Any hope of Oklahoma inserting itself back into the BCS title hunt vanished on Saturday with a 30-13 loss to Notre Dame at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. The Irish made plays when they needed them and the Sooners did not as OU suffered its second home loss of the season. Here is a closer look at several key plays in the loss:
Sooners fail to convert on third-and-3 at Notre Dame 11-yard line
This was a critical play for many reasons. (1) OU had cruised down the field for the second straight possession to open the game and didn’t want to have just three points to show for it. (2) It was an opportunity for the Sooners offense to gain confidence they could make key plays when they needed them against the Irish. (3) It was an early sign that ND was comfortable dropping in coverage to try to stop OU.
The Sooners had a bunch formation to the right with Justin Brown, Jalen Saunders and Trey Millard lined up within five yards of right tackle Daryl Williams. The Irish rushed four at the snap, dropping seven into coverage. Even though the middle was clogged with ND defenders, Landry Jones tried to throw that way anyway. Irish defensive tackle Louis Nix, who was a monster throughout the game, batted the pass up in the air and Kenny Stills dropped the deflection.
The Sooners only needed three yards and Jones had Millard in the right flat near the first down marker with ND cornerback KeiVarae Russell as the lone defender in the area. Jones was likely throwing to Brown, who appeared to be coming free in the end zone. Nonetheless, the fifth-year senior needs to understand down and distance on that play. Take the easy first down.
The Irish also sent a message on the play: We don’t have to do anything special to stop you. As a result, OU took one of the most disappointing 3-0 leads in recent memory.
Cierre Wood’s 62-yard touchdown run
Three plays after OU was forced to settle for a field goal, the Irish grabbed all the momentum on Wood’s 62-yard touchdown gallop. It forced the Sooners to play the majority of the game with a deficit.
ND got tremendous push on the play, driving the Sooners' interior four yards past the line of scrimmage and creating a crease right up the middle of the formation. Wood showed patience in waiting for a crease to develop and neither Tony Jefferson or Javon Harris recognized the crease quickly enough to be a factor. Bottom line: It was a well-blocked play as ND moved several Sooners defenders where the Irish wanted them to go.
It’s hard to fault anyone but the defensive line because OU coaches and players have said, on multiple occasions, that the design of OU’s defense is to make ball carriers bounce the ball to the outside where Harris and Jefferson, OU’s top two tacklers, should be waiting. The Sooners front four didn’t get it done on that play.
OU’s red-zone drive before the half
After Blake Bell’s touchdown was called back for holding, the Sooners couldn’t tie the game despite two tries from the Irish 13-yard line.
On second down, Jones had 2.8 seconds before he was flushed from the pocket and was forced to throw the ball away. The Sooners receivers simply could not get open on the play.
On third down, Brennan Clay made a terrific move to get open in the middle of the field but dropped the ball. The junior running back likely could have gotten inside the 5-yard line on the play and possibly could have scored. If he doesn’t drop the ball, Bob Stoops would have had a decision to make on fourth down, particularly after OU had already used the Belldozer with success.
For the second time in the first half, OU finished a quality drive with one of the most disappointing three points of the season.
Fourth-down conversion on OU’s touchdown drive
On fourth-and-2 at the Irish 9-yard line, the Sooners threw the football out of the Belldozer package for the first time in 2012.
The Irish lined up with 10 of their 11 defenders within five yards of the line of scrimmage. At the snap, instead of blocking as usual, Millard released into the flat. The Irish had eight defenders committed to stopping the run, leaving Millard all alone in the flat. Bell lobbed a perfect pass to him and the all-purpose back almost got into the end zone. Terrific play call by OU and the coaches deserve credit for waiting as long as it took for the right situation to arise for the Sooners to use this particular play with confidence.
Bell powered into the end zone on the next play to tie the score at 13.
Chris Brown’s 50-yard reception
The Irish used play action to take the crowd right back out of the game after Bell’s touchdown re-energized the stadium.
ND quarterback Everett Golson’s fake to Wood set up his accurate pass to Brown, who beat Demontre Hurst to the inside on the play. Harris, who lined up as OU's deepest safety on the play, cheated toward the line after the play fake, allowing Brown to get behind him. Hurst was in good position but it was a terrific throw by the redshirt freshman. If the Irish hadn’t been running the ball well throughout the game, the play wouldn’t have been so open.
The Irish punched it in to take a 20-13 lead with 5:05 remaining. The seven-play, 73-yard drive was a terrific answer by ND, the type of response expected from elite teams.
Manti Te’o’s interception
The Irish linebacker put the game away with his fifth interception of the season, a diving catch that would have made most receivers proud.
Jones had plenty of time in the pocket and looked for Saunders, who was his favorite receiver, by far, on the night. Saunders was well-covered and got manhandled by ND linebacker Dan Fox, popping the ball into the air. Te’o, who was at least 10 yards away from Saunders when the ball was thrown, was sprinting toward the ball and dove to snatch it out of the air.
Irish kicker Kyle Brindza put the game away with a 46-yard field goal for a 23-13 ND lead with 3:22 left.
It was a prime example of why Te’o is one of college football’s best players. He had no business even being around the ball. Yet he was because he pursued the ball with 100 percent effort in the final five minutes of a hard-fought 60 minute game.