NORMAN, Okla. - Brian Kelly sprinted toward the locker room after Notre Dame’s 30-13 upset of Oklahoma, heading straight up the red ramp in Memorial Stadium’s southeast corner. Stamped on the walkway are the Sooners’ national championship seasons, meaning the Irish head coach literally trampled Oklahoma history on his way out of town.
Bob Stoops won’t be adding to his legacy this year, Oklahoma now 1-9 against Notre Dame all time.
Kelly and the Irish might be.
Notre Dame (8-0) didn’t just stay perfect before the record crowd of 86,031. The Irish made their most convincing case of the season that they’re legitimate national championship contenders.
“It’s another step for us,” Kelly said. “We have not in any way, shape or form arrived. We’ve got a lot of work to continue to work towards. But a real big step for our team in that they know they can go on the road and play with anybody.
“We don’t really care what other people think about us. They really just care about each other, Notre Dame and winning football games. They’ll let everybody else decide who we are.”
Defining Notre Dame now includes more than its defense, as the Irish will enter November unbeaten for the first time in 10 years and poised to run the table into the Los Angeles Coliseum for the first time since its last championship season.
Thanks to the maturation of Everett Golson, Notre Dame is more complete than it’s been all season. Saturday night might not have been the season’s most prolific offensive performance at 403 yards, but it was Notre Dame’s best. The Irish rushed for 215 yards and brought more to the line of scrimmage than Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick, with George Atkinson III sidelined by illness.
Golson finished 13-of-25 for 177 yards to go with 64 yards rushing. He committed no turnovers, bounced back from a huge Tony Jefferson hit, and made big plays when needed.
“He led,” Kelly said. “He was confident, he was calm. All the things you need to see from your quarterback when you’re on the road against a very good opponent in Oklahoma.”
Golson directed Notre Dame to scores on its final three drives, none more dramatic than midway through the fourth quarter after Oklahoma tied it 13-13 on a Blake Bell touchdown run. It was the first rushing score allowed by the Irish all season, but the Sooners needed a fourth down conversion to set it up.
The Irish responded with a seven-play, 73-yard drive built around a 50-yard bomb to Chris Brown, the freshman’s first catch of the season. Golson capped the game-winning march with a one-yard touchdown run.
“When we first got the call (to pass to Brown), Oklahoma did a great job manning us up, but I also had confidence in Chris Brown,” Golson said. “I thought that he would beat them.”
Golson overthrew Brown earlier. He knew the second time was good from the moment it left his hand.
“Yeah, I thought so,” he laughed.
Manti Te’o picked off Jones on the next drive, sucking the life from Memorial Stadium, which was hosting its biggest game in 12 years. The Irish All-American linebacker and Heisman Trophy candidate finished with 11 tackles, two tackles for loss, his first sack of the season and his fifth pick.
The performance should book postseason travel to New York.
“Obviously, we knew that basically the only people that believed in us are the fans and the guys in the locker room,” Te’o said. “I think for us, we don’t really pay attention to that. It doesn’t bother us. I think that’s what’s so good about our team, we only focus on the guys in our locker room.”
Oklahoma entered the game averaging 200 yards rushing but finished with just 15 as the Sooners attempted to establish a ground game that never got on track. The Sooners didn’t have a rush longer than seven yards in the game, its up-tempo offense bogging down for long stretches.
While Jones racked up yardage, he didn’t throw a touchdown pass for the first time all season. Oklahoma, ranked tops nationally in red zone offense and scoring touchdowns on 75 percent of its trips, crossed the goal line just once in four chances.
That no-fly zone included the game’s end when Kelly demanded a review of an apparent Kenny Stills touchdown catch. It was was overturned and spotted at the one-yard line. The Sooners went backward from there, Prince Shembo’s sack ending the game.
“Obviously we’d broken their will at that point,” said Zeke Motta. “That just shows that we’re going to fight until the end no matter what, no matter what the circumstance is.”
“We felt comfortable the moment we were out there just because this is what we do. To be on a stage like this, there’s no other feeling like it.”