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September 27, 2013

Irish look for Norman momentum

Eleven months ago, Oklahoma had endured a mere four losses in its previous 83 home games. Critics insisted the Irish would not beat a bona fide top-10 team. The trip to Norman was supposed to mark the proverbial midnight on Cinderella’s treasured evening, the first blemish upon Notre Dame’s 2012 record.

Instead, Notre Dame handed Oklahoma and head coach Bob Stoops just his fifth loss in 84 games in Norman, beating the then-No. 8 Sooners, 30-13, to continue down a path that led to a national championship appearance.

At 3-1 with back-to-back narrow victories over Purdue and Michigan State, they’re still looking for that momentum heading into the fifth game of the ’13 season.

“It did a lot for us confidence-wise and for team morale,” said senior receiver and tri-captain TJ Jones of last season’s victory in Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. “For team chemistry, to be able to go on the road and beat Oklahoma -- and they were on the rise at that point in the season -- I think it did a lot for us.

“That might have been the point where it finally clicked and you saw a glimpse of greatness that we had the potential to achieve as a team.”

Last year’s victory raised Notre Dame’s record to 8-0 and provided the Irish with their fourth win over a top-25 foe. But it was the decisive manner of victory that provided the -- pick your word -- momentum, confidence, morale, chemistry and glimpse of greatness. Oklahoma gained 15 total rushing yards and converted only four of 14 third downs. The Irish scored 17 points in the final 5:05 to put the game out of the Sooners’ reach.

“It just helped the team know that we can compete with the best programs in the world,” senior cornerback and captain Bennett Jackson said. “Let them know that we are one of those best programs, one of the better programs, so it’s definitely a confidence-booster going in there and performing how we did.”

The Irish are accustomed to the annual hoopla surrounding the all-time wins and winning percentage marks when they play Michigan each year, but the amount of football history on the field when Notre Dame plays Oklahoma rivals those Michigan-related figures.

Notre Dame and Oklahoma have combined for 18 national titles. They stand second and fourth all-time in winning percentage and second and sixth in total victories, respectively.

What is the only program with more No. 1 rankings than Notre Dame? Oklahoma. What is the only program to have endured fewer losing seasons than Notre Dame? Again, Oklahoma. As two of the winningest programs in college football history, the rarity of this match-up is not lost on the Irish.

“Looking back, when we get older or whatever, it’ll be cool to say we played against Oklahoma, in Norman and at home,” senior quarterback Tommy Rees said. “We have the most respect for Oklahoma and the program they’ve put together. It’s something we’re striving to be, one of those programs that year-in and year-out is consistently winning a lot of games.”

In order to be “one of those programs” -- or to use Irish head coach Brian Kelly’s words when describing Stoops’s team, “a benchmark for consistency and success” -- Notre Dame must find whatever ingredient it did last year in Norman.

“(The win in Norman) solidified a lot of things within the team and what we can do, how we play,” junior safety Matthias Farley said. “As the season goes on, everyone progresses and the team plays together. Things get better week-in and week-out. I don’t think anyone would say we’ve reached our full potential.”





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