At the half Terry Brennan said, "Just slant, gap and blow. Forget the two bad breaks and bear down for the next 30 minutes. Change the plays and keep mixing them up. This is the big half."
Seldom has advice been taken so well. The Notre Dame backs slanted through the Oklahoma line, the Notre Dame line chinked up the gaps tight. At the end of the big half, Notre Dame had won 7-0, ending Oklahoma's string of victories at 47 and its string of scoring games at 123, and blowing out all the candles on the state of Oklahoma's 50th birthday cake in one big puff.
One big play did it, with about four minutes left in the game. Bobby Williams, a lean, shock-haired youngster from Wilkes-Barre, Pa., was the architect of defeat. After the game, a wide, thin grin splitting his gamin face, he said, "On the scoring play, they were in tight, real tight, waiting for me to give the ball to Pietrosante, or Nick the Greek God, as we call him. Well, I tossed out to Dick Lynch, faked to Nick into the line and it worked like a charm and there we had it."
It was not quite that simple. It started with a tremendous scouting job on Oklahoma by Notre Dame Assistant Coach Bernie Crimmins. Dick Lynch, who scored the winning touchdown, pinpointed that. Sitting relaxed on the training table in the Notre Dame dressing room while a trainer checked a cut over his left eye, he said, "It was tremendous. It was the most tremendous job of scouting I ever saw. We really had 'em tabbed."
Then the upset built all week on the Notre Dame campus. By proclamation of the student council, it was Beat Oklahoma Week. Students straggled across the campus through the rain and gathered 400 or 500 strong every day to watch the Irish practice and to cheer them. Spontaneous pep rallies broke out every day and the students sang the chant of the week over and over again: "Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday, Oklahoma, happy birthday to you." The team actually needed little emotional help from the student body; it had motive enough for a supreme effort in this game. Fresh in memory was last season's humiliating 40-0 whomping by Oklahoma, and even fresher was the memory of two defeats in the last two weeks. By the time the Fighting Irish lined up for the kickoff in Norman, they were as supercharged as a hydroplane engine.
"We knew we had to outhustle them to beat them," Pietrosante said after the game. "That's what we did. Oklahoma's a running team and they've got the fastest backs going, but we outhustled them."
The Irish had to roll with the Oklahoma punch in the first half. They could get only one first down in the first quarter, but they stopped Oklahoma when they had to.
The bad breaks Brennan had referred to came during this relatively ineffectual period for Notre Dame, but the irish accepted the bad breaks and fought back well enough to nullify them. Pat Doyle, a Notre Dame halfback, lost the ball piling into the line on the Notre Dame 34 and Oklahoma Guard Dick Corbitt pounced on it. But the Irish defense threw Oklahoma back five yards on the next three plays and forced a punt. As the Notre Dame attack began to lurch ahead in the second quarter, another break stalled it. From the Oklahoma 16, Notre Dame used a tricky fake place-kick pass to reach the Sooner six, but on the second play after this spectacular success, an Irish pass strayed into the hands of OU's David Baker, and the Sooners were put of trouble. By now, however, the tide of battle had shifted, and as the second half opened, Notre Dame appeared to be in clear control of the game. Brennan, thoroughly familiar with the tactics of his foe, made minor adjustments at the intermission and the Irish took over.
"We knew that Oklahoma might use an unbalanced line and flankers and even some single wing," Brennan said after the game. "But we knew too that whenever they had to move they went back to their regular split-T, balanced-line offense. So we didn't do anything too different on defense. We took our basic defense and adjusted it to fit. We played the gaps in their line to close up the splits between their linemen and we sent the linebackers in to put pressure on the quarterback a lot. We gave them the flat zone for passes that way, if they could take advantage of it, but we figured we could put on enough pressure so that they couldn't. They didn't use anything we weren't expecting."
As the Oklahoma attack stalled in the face of the intelligent, determined Notre Dame defense, the Notre Dame offense began to move the ball.