The Sooners played mostly fantastic Saturday, but some areas need work, and the grades reflect it. But that's good news, too, for OU, that it could win so decisively without a pristine performance.
PASS RUSH: A
The Sooners ended up with only one sack, shared by Jordan Phillips and Corey Nelson, but they constantly harassed Notre Dame quarterbacks. Jordan Phillips and Nelson tipped passes at the line of scrimmage, Charles Tapper and Eric Striker each had two quarterback hurries, and Striker's created the interception that Nelson returned for a touchdown.
SHORT-YARDAGE OFFENSE: D
The Sooners seven times faced third down with either one or two yards needed. They converted only twice. Damien Williams made a hard-earned first down with a physical run on 3rd-and-1, and Blake Bell threw to Jalen Saunders on a 3rd-and-2. OU tried a variety of things. The Belldozer. Old-style option play. Short passes. Little worked. And OU also settled for a field goal after first-and-goal at the Notre Dame 2-yard line. However, the Sooners did turn a 3rd-and-3 into a 54-yard touchdown pass from Bell to Sterling Shepard.
From early in the week to after the game, Notre Dame could not have been more welcoming. The manifestations Saturday included golf cart rides for Sooner fans walking to various campus attractions, to inviting OU bands director William Wakefield to direct the Irish band on the national anthem, to ushers talking football with Sooner fans, to a standing ovation for Bell when he left the game with a cramp in the third quarter.
RELIEF PITCHING: A
When Bell went out, who knew what to expect when Trevor Knight entered? Not the Irish. The Sooners immediately reverted to their shotgun option offense; Knight scooted 30 yards on his first snap, and OU quickly reached first-and-goal at the 4-yard line. The drive stalled and the Sooners settled for a field goal, but the sequence offered up tons of possibilities for future uses of Knight as a change-of-pace quarterback.
DEFENSIVE GAMEPLAN: C
The Sooners used a variety of four-linebacker sets. Sometimes a 3-4-4, sometimes a 4-3, with Nelson or Striker moving up to the line, sometimes even an old Okie 5-2. However, the alignment made the Sooners light (in pounds) on the edge, and Notre Dame took advantage. The Irish tailbacks averaged 9.8 yards per carry, and even taking out George Atkinson III's 80-yard run, Notre Dame tailbacks gained 136 yards on 21 carries.
The day was sunny, so there was no blue-gray October sky. But there was something better. The vibrant colors of a Notre Dame green-out by its fans, with plenty of crimson mixed in, plus the luscious uniforms – the Irish's splendid navy and gold, with OU's regal whites – made Notre Dame Stadium look like a kaleidoscope. Or a French painting.
KICKING GAME: A
Punter Jed Barnett was solid, Michael Hunnicut nailed two chip-shot field goals and Nick Hodgson had touchbacks on six of his seven kickoffs. The Sooners also didn't allow a meaningful return by Notre Dame. Plus, Trey Franks had one of the game's biggest plays – a 40-yard kickoff return after the Irish drew within 21-14 early in the third quarter.
FIRST-DOWN DEFENSE: B
Notre Dame converted just four of 12 third downs, and here's why. The Irish only thrice faced 3rd-and-3 or shorter. Notre Dame seven times faced 3rd-and-7 or longer. On 22 first down plays, the Irish 13 times made three yards or less. However, Notre Dame did strike for two big touchdowns on first down, the 80-yard run by Atkinson and a 30-yard TD pass from Tommy Rees to Troy Niklas.
BLAKE BELL: A
Not all of Bell's passes were pinpoint. But all of his decisions were. He completed 22 of 30 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns, ran for 59 yards on 12 carries and didn't come close to throwing an interception. In his first road start, Bell was superb.