Notre Dame football: Oklahoma defense slugs Irish early

South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND - The Sooners didn’t wait to take their presence known in Notre Dame Stadium. The crimson crowd showed up early before kickoff and the Oklahoma defense took it from there.

On the third play of scrimmage, Oklahoma’s defense forced its first turnover. Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops dialed up a blitz and a stunt on third-and-seven and crushed Irish quarterback Tommy Rees. Linebacker Eric Striker blitzed unencumbered off the left side of Notre Dame’s offensive line and hit Rees from behind. The ball flew out of Rees’ hands right to linebacker Corey Nelson. The senior Sooner returned the interception for a 24-yard touchdown 49 seconds into the game.

As a defender, Nelson loves that defensive coordinator Mike Stoops was willing to dial up a blitz early.

“That’s what Coach Stoops’ mindset is. We try to hit them in the mouth early,” Nelson said. “That’s what we have to do to set a tempo, to show them that it’s going to be a long night. That was the type of mindset that we have to have.”

The Sooners responded with another interception on the very next offensive play for Notre Dame. Defensive back Aaron Colvin deflected a Rees pass and linebacker Frank Shannon hauled in the ball. The offense converted the turnover into a touchdown, and the Sooners shook the stadium with a 14-point lead less than three minutes into the game.

“Coming in we knew we were going to have to make plays defensively,” said defensive end Geneo Grissom. “Those first two series were huge – a big confidence boost for not only the defense but the offense as well.”

A third interception in the second quarter far surpassed Nelson’s expectations coming into the game. He expected Rees to make smart throws that wouldn’t hurt the Irish.

“He’s a very smart quarterback and I didn’t expect them turnover the ball as much as they did,” Nelson said. “They’re such an obedient team. They do what they have to do and they capitalize off your own mistakes.”

In a Sooners win, the exact opposite happened. All three turnovers resulted in Oklahoma touchdowns.

Finishing a win

A 20-point fourth quarter sealed a victory for Notre Dame at Oklahoma last season. The Sooners concentrated all week on making sure they were the ones to close the door on a victory this time around.

“We talked all week about playing a great fourth quarter and I felt like we did,” head coach Bob Stoops said. “We won it 8-7. We didn't win it by a big number, but we win it in a two-possession game and defense went out toward the end and cut them off.”

A 27-14 lead after three quarters ended in a 35-21 advantage. The defense forced three Irish punts and the offense controlled the ball for 12:11 in the final quarter without a turnover.

“We knew they weren’t going away no matter what the score was,” Grissom said. “We knew we were going to have to be physical for four quarters.”

Sooner scoops

Oklahoma won its 37th straight game after a halftime lead under Bob Stoops. The Sooners are 136-9 in that situation during Stoops’ tenure … Lacalton Bester’s 26-yard touchdown catch was the first of his career … Five Sooners offensive players combined for 212 yards rushing against Notre Dame … The Sooners moved to 2-9 all-time against Notre Dame. Oklahoma last beat Notre Dame in October 1956 by a 40-0 score.

Oklahoma's Eric Striker, right, tugs on the shirt of Notre Dame QB Tommy Rees during the Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma football game on Saturday, September 28, 2013, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN