No. 11 Sooners say win over Irish helps confidence
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - Oklahoma is brimming with confidence, while Notre Dame is awash in questions after falling out of the rankings.
The No. 11 Sooners (4-0) head back into Big 12 play as the highest-ranked team in the conference with a home game Saturday against TCU. Defensive end Geneo Grissom said Oklahoma's 35-21 victory over Notre Dame, just its second in 11 tries against the Irish, gave him confidence in his team's defense, which keyed the victory with three interceptions.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said the Irish need to focus on simply getting better. For Notre Dame, the loss was especially frustrating, not only because the Irish found themselves quickly behind by 14, but because they have been so inconsistent.
A season after the Irish's victory at Oklahoma helped vault them into the national championship game, the Sooners hoped their victory over a program that had dominated them through the decades will provide them a similar lift.
"That will be one of the best experiences I will ever have my entire life. It's a wonderful feeling. Words can't even describe how the whole defense and the whole offense just made history,'' said linebacker Corey Nelson, who got the victory started with a 24-yard interception return for a touchdown 49 seconds into the game.
Oklahoma finally beat the Irish after a frustrating seven straight losses since 1956, including one that snapped its NCAA-record, 47-game winning streak in 1957 and cost the Sooners a shot at a third straight national title.
Even coach Bob Stoops, who spent the week saying his team didn't carry the burden of past Oklahoma failures - including two of his own - conceded the victory was special.
"Got to admit we were here in `99 and that's still a little bit of a sore spot that we were up 16 and lost,'' he said. "We were pretty determined not to let that happen again. Fortunately, it ended up the right way for us.''
Just as important for Oklahoma, it was a road win in a marquee game.
"It gives me a lot of confidence with this defense and where we're going,'' defensive end Geneo Grissom.
Notre Dame's concern heading into the game was running the ball better after being held to less than 100 yards rushing for three straight games. The Irish got their ground-game going, rushing for 220 yards behind 148 yards on 14 carries for George Atkinson III, but quarterback Tommy Rees struggled mightily for a second straight game. He was held to 104 yards passing, the lowest total for the Irish since managing just 41 yards against USC in 2008.
After passing for more than 300 yards in each of Notre Dame's first three games, Rees is 23-of-58 passing for 246 yards with three interceptions and three touchdowns the past two games. Kelly said the problem has been Rees' accuracy against teams playing good man-to-man coverage, receivers running imprecise routes and some mistakes along the line.
"We did not do a very good job of helping him out,'' Kelly said.
The Irish used Andrew Hendrix, a more mobile quarterback, for more than a half-dozen plays against Oklahoma. Kelly said he plans to continue to using Hendrix, saying he'd like to expand the package to add play-action passes.
"Andrew gives us the dimension to allow us to run the football, help us out in some short yardage situations where we know it's been difficult for us with so many guys on the line of scrimmage that it doesn't turn into throw the football every time,'' Kelly said.
The Irish, who fell out of the rankings with the loss, will try to rebound against No. 22 Arizona State, which jumped into the rankings after beating USC 62-41 in a game that resulted in Trojans coach Lane Kiffin being fired. The game will be played in Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, in a "home'' game for Notre Dame.
Kelly also said he will talk to Atlantic Coast Conference officials about whether Notre Dame should appeal linebacker Ben Councell being ejected for targeting for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Oklahoma running back Brennan Clay, which means he must sit out the first half against Arizona State.
"There was no intent. He was trying to make a play on the ball,'' he said.
Some Irish players were booed by fans when they ran off the field after the loss, rather than stand in front of the student section for the singing of the alma mater. Kelly said he changed that practice two years ago but some players either forgot or didn't know because the Irish had won 10 straight at home.
"I just felt like in those situations after a loss there's a lot of emotions. It's important to get the team back in the locker room and get them under my guidance,'' Kelly said.