NORMAN — Notre Dame stunned Oklahoma 30-13 Saturday on Owen Field, handing the Sooners their second loss of the season and all but eliminating them from the national championship picture.
Unbeaten Notre Dame, meanwhile, firmly established itself as a national power again after years of inconsistency and struggles.
The Sooners (5-2, 3-1 in Big 12 Conference play) entered Saturday ranked No. 8 in the BCS standings, which determine the national-title game matchup. Oklahoma had slowly been creeping back into the discussion as a possible title contender after a three-game tear, during which the Sooners had been dominant defensively and potent offensively.
Against the Fighting Irish, Oklahoma came out firing, picking up three first downs on the first six of its game-opening offensive series. But while quarterback Landry Jones was out of position, calling an audible with the play clock ticking down, center Gabe Ikard snapped the ball anyway, resulting in a 19-yard loss.
After a quick three-and-out for the OU defense, Jones, receiver Jalen Saunders and the Sooner offense again was efficient, pushing all the way to Notre Dame's 11-yard line before the drive stalled and a field goal was kicked.
Saunders set an Oklahoma school record in the first quarter with eight catches, and finished with 15 grabs for 181 yards. The junior transferred from Fresno State after last season, but wasn't ruled eligible for this season until days before the Oct. 13 Texas game.
An Oklahoma offense that had as much big-play potential as any squad in the country was held in check; it's longest play of the night went for 35 yards.
Meanwhile, the Notre Dame offense — which had been seen as a team weakness — sucked all the energy out of Gaylord Family — Oklahoma Memorial Stadium when senior running back Cierre Wood burst through the Sooner defense, virtually untouched, for a 62-yard touchdown in the first quarter.
Just before halftime, with Oklahoma trailing 10-3, Blake Bell entered the game and appeared to score on a 4-yard run out of the infamous Belldozer package. But a holding call on junior guard Bronson Irwin negated the touchdown and the Sooners were forced to settle for a field goal.
Oklahoma trailed 10-6 at halftime — just like it did in a Sept. 22 home loss to Kansas State.
Notre Dame took the second half's opening drive 60 yards in 13 plays, and got no points from it when Kyle Brindza's field goal sailed wide left.
But the drive was important, because it took nearly seven minutes off the game clock. After Oklahoma was forced to punt on its ensuing drive, the Irish took up the rest of the third quarter and some of the fourth with their next possession, which ended with a field goal.
After Oklahoma and Notre Dame traded three-and-outs, the Sooners took possession on their own 48-yard line and quickly drove down the field and, on a fourth-and-two play from the Irish 9-yard line, Blake Bell tricked the Irish offense with a pass to fullback Trey Millard for a first down.
On the very next play, Bell scored on a 1-yard run to tie the game at 13 with about nine minutes remaining.
With the home crowd back in it and all the momentum seemingly shifted to Oklahoma, Notre Dame came up with another huge offensive play.
Quarterback Everett Golson, who didn't play last week and wasn't named this week's starter until passing concussion tests, briefly left the game after sustaining a monster hit from Tony Jefferson near the end of the third. But after the Sooners had tied the game, he faked a handoff and hit Chris Brown deep across the field for a 50-yard gain.
A few plays later, he scored on a 1-yard run to give Notre Dame the lead again.
Oklahoma couldn't match the Irish this time, though. The comeback crumbled when Irish defender Dan Fox hit Saunders and popped the ball loose for Manti Te'o to snag with a diving interception.
The replay official reviewed the catch at OU's 45-yard line and upheld the call.
Te'o, a senior middle linebacker and Heisman Trophy candidate, finished with 11 tackles and a sack.
Notre Dame has won 11 national championships over its illustrious football history, but none since 1988.
The Sooners last played the Fighting Irish in 1999, Bob Stoops' first season on the job. Since that 34-30 loss in South Bend, Ind., Notre Dame has gone through four head coaches.
Oklahoma's all-time record against Notre Dame is now 1-9. In 1957, the Irish famously snapped OU's record 47-game win streak under legendary coach Bud Wilkinson.
Saturday, Notre Dame prevented Stoops from tying Wilkinson for second place on the Sooners' list of winningest coaches.