SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Oklahoma finally found a way to beat Notre Dame.
The 14th-ranked Sooners took advantage of three interceptions, two in the first 3 minutes as they jumped out to a 14-0 lead, and Blake Bell passed for two touchdowns to lead the Sooners to a 35-21 victory over the 22nd-ranked Fighting Irish on Saturday.
The win ended a seven-game losing streak to Notre Dame and was just the second in 11 meetings for the Sooners against the Irish, including ending an NCAA-record 47-game winning streak in 1957.
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, an Irish Catholic who grew up in Ohio and downplayed the history aspect all week, conceded the victory was especially gratifying.
“Now that it’s happened this way, I’m pleased and I sure am glad for those older Oklahomans that have been through all those games Notre Dame had beaten us. We get some level of satisfaction winning this one,” he said. “Who knows when we’ll play again? So they can live it up and say, ‘We got you’ last until we go again.”
The Sooners (4-0) took control with the two interceptions.
Rees didn’t see Oklahoma linebacker Eric Striker blitzing and was hit from behind, popping the ball loose, and linebacker Corey Nelson caught it and returned it 24 yards for a TD.
On Notre Dame’s next play from scrimmage, Rees’ pass ricocheted off the arm of receiver TJ Jones and linebacker Frank Shannon bobbled it before returning it 17 yards to the Notre Dame 32. The Sooners scored another TD four plays later on an 11-yard run by Damien Williams.
Coach Brian Kelly was surprised by the slow start by Notre Dame (3-2).
“You never expect to not pick up the simplest of stunts and have your quarterback get the ball stripped. You never expect not to run the right route when you’re supposed to,” he said. “The turnovers for us were too much to overcome.”
After Notre Dame played a nearly perfect game in beating the Sooners last season, with no turnovers and just one penalty for 5 yards, Oklahoma was the one that made the fewest mistakes Saturday. The Sooners, who managed just 15 yards rushing against the Irish last season, finished with 212 yards rushing.
The game was a stark contrast to last season, when the Irish dominated the lines of scrimmage and amassed 215 yards on the ground.
The Sooners frequently went wide on both runs and passes to try to offset Notre Dame’s size inside. The Irish managed to rush for a season-high 220 yards, with George Atkinson running for 148 yards on 14 carries.
Bell, making his second career start, wasn’t as impressive as he was when he passed for 413 yards and four touchdowns in a 51-20 win over Tulsa, but he was good enough to lead the Sooners over the Irish. He was 22 of 30 passing for 232 yards and two touchdowns.
“He was really sharp. He put the ball where it needed to be, finding the right guys, going through his reads,” Stoops said. “And give credit to the line to give them the opportunity to find those guys, so I thought he played great.”
Bell, threw a 26-yard TD pass to Lacoltan Bester to cap an 88-yard drive after an interception by cornerback Julian Wilson late in the second quarter, said the victory was especially satisfying considering last season’s loss.
“We felt like we left some stuff on the field last year. Obviously we didn’t come up with a win last year so we really wanted this one bad, especially coming on the road,” Bell said
Rees struggled for a second straight game. After three straight games of passing for more than 300 yards, he was 9 of 24 for a season-low 104 yards.
“Obviously, I’m disappointed with how I played, individually. I’ve got to be better. You can’t turn the ball over and expect to win games against good teams like Oklahoma,” Rees said.
Kelly said there was plenty of blame to go around.
“This is about 11 players. We don’t execute on the offensive line in the first fumble, we don’t run the right route. It’s natural for everybody to go after the quarterback, but there’s 11 players out there,” Kelly said.
Kelly didn’t want to talk about what the loss means big picture for the Irish, who entered the season with hopes of making it back to the BCS title game.
“That’s for you guys to talk about. I’ve got a football team we’re trying to work with and develop. You guys can have your own comments and decide what happens and put us in any bowl you want,” he said.