NORMAN — Notre Dame let it happen twice before two minutes ticked off the first-quarter clock.
An opposing receiver wearing jersey No. 4 sprinted past the Irish secondary, wide open and targeted with on-the-mark, downfield passes that looked like sure touchdowns.
Three weeks ago, speedy Miami receiver Phillip Dorsett let two opportunities for a quick, stunning score against Notre Dame's vaunted defense slip through his hands.
But Saturday, if Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones notices his No. 4 breaking free down Owen Field?
It's a good bet Irish defenders will be left chasing Kenny Stills as he goes, goes, goes, goes, and doesn't stop until he goes over that goal line.
“We're quite aware of their ability to get vertical,” said Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly. “We take great pride in our ability to minimize those big plays. We're going to have to do that again on Saturday if we expect to win.”
The No. 8 Sooners (5-1, 3-1 in Big 12 play) host fifth-ranked Notre Dame (7-0) at 7 p.m. Saturday in a virtual BCS national championship elimination game. It's a chance for Oklahoma to firmly restake its claim as a legitimate title contender after a slow start to the season.
For Notre Dame, it's an opportunity to prove its worth on national television, in a hostile environment and against an offense with big-play ability unlike anything the so-far impressive Irish defense has seen.
Stills has hauled in long first-quarter touchdowns twice this season — a 68-yarder at UTEP in the season opener, and a 44-yarder last week at home against Kansas.
Justin Brown and Sterling Shepard have each made big plays downfield, too; fullback Trey Millard hurdled a Longhorn defender during his 73-yard catch-and-run two weeks ago.
“I don't know if it gives us an advantage,” Jones said of Oklahoma's offensive style. “A good defense is a good defense, regardless of what type of offense they're playing against. They're a good defense.
“They play well together and they're not going to let anything go by them. ... They're going to make you beat them. They're not going to beat themselves.”