NORMAN — When Oklahoma opened Saturday's game with a quick, up-tempo offensive attack, Notre Dame appeared unable to keep up.
But when, for most of the game, everyone slowed down and slugged it out at the Fighting Irish's preferred pace, it was the Sooners who couldn't hang, eventually losing 30-13.
Quarterback Landry Jones and the OU offense came out firing, earning two first downs on its first four offensive plays — three completed passes to Jalen Saunders and one to Kenny Stills — and taking 12, 10 and 10 seconds between snaps.
That's when things began to slow down; the Sooners took 34 seconds off the play clock before their fifth snap, when Trey Millard rushed for 5 yards and first down — the only one OU would earn all night on the ground.
Before the very next play — with the play clock ticking to under 5 seconds — Jones left his position behind center Gabe Ikard to call an audible. But Ikard snapped the ball anyway, resulting in a 19-yard loss and destroyed momentum.
After Millard's early first down, Oklahoma went back to the run 15 more times in the first half, finishing with 3 net rushing yards.
And in pass defense, Notre Dame seemed content to let Jones and the Sooner receivers complete short- to mid-range throws, while making sure nothing got behind its defensive backs.
That strategy was made more effective when Oklahoma's offense proved unable to stay — or even get — on the field in the second and third quarters, during which it had a combined three possessions and went 0 for 3 on third-down conversions.
Jones completed 13 passes in the first quarter, but just 10 over the next two.
“In both our losses, there were opportunities early to get more points and make a change on the way the game was played a little bit,” said OU co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel.
“Did some things really well, at times. Did some good things in tempo, and sometimes our tempo wasn't good, and we didn't execute well enough. Ultimately, if you just don't execute the way you need to against a really good defense, a good football team, you won't win the ballgame.”
Notre Dame's slow and methodical third-quarter drives made it difficult for OU's offense to find any rhythm.
The Irish took the second-half's opening kick and drove 60 yards on 13 plays. That the series ended with a missed field goal didn't matter nearly as much as the nearly seven minutes of game clock it consumed.
The Fighting Irish possessed the football for 11:35 — nearly 80 percent — of the third quarter.
“That was a big help,” said Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o. “It kept us fresh and allowed us to make corrections that we needed to.”
By controlling the ball, taking away OU's ability to complete long passes and suffocating the Sooners' ground attack, all Notre Dame needed was for its offense to come up with a couple big plays.
That's exactly what it did; a 62-yard, first-quarter touchdown run gave Notre Dame an early lead and momentum, and a 50-yard completion in the fourth — coming just after OU had tied the game at 13 — set up the last go-ahead score the Irish would need.
“In the second half, the focus was on physical and mental toughness,” said Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly. “The team that would win this game would control it in that manner. I thought we did it.
“We controlled the football and limited the possessions for Oklahoma.”