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October 28, 2012

Brindza straightens himself out

NORMAN, Okla. - Apparently it does get better than kicking a game-winning field goal.

For Kyle Brindza, that realization came early in the fourth quarter of Notre Dame's 30-13 upset of Oklahoma when Brian Kelly showed enough faith in the sophomore to attempt a 44-yarder with the Irish up just four points.

After a bad hook from 34 yards a quarter earlier, Brindza took the field looking to back up his coach and his team. He resisted the temptation to watch the football after contact, at least for a split second.

"I tried to keep my head down because that's one of the mechanics with kicking," Brindza said. "I was going to let the crowd tell me if it was good or not. I peaked up. It was just a weight lifting off of my shoulders. It felt really good to see it go through."

The field goal put Notre Dame up 13-6, meaning Oklahoma's touchdown five minutes later didn't push the Sooners in front.

Brindza then connected from 46 yards with 3:16 left in the fourth quarter to put the Irish ahead 23-13 following a Manti Te'o interception. The final field goal removed all doubt surrounding of the ultimate outcome. The Irish kicker finished 3-of-4 on field goals and hit all three extra points.

"Some may have hung their head," Kelly said. "But he bounced back, came back strong for us. I said to him, 'I'm proud of you, but you're shaking my confidence. Don't do it anymore,' and he promised he wouldn't."

The field goal operation on Brindza's miss appeared shaky with a low snap from Jordan Cowart and a muddled hold by Ben Turk. But the kicker took the blame for the miss, claiming he drifted too far left in his approach.

For the season, Brindza is 14-of-19 on field goal attempts after replacing the injured Nick Tausch after the opener. Brindza said the confidence shown by Kelly played a part in his ability to bounce back against Oklahoma and a week earlier against BYU when he missed his first two attempts.

"If coach came up to you and was just ripping on you, it's kind of a different mentality," Brindza said. "They'll tell you what's wrong, but they'll also cheer your spirits up. It's a great coaching staff and they did everything to keep confidence in me."

Brindza was part of a strong special teams night overall for Notre Dame. Oklahoma entered the game ranked No. 3 nationally in kickoff returns (31.2 yards) and No. 6 in punt returns (17.9 yards). The Sooners finished without a punt return and averaged 15 yards on their first three kickoff returns.

Brennan Clay's 44-yard kickoff return came in the final 90 seconds with the game already decided. Excluding that runback, Oklahoma's average starting field position on Brindza kickoffs was its 21-yard line, meaning worse than a touchback. The Sooners opened the game on their own 12.

"Oh my gosh, I don't know if we've had a better coverage unit, besides the last one on kickoff, in a while," Brindza said. "It was astounding. I give all the respect to everyone for doing their job and on relying on one another … that they're going to do their job."

That kickoff coverage felt good for Brindza. That game-winning field goal against Purdue did too. But none of it felt as good as bouncing back to hit that 44-yarder to keep the pressure on Oklahoma.

"This one, this was a huge game," Brindza said. "Although the Purdue was a game-winner, but this was a team unit, a game where I had to bounce back and my teammates helped me out. Obviously, this one was the biggest."


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