The setting was perfectly set for another Notre Dame exposure. A record 86,031 fans had packed into Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium to see the No.8 Oklahoma Sooners prove to the nation the No. 5 Fighting Irish were not worthy of the praises being sung of their 7-0 start this season.
Unfortunately for Oklahoma, the Fighting Irish proved they were more than worthy of those praises and then some, taking down the Sooners 30-13 Saturday night, and making a statement they belong in the national championship conversation.
The Irish didn't do anything fancy against the Sooners. They simply lined up on each play and out-executed the Sooners throughout the entire game. Quarterback Everett Golson grew up before everyone's eyes, something not very many people expected to happen. In fact, it was the Irish offense that ultimately decided the game with their ability to move the ball against a stingy Oklahoma defense.
Coming into Saturday night, the Sooners were focused on protecting quarterback Landry Jones from a dominant Irish front seven. For the most part, the Sooners did an excellent job of that, giving Jones plenty of time to throw downfield, and allowing just a single sack which came on a Manti Te'o blitz.
However, the Sooners were unable to establish any sort of running game, running for 15 yards on 24 attempts. That allowed the Irish to consistently drop into pass coverage, and eventually, those passing windows began to close for Jones.
On the flip side, the Irish ran the ball with surprising effectiveness against an OU defense that was allowing 138 yards per game on the ground. Notre Dame ran for 215 yards for the game, 62 of them coming from Cierre Wood on a first quarter touchdown run that stunned the capacity crowd in Norman, and put the Irish up 7-3.
The back-breaking play though, came in the fourth quarter from the surprising Golson. After the Sooners had tied the score at 13 on a Blake Bell touchdown run, Golson hit Chris Brown for 50 yards to the OU 15-yard line on a beautiful play-action fake. No one expected Golson's play to be the difference in the game, but ultimately, it was.
As for Te'o, the leader of the Irish defense continued to push his name to the forefront of the Heisman Trophy conversation, sacking Jones on the aforementioned blitz in the second quarter, making 11 tackles, and making the game-sealing diving interception on a deflected pass with 4:27 remaining in the game.
For the Sooners, it was a story of missed opportunities that destroyed any momentum the offense had built up. On the opening possession, a bad snap by center Gabe Ikard cost the Sooners 19 yards and ultimately forced a punt. Late in the first half trailing 10-3, the Sooners appeared to score a touchdown on a Bell run, but a holding penalty negated the play. The Sooners ended up kicking a field goal.
The Sooners made mistakes, particularly on defense, an uncharacteristic showing from what the Sooners have displayed the past three weeks in blowout victories over Texas Tech, Texas, and Kansas. However, this game wasn't about the Sooners' mistakes; it was about Notre Dame simply beating OU in every phase of the game.
Much of the game felt like a replica of the Sooners' early-season loss to Kansas State: OU moving the ball well, but failing to put points on the board or maintain forward momentum when needed the most. The end result was the exact same as well. Oklahoma simply lost to a better team.
The Irish have plenty to worry about and focus on with their path to the national championship game completely within their control. For OU, the season is far from over, but their national championship hopes and dreams are over. How the Sooners respond will be the true measurement of the character of this team. After all, the two teams Oklahoma has lost to will most likely be No.2 and No.3 in the BCS standings on Sunday.
While it's certainly nothing to be ashamed of, it's impossible to think about what could be if the Sooners had been able to make just a few more plays in each game. For tonight, though, the story is all about Notre Dame. Wake up the echoes indeed.