Notre Dame's running game finally got going against Oklahoma.
Unfortunately, the passing game didn't.
The Oklahoma Sooners turned three Tommy Rees interceptions into 21 points en route to a 35-21 victory over the Irish in South Bend.
Rees struggled mightily at quarterback for the Irish, going 9-24 for 104 yards with two touchdown passes along with his three turnovers.
Oklahoma's defense put Notre Dame in a 14-0 hole less than three minutes into the game, hitting Rees on the Irish's first series and taking the ball back for a score. Notre Dame's second drive was no better, as Rees threw ahead of TJ Jones on the first play, popping the ball up for Frank Shannon of the Oklahoma defense.
Despite that hole, the Irish running game got going early behind the legs of Tarean Folston, who scampered 36 yards to the goal line, resulting in an Irish touchdown for TJ Jones.
The Irish offense also saw the first sighting of Andrew Hendrix at quarterback, as the Senior came in on short-yardage running plays and performed rather well, rushing 5 times for 10 yards.
The bright spot for the Irish had to be George Atkinson III, who paved the way with 148 yards on 14 carries, including an 80-yard touchdown run in the second half.
But the Sooner offense was able to put the game away with the arm and legs of Blake Bell. Bell threw for 232 yards and 2 scores and added 59 yards on the ground. His statline is pretty comparable to the only other running-QB that the Irish defense faced his season in Devin Gardner, whose 294 yards in the air and 82 on the ground were the difference.
The Irish can hang their hat on their 220 rushing yards for the game and the fact that they outrushed the Sooners, but with a minus-3 turnover ratio and some unfortunate offensive play, Notre Dame finds themselves at 3-2 heading into a tough match against Arizona State.
- Notre Dame received the opening kickoff
- After an incomplete fade and a short run, Rees was hit while throwing the ball, resulting in an Oklahoma Pick Six
- Notre Dame opened their second drive with a pick on the first play, a slant intended for TJ Jones.
- Oklahoma turned the turnover into 7 points on a 11-yard run by Damien Williams
- At the 12:15 mark of the 1st quarter, Tommy Rees matched his season total in interceptions
- ND's third drive resulted in a punt, after a nice 3rd down catch by Corey Robinson was called back on a questionable Pass Interference call
- Notre Dame's offense got their first 1st down at the 8:57 mark in the first quarter.
- Andrew Hendrix entered the game at the 7 minute mark in the first quarter for a series of Read Option plays.
- He lasted 2 plays, a handoff and a scramble incomplete pass (I actually credit him for not forcing the issue here)
- Hendrix was the goal-line QB for ND's series after the long Folston run and turned the reins over to Rees after a Ronnie Stanley false start
- Rees' 6-yard toss to TJ Jones was the second straight game that Jones caught the first TD pass for the Notre Dame Offense
- Notre Dame's defense played a solid bend-but-don't break in the first quarter on Oklahoma's final two drives of the quarter, resulting in 2 punts
- End of the first quarter statline thoughts:
-- Notre Dame had 82 yards rushing. 82!!!
-- Tarean Folston's lone 36-yard carry made him the leading rusher; Atkinson - 5 for 22; Carlisle and McDaniel with 2 carries for 11 yards apiece; Hendrix - 2 carries for 8 yards
-- Tommy Rees: 5-9 for 39 yards with a TD and 2 picks...yikes
- Alex Wulfeck landed a punt inside the 10-yard line with a fair catch at the 8. One of the better punt coverages that I've seen by ND's special teams unit
- [Mid-2nd Quarter Thought] Oklahoma clearly benefitted from designed QB-runs by Bell and short passes into space for his receivers. Bell at this point struggled to throw deep
- [Another Mid-2nd Quarter Thought] Andrew Hendrix is the new short yardage QB!?
- Great 2nd quarter by George Atkinson III. Averaged 4.4 yards in the first quarter and 5.3 by halftime
- Two of Rees' interceptions were on very poorly thrown balls. His 2nd pick was ahead of TJ Jones and high and his 3rd pick was behind Daniels and way late. Jones and Daniels were also in the same area so I have to wonder if there was a play breakdown here
- Bell's TD pass near the end of the 2nd quarter happened as a result of zero pass rush as well as Jackson getting caught ball-watching as Bester cut his route to the outside
- By the Half, Oklahoma scored all 21 of their points off of Tommy Rees interceptions
- Halftime thoughts:
-- With the exception of one play, the short-yardage personnel package with Hendrix was doing a solid job of moving the football
-- Without overstating the obvious, Oklahoma was only ahead at half because of Tommy Rees' costly interceptions. On the two possessions that ND punted the ball to the Sooners, ND's defense came up with 2 huge stops.
-- I don't agree with the decision to kneel it. 42 seconds with three timeouts and a solid moving running game when you know Oklahoma is gonna play prevent defense? Confusing to me.
-- Offensive Stats:
-- 164 total offensive yards
-- Rees: 6 of 13 for 52 yards, 1 TD and 3 INTs
-- Rushing: Folston - 2 carries for 43 yards (Long of 36); Atkinson III - 7 carries for 37 yards; McDaniel - 3 carries for 12 yards; Carlisle - 2 carries for 11 yards; Hendrix - 5 carries for 10 yards (Long of 6)
-- Receiving: Jones - 3 catches for 33 yards and a TD; Niklas - 1 catch for 13 yards; Fuller - 1 catch for 11 yards; Atkinson III - 1 catch for -5 yards
-- Defense is good when they get contain on Bell. He can't make the deep throw (the TD pass notwithstanding) so keeping him in pocket and not giving him time or space is helping the D.
- Notre Dame outrushed Oklahoma at halftime, 112 yards to 88 yards on 6 more carries.
- Notre Dame ran 4 more plays - 34 to 30 for the Sooners
- Oklahoma had more first downs, 12 to 8
- George Atkinson III's 80-yard TD run was 2 yards longer than ND's rushing total against Michigan State, 11 yards shorter than our total against Purdue, and 16 yards shorter than our rushing total against Michigan
- Bell left the game at the 6:06 mark of the 3rd quarter with what looked like a lower leg injury
- Notre Dame won the 3rd Quarter on points, with a touchdown to 2 field goals for the Sooners
- Daniels caught his first pass with 15 seconds left in the 3rd quarter.
- Third Quarter Stats and Thoughts:
-- Oklahoma ran five more plays, 50 to 45
-- Oklahoma had more total yards, 315 to 287
-- Notre Dame out-rushed the Sooners, 222 to 160
-- George Atkinson III was the player of the quarter for the Irish and had maybe his best quarter all season.
-- Defense was still in bend-but-don't-break mode but held Oklahoma's scoring to 2 FGs
- Niklas' 30-yard TD catch was a result of good timing for Rees and Oklahoma's secondary blowing their coverage. Looked like a miscommunication between the curls-flats CB and the Safety covering the deep zone
- Bell returned in the 4th quarter for Oklahoma and threw a 54-yard TD pass.
- Rees continued to struggle throwing the sideline fade throughout the game
- George Atkinson III almost exclusively carried the ball in the 2nd half. No Folston sighting at all.
- With 7-minutes left to go in the game, Brian Kelly abandoned the run.
- Oklahoma was able to effectively run out the clock to end the game.
- End of game stats and thoughts:
-- Notre Dame outrushed the Sooners 220 to 212
-- Oklahoma with more total yards, 450 to 394. As a point of reference, Michigan outgained ND 460-410.
-- Rees was 9 of 24 for 104, 2 TDs and 3 INTs. Yikes.
-- Niklas with 2 catches for 43 yards and a score; Jones with 4 catches for 42 yards and a score
- Notre Dame's 10-win streak at home ended
- Oklahoma's victory is their second in the entire series history vs. Notre Dame
[Ducking] You might disagree with me, but we could've won this game. Our defense had some very nice stops, including a couple on 4th down and the running game was excellent. Any time that you can get an 80-yard TD run means that you are doing something correctly. Atkinson looked strong as a rusher today and I am relieved that I didn't give up on him. I also think Andrew Hendrix added a nice twist to the running game and there are clear things that he can work on. But overall, he looked serviceable.
However, the passing game really struggled. It might've been Rees' worst outing of his career, but I will stand corrected. He never really looked comfortable and while Mike Mayock was a little defensive to Rees, I fault him for all three interceptions. He continued to force the ball throughout the game and never really connected. He also continues to struggle on the sideline fade, which is concerning.
There really hasn't been a game yet this season where Notre Dame has put together a complete game. The offense went stagnant and the defense got lazy against Temple, our defense struggled against Michigan and our offense struggled against Michigan State. Both units struggled against Purdue but did enough in the end to win. If the Irish want to finish the season strong, they really need to focus on putting together a complete game: Four quarters of sound defensive football, moving the ball well offensively and putting points on the board as well as minimizing turnovers and negative plays.
As we near the halfway point of the season, it remains to be seen how the Irish will respond to this setback.