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Oklahoma Game Review: Irish Can't Answer the Bell

A review of Notre Dame's second loss of the season to the Sooners.

Jonathan Daniel

We saw the return of Bad Tommy, so-so defense, and a running game that came to life.

Play Call of the Game: Rees 6-yard TD Pass to Jones

Nothing too crazy but a nice play-call that confused the Sooner defense, drew Jones open in the back of the end zone, and put 6 points on the board in a spot where the Irish really needed a score.

Armchair Quarterback

Kelly will always get raked over the coals whenever Notre Dame loses but I thought the gameplan was pretty solid. I'm sure many were upset that Rees threw the ball early which resulted in turnovers but I think it's pretty disingenuous to get upset with the play-calling there knowing what unfolded in the rest of the game.

I would have tried to do something before the half with just under a minute to play. You can't play scared, even with Rees earlier turnovers. At least run the ball on first down and see what that sets you up with on second down.

The last three possessions should have seen some runs mixed in as well. With the way Rees was playing it wasn't smart to put everything on him there. Yet, the team was down two scores and most coaches would have passed a ton there so it's not a big deal. It'd be nice if Kelly could navigate those situations a little better and set up an opportunity for an easier 4th down conversion but overall the gameplan wasn't open to a lot of criticism.

Turning Point: Sterling Shepard 54-yard TD Reception

This play was a back breaker and the point when I really didn't think the Irish were going to come back and win, especially after the Sooners converted the 2-point conversion. Notre Dame had just completed a beautiful 7-play touchdown drive of 75 yards to close the gap to 6 points. It was early in the 4th quarter and the Irish desperately needed to get a stop and continue to change the momentum.

Instead, Oklahoma moved the ball close to midfield and Bell hit Shepard on a crossing route that he took to the house to make it a two score game. It was also third down too.

Surprising Stat: 54 Offensive Plays

The turnovers played a part in so few plays but this was still the second fewest of the Brian Kelly era. Only the Michigan game from last year had fewer with 50 plays.

Unheralded Star: Carlo Calabrese

Calabrese has quietly played pretty well this season and again he did some nice things in this game, I thought. He also led the defense with 10 tackles and laid a couple big hits.

Missed Opportunity: Hendrix Losing 8 Yards on a Rush

In my opinion this was a huge missed opportunity in the first half. The Irish had weathered the storm of falling behind 14-0 and slowly began controlling the play. The defense had forced two straight punts by Oklahoma, the Irish scored their first touchdown in between those punts, and they were driving again looking to tie the score.

Notre Dame had moved 42 yards to the Oklahoma 38-yard line and were set up with a 3rd and 2 situation following a very strong 7-yard rush by Folston. Hendrix kept the ball on the read and got completely blown up, losing 8 yards, and moving the team out of field goal range or at least a manageable 4th down opportunity.

Bad Flag of the Game

I've watched the Corey Robinson offensive pass interference play a few times and I still don't think it's a penalty. It was bad enough wasting the first two offensive series with turnovers, but having a 24-yard completion come back and subsequently punting really killed the offense in the first quarter.

Rees Reaction

Welp, we knew Rees was probably good for one of these games over a full season. It's be awfully nice if this was the only giant turd he lays this season.

9 completions with 3 interceptions is just all kinds of terrible. Even before the 7 incompletions to end the game Rees was only 9 for 17 on the game up to that point. It's hard to imagine a worse performance.

This is the hand that 2013 Irish football has been dealt. We have to deal with it.

Red Zone TD Success: 100%

The Irish only moved into the Oklahoma red zone once and scored their first touchdown when they did so. Notre Dame also punted in Sooner territory, threw another touchdown pass from the Sooner 30-yard line, and Rees threw an interception from the Oklahoma 24-yard line.

Special Teams Focus

With the in-depth analysis that Pat Rigney is bringing I'll let him break this down and I'll discontinue this section.

Trench Analysis

It was a solid game for the offensive line outside of the early mistake that led to Rees' first interception. They did give up a sack (thought Rees' lack of mobility, inner-clock, and inability to move in the pocket was more to blame) and Oklahoma had 4 tackles for loss, though. I think this was to be expected though considering the Sooners' defensive scheme. Being able to block so well for 220 yards at 7.6 per rush is almost always going to get the offensive line a high grade.

I don't have much to say about the defensive line other than they played okay. I was under no illusions that they'd dominate this game and they didn't. They made some good plays at times---particularly in short-yardage situations---but all of Oklahoma runners had good games, as a team OU went over 200 yards rushing, and the Irish totaled zero sacks and not much pressure.

Freshmen Update

Jaylon Smith continues to play very well at outside linebacker and added 7 more tackles to his season total. Tarean Folston had a couple of beautiful runs and is progressing rather nicely.

Elsewhere, Robinson and Fuller continue to get a lot of playing time at receiver while Onwualu is doing well on special teams and laid a big hit on Saturday. Luke, Butler, Redfield, and Rochell were the other freshmen to see the field.

Parsing through some other tweets it's looking like Bryant is probably going to apply for a medical redshirt and sit out the rest of the season.

Final Thoughts

Outside of the play of Rees I wasn't too upset with the way the team played. Even with a bunch of Rees' incompletions the offense still averaged 6.0 yards per play---the second best effort of the season behind the Temple game. And even though it's never great to give up 450 yards I'm not too angry with the defensive effort. Oklahoma has a lot of talent on offense, Bell played really well for his first road start, they stayed balanced, and the Sooners were flat out more talented at some positions.

I have no doubt this game would have been much closer without the Rees turnovers. Heck, Notre Dame might have won. Still, I wouldn't take too much away from Oklahoma. I thought they played very poised (outside of run defense) and they were doing a lot good things on offense.

George Atkinson, yes! The best thing right now is that he's running hard and appears to be putting in a ton of effort. He's still a little goofy out there and always will be but if he's going to play this determined he has to be the number one guy moving forward.

The offense really hasn't been able to make up for having Tommy Rees at quarterback with the way Carlisle has performed. Not to lay everything at Carlisle's feet, that's not what I mean, but he's not meeting expectations right now. Were our expectations too high? Right now he's a fairly average runner getting 7 carries a game while also catching about one short pass per game.

I still don't think the change of pace with Hendrix does anything. He's not a credible passer, he constantly makes bad decisions on the zone read, and he's such a clumsy runner. Aesthetically it seems fun but that's about it. Also not sure why Kelly waited until the fifth game to try this change of pace. In my view, start out with the change of pace from game one or try and get Hendrix the right amount of playing time where he challenge as starter. I suspect we won't see Hendrix again for a while because this was just a wrinkle to try and catch Oklahoma off guard. Oh, well.

There should be a lot of talk about Rees and the quarterback situation but I'm quite concerned about the defense long-term heading into next season. The offense has a ton of potential over the next couple of seasons with the return of Golson yet there are so many questions on defense moving forward.

I thought this would be a 9-3 season with Rees but that was also predicated on the defense playing at a very high level. Yes, they wouldn't be as good as last year in many ways but still very good. Turns out, the defense isn't at that level anymore. So, Rees + Decent Defense and this is probably a 8-4 season. You just can't win in this game without a great quarterback and the defense isn't there to carry the team anymore.

Why do we still put up with this? I can't wait for the stadium renovations.