It’s been nearly a decade since the Notre Dame Fighting Irish started a season 8-0. It’s been even longer since the program won a national championship. The drought for at least one of these ended Saturday night, as the Irish ran by Oklahoma for a 30-13 victory.
But Saturday’s win isn’t simply the team’s eighth win of the season or a good win against a solid team.
Saturday's win helps Brian Kelly’s squad answer the many questions surrounding them as they continue a season that now has a chance to end the latter of those droughts as well.
For one, the Sooners offense is just too much for the Irish to handle, right?
Well, Landry Jones did manage to throw for 356 yards on 35 completions, but none of these passes resulted in touchdowns for the Sooners. As for rushing, the Sooners finished with a total of 15 yards. An offense that spreads the field isn’t much use if it can’t find the end zone.
Even if the Irish stop the Sooners’ ground game, they won’t be able to establish their own rushing attack, will they?
Three different players recorded rushing touchdowns for the Irish on Saturday, not including George Atkinson III, who sat out with flu-like symptoms.
Theo Riddick backed up his 145-yard rushing performance last week against BYU with 74 more yards on 19 carries and a touchdown against the Sooners. Cierre Wood backed up his own 100-yard rushing performance against BYU with another 74 yards and a touchdown.
Meanwhile, Everett Golson returned in time to tack on 64 yards and a touchdown on the ground and another 177 yards passing after missing last week’s game. Not a Heisman-worthy total, but a respectable total against the Sooners secondary.
But it doesn’t matter if the Irish are able to get their offense going. When’s the last time they beat a tough opponent on the road besides their game against Michigan State earlier this season?
Saturday's victory gives the Irish their second road win against a team ranked in the Top 10 this season and their fourth win against a ranked team on the year. The only remaining ranked team on their schedule is USC, the team that just lost to an unranked Arizona squad and who lost earlier to Stanford, a team that the Irish have already beaten this season.
Fans have been waiting for Kelly to return the Irish to the national title contender status the team has missed in recent seasons. The only thing missing from this season was a statement win, and there’s no way that could take place against a Bob Stoops-led Sooners squad, right?
The Irish’s early-season success has been met with widespread criticism, likely due to fans not wanting to get their hopes up too soon, and questions that were being asked of a team that just two seasons ago lost to Navy and Tulsa in consecutive weeks.
Saturday’s game not only gave the team a chance to enhance its national title game chances, but also a platform to answer these questions that were still being asked of a team that has now equaled its win total from last season.
The Irish now have a statement win to add to their national title resume, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
Florida’s loss to Georgia Saturday means that the Irish will have a great chance of moving up to at least fourth in the BCS standings this week. The two teams ahead of them, Kansas State and Oregon, both have tests remaining on their schedules.
Kansas State will not have an easy time against Oklahoma State next week and must still finish its season against Texas. Oregon, meanwhile, must still face USC next week and Stanford and Oregon State before the season ends.
The Irish also have USC at the end of their schedule this season but will now enter the contest with even more on the line if they are still undefeated.
Golson and the Irish offense have now answered questions as to whether their lack of explosive plays at times is enough to get past some of the nation’s best talent, while Heisman contender Manti Te’o (who had his fifth interception of the season against the Sooners) and the Irish defense have now held a contrasting style of defense in check.
A statement road win, 8-0, four victories against opponents who were ranked at the time, four games left with a spot in the BCS championship game on the line.
Any more questions?