NORMAN — Most of the Oklahoma fans checked out early Saturday night. Ditto for the Sooner players.
Rest well, Sooner Nation.
The Fighting Irish cometh.
On a night when the outcome was never in doubt — OU 52, Kansas 7 — thoughts turned early and often to the next game. Notre Dame is coming to town, and a clash of traditional powers that loomed large at the beginning of the season is even bigger.
This has national title implications for both squads.
“It's probably the most anticipated game since 2000 when Nebraska was coming in here in the middle of the year ranked No. 1 in the country and we were No. 2 in the country,” Sooner coach Bob Stoops said. “That was a pretty incredible day.”
Was it ever.
The Sooners won a thriller, storming back from an early deficit and winning going away.
The challenge against the Irish will be similarly stout, going against a defense that has allowed only six touchdowns this season and an offense that has always done enough to win.
And yet, the Sooners seem more prepared than ever to handle that.
The Sooners have some serious big-play abilities.
We'd seen it already this season with Damien Williams, but as we saw Saturday, the Sooner tailback is hardly alone. Trey Millard. Kenny Stills. Justin Brown. Roy Finch.
Those last two guys did something against Kansas that had never before been done in the long and storied history of Oklahoma football. Brown returned a punt for a touchdown, and Finch returned a kickoff for a touchdown. Never had that been done in the same game.
For a bunch that has struggled to get anything in the return games for the past several seasons, this was as monumental as it was historic.
“When you've got guys making plays all over the board,” Sooner safety Tony Jefferson said, “it's just hard on the other team.”
The Sooner defense even got into the act. At the tail end of the first quarter, Tom Wort smashed into a Jayhawk ballcarrier and jarred the ball loose. Casey Walker scooped up the bouncing ball, and the big fellow rumbled 45 yards down the sideline.
He didn't quite make it to the end zone, but he had the Sooner sideline in a frenzy.
“Loved it,” a giddy Stoops said of Walker's run after the game. “Really thought he was going to score. He had blockers with him.”
Stoops almost chuckled.
“Need to teach them to block a little better.”
While these big plays are great fun to re-live and re-watch, they're also a sign of something grand. Sure, they're a nod to some special individual talent, but they're also a reflection of a team that's playing pretty darn well.
“Those big plays come when we're firing on all cylinders,” Stills said. “When we're playing together — all 11 on the same page at the same time — then those big plays can come.”
That's the type of play OU will need against Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish are a stingy bunch, winning games with SEC scores instead of Big 12 ones. Being able to hit them with big plays will be crucial.
It will keep the Irish honest, but it will also keep the Sooners loose.
Take the offensive line for example.
“Our job up front is to make the smallest holes and hold guys back so those guys can make plays,” center Gabe Ikard said.
Having an explosive team takes some pressure off everyone in the biggest non-conference game in the Stoops era.
The Sooners have played plenty of marquee non-conference opponents since Stoops arrived. Alabama. Miami. Florida State. But because non-conference games are most often played before the first of October, the stakes aren't normally as high.
This game against Notre Dame is different.
Not since 2008 has there been such a big home game this late in the season. That was the year Texas Tech came to Norman with the No. 2 ranking and the national title hopes but left with “Jump Around” ringing in their ears.
The atmosphere will be every bit as lively next week. ESPN is bringing College GameDay to town. ABC is broadcasting in prime time.
A big week awaits.
“I think we should embrace it,” Jefferson said. “It's our time to shine.”
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. You can also like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.