It took No. 14 Oklahoma 49 seconds to grab a lead against No. 22 Notre Dame at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday, and the Sooners never looked back, rolling to a 35-21 victory.
Oklahoma's only win vs. N.D. in 10 tries was 40-0 in South Bend....in 1956— Chris Dufresne (@DufresneLATimes) September 28, 2013
Bob Stoops' squad, which improved to 4-0, turned three turnovers—two within the game's first two minutes—into 21 points, an obstacle the Irish weren't able to overcome despite getting 148 yards on the ground from explosive running back George Atkinson III.
The Irish fell to 3-2 on the year with the home defeat.
"Nightmare" doesn't really begin to describe quarterback Tommy Rees' start.
On the third play of the game from scrimmage, the senior QB was hit as he attempted to throw, and the ball popped up to linebacker Corey Nelson, who returned it 24 yards for the touchdown:
On the next play, Rees threw an interception to Frank Williams, and four plays later, running back Damien Williams went 11 yards for the touchdown.
After two minutes and 45 seconds, Rees was 0-for-3 with two interceptions, and the Sooners led, 14-0.
Notre Dame responded with a methodical 10-play, 80-yard drive capped by a six-yard TD grab from TJ Jones in the back of the end zone, but another interception by Rees late in the second quarter led to an impressive touchdown drive from Oklahoma to close the half.
The Sooners went 88 yards in less than five minutes, with Blake Bell finding Lacoltan Bester for 26 yards and the score to make it 21-7.
After the Sooners' first drive of the second half quickly stalled, George Atkinson III showed off his world-class speed, darting 80 yards down the sideline to bring the Irish back into the game.
Here's a look at the scintillating touchdown run. Make sure you don't blink:
Rees would find a wide-open Troy Niklas for a 30-yard score after a couple of Oklahoma field goals to cut the lead to 27-21, but the Irish wouldn't be that close for long.
Bell, who had to be taken out during the previous series, returned and quickly marched down the field, hitting Sterling Shepard for a 54-yard touchdown and then subsequent two-point conversion.
In the end, Oklahoma out-gained Notre Dame 450-324 and won the time of possession battle, 35:11 to 24:16. The Sooners also had zero turnovers and just four penalties in the comprehensive, convincing win.
Blake Bell, QB, Oklahoma: A
Bell's major flaw was supposed to be his inaccuracy throwing the ball but that was hardly the case on Sunday.
Give credit to the Sooners' play-calling, as Bell used a lot of quick hits and his receivers racked up YAC, resulting in a 73.3 percent throwing accuracy, 232 yards and 7.7 yards per pass attempt. Still, he managed the game perfectly and even made some very nice throws down the field, including this one right on the money for the first-half touchdown:
Unsurprisingly, Belldozer also made plenty of plays with his legs, tallying 59 yards on 12 carries.
Tommy Rees, QB, Notre Dame: D
I'll just let Football Outsiders' Matt Hinton sum it up:
Tommy Rees Classic, back by unpopular demand.— Matt Hinton (@MattRHinton) September 28, 2013
Rees' first interception can be blamed on the offensive line, but his second and third—both of which came off tipped passes—were the result of forcing the ball into coverage.
He was on the wrong side of history, as ESPN Stats & Info pointed out:
Tommy Rees is the 1st Notre Dame QB in the last 10 seasons to throw 3 interceptions in a half.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 28, 2013
Rees settled down somewhat and even made some nice throws here or there throughout the second half. But he dug the Irish into an inescapable early hole and did very little to help them out of it, completing nine-of-24 throws for just 104 yards.
Sterling Shepard, WR, Oklahoma: B+
Not only did he have the electric touchdown that put the game away, but he caught the two-point conversation and proved to be an extremely reliable underneath option.
His blazing speed turned out to be a major problem for this talented Irish offense.
Notre Dame Running Game: A
If I told you before the game that Rees was going to complete 37.5 percent of his throws for barely 100 yards, you probably would have given the Irish a solid 0 percent chance to win with how their running game has performed in the last few games.
But the Irish were dominant on the ground on Saturday, as Amir Carlisle, Cam McDaniel, Tarean Folston and George Atkinson combined for 215 yards on 23 carries (9.3 YPC).
Atkinson was notably special, carrying the load and helping keep the Irish close.
Even if you take out Atkinson's 80-yard scamper, the Irish running backs still averaged 6.1 yards per carry as the offensive line consistently got a tremendous push and opened up big running lanes.
The Irish have plenty of weapons at the skill positions on offense—now they just need to put together a complete game.
The undefeated Sooners will head home to host TCU, while the Irish will try to get back on track against Arizona State at AT&T Stadium in the newest Shamrock Series battle.