Putrid start dooms Irish in loss to Oklahoma
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- A year after beating Oklahoma in the final six minutes, Notre Dame just about beat themselves in the first three minutes against the Sooners on Saturday.
Interceptions on consecutive passes by Tommy Rees and 2 touchdown passes by Blake Bell were too much for No. 22 Notre Dame to overcome in a 35-21 loss to the 14th-ranked Sooners.
Rees didn't see a linebacker blitzing from behind on the first interception, and his pass to TJ Jones ricocheted to Oklahoma linebacker Frank Shannon on the second pick as the Sooners jumped to a 14-0 lead.
"We put ourselves in the hole and couldn't fight out of it," said running back George Atkinson, who had a career-high 148 yards on 14 carries.
That was the consensus among the Irish players: that they lost the game more than Oklahoma won it.
"We're really disappointed, as we would be with any loss, but especially with this one where we feel like we gave them 14 points and ended up losing by 14 points," Jones said.
The win ended Oklahoma's seven-game losing streak to Notre Dame and was just the second in 11 meetings for the Sooners (4-0) against the Irish (3-2), including ending an NCAA-record 47-game winning streak in 1957.
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, an Irish Catholic who grew up in Ohio and downplayed the history aspect all week, conceded the victory was especially gratifying.
"Now that it's happened this way, I'm pleased and I sure am glad for those older Oklahomans that have been through all those games Notre Dame had beaten us. We get some level of satisfaction winning this one," he said. "Who knows when we'll play again? So they can live it up and say, 'We got you last' until we go again."
After Notre Dame played a nearly perfect game in beating the Sooners last season, with no turnovers and just 1 penalty for 5 yards, Oklahoma was the one that made the fewest mistakes Saturday. The Sooners, who managed just 15 yards rushing against the Irish last season, finished with 212 yards on the ground.
The Sooners frequently went wide on both runs and passes to try to offset Notre Dame's size inside. The Irish managed to rush for a season-high 220 yards.
Bell, making his second career start, wasn't as impressive as he was when he passed for 413 yards and 4 touchdowns in a 51-20 win over Tulsa, but he was good enough on this day, going 22 of 30 for 232 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Rees struggled for a second straight game. After three straight games of passing for more than 300 yards, he was 9 of 24 for a season-low 104 yards, although he also had 2 touchdown passes.
"Obviously, I'm disappointed with how I played, individually. I've got to be better. You can't turn the ball over and expect to win games against good teams like Oklahoma," Rees said.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said there was plenty of blame to go around.
"This is about 11 players. We don't execute on the offensive line in the first fumble, we don't run the right route. It's natural for everybody to go after the quarterback, but there's 11 players out there," Kelly said.
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