad their lead with a 27-yard field goal by Michael Hunnicutt for a 24-14 lead.
After another ineffective Irish possession, the Sooners drove to the 2 – behind redshirt backup quarterback Trevor Knight, who replaced Bell after the Oklahoma starter left the game with a leg cramp. The Sooners settled for a 20-yard Hunnicutt field goal for a 27-14 lead with 2:43 left in the third.
Notre Dame, on hard running by Atkinson and Rees’ arm, cut it to a one- possession game early in the fourth when Rees and tight end Troy Niklas connected on a 30-yard TD . With 14:10 left in regulation, the Irish trailed the Sooners, 27-21.
Oklahoma struck for a 54-yard TD from Bell to Sterling Shepard with 12:24 left, and a 2-point conversion to Shepard pushed the Sooners back out to a two-possession lead at 35-21.
Stoops was pleased with his team’s performance. “It was a good, well played game and just gives us a little bit of a springboard to start the Big 12 season again since we only had one game in the Big 12,” Stoops said.
The Irish travel to Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas next Saturday to take on Arizona State.
More than 20 members of the 1957 Notre Dame squad that ended Oklahoma’s 47-game winning streak with a 7-0 victory in Norman were on hand for Saturday’s game. A late Dick Lynch TD run also ended a string of 123 consecutive games in which the Sooners hadn’t been held scoreless … Members of the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team were also in attendance and honored with a special presentation. The team plays the Notre Dame softball team on Sunday at Melissa Cook Stadium in a special fundraiser game at noon …