The Notre Dame Fighting Irish thought all week that they had the blueprint to go into Memorial Stadium and defeat the No. 8 Oklahoma Sooners. Alas, design and execution are not one in the same. It's one thing to watch film and determine strengths and weaknesses, but it's an entirely different task to translate that analysis into an on-field performance on one of the biggest stages in college football.
We've seen Fighting Irish teams in the past get overwhelmed by the bright lights, but the Irish have answered every challenge this year, ranging from a game in Ireland to two games with ESPN's College GameDay on hand.
As the No. 3 Irish head into their stretch run, let's take a final look back at Notre Dame's memorable 30-13 win over the Sooners with the major winners. There are normally losers in this weekly piece, but when a blueprint is executed in the exact way in which it was designed, there are no losers.
It was no secret heading into the season that Daniels was the most talented receiver on the Irish roster despite not playing as a freshman in 2011.
While the sophomore had only two catches on Saturday night, both came while covered and each came on eventual scoring drives. The first came on a 3rd-and-8 when the Irish were deep in their own territory.
Daniels continues to grow with each passing week and will be a valuable weapon for Everett Golson in the final month of the season.
Brian Kelly put his trust in his young quarterback, and Golson came through with a brilliant performance in just his second road start. The numbers won't wow you (13-of-25, 177 yards, 1 rush TD), but Golson played composed, intelligent football.
Notre Dame will look back and see Oklahoma's game-tying, fourth-quarter touchdown as a blessing in disguise, as it provided Golson an opportunity to lead a winning drive, including a beautiful deep pass to Chris Brown, and keep Notre Dame's national title hopes alive.
Any talk of a quarterback controversy can now be shelved for the remainder of the season. This is Golson's team. Not just because Brian Kelly says so, but because Golson has proved he can come through in the most difficult of circumstances.
Sure, you can say Brian Kelly just watched what Kansas State did to Oklahoma last month and mimicked it, but there is no Collin Klein on Notre Dame's roster. Kelly remained aggressive throughout the night despite never trailing in the final three quarters.
Bob Stoops has coached in far more games with national title implications than Kelly, but the Irish boss looked like the more experienced leader on Saturday night, keeping the Sooners defense off-balance with a productive mix of runs and passes.
The drama surrounding the 2011 season is long gone. There may not be a more well-coached team in college football than the Fighting Irish.
Well, he did it again. That's all that can be said about the All-American linebacker and likely Heisman Trophy finalist, who produced 11 tackles, a sack and most importantly, a diving game-clinching interception late in the fourth quarter.
Oklahoma thought it could run the ball on the Irish, but that appeared to be a miscalculated thought, as the Sooners managed just 15 yards on the ground. Te'o doesn't do everything himself, but he sets the tone and ensures his teammates are matching his level of play.
Simply put, Te'o is Notre Dame's most important player since its last national title in 1988.
Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco designed a bend-but-don't-break game plan to combat the Sooners' aerial attack, and Diaco's young secondary executed it perfectly, holding Landry Jones to just over 10 yards per completion.
When playing soft coverage like the Irish did, the most important thing to it succeeding is tackling. That's been a strength all year for Notre Dame's defense, and it continued on Saturday night, as KeiVarae Russell, Bennett Jackson and Zeke Motta churned out another better-than-expected performance.
The defense will continue to be anchored by the front seven, but the secondary showed it can compete with one of the best offenses in college football. Remember that next month when the Irish visit Los Angeles.