Notre Dame v Oklahoma

Snap Judgments: Notre Dame 30, Oklahoma 13


Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. Notre Dame gave up its first rushing touchdown of the season, when 6-foot-6, 260-pound Blake Bell shook off Ishaq Williams and rumbled forward, running through Bennett Jackson on his way to a touchdown.

Ah, but the good news… It was nothing but gravy after that for No. 5 Notre Dame, who put a physical beating on No. 8 Oklahoma, a team favored by as much as 13 points right before kickoff.

Let’s run through some snap judgments before we get deeper later tonight.


No George Atkinson, no big deal.

Sure, the Irish missed Atkinson’s big play potential, but Cam McDaniel did just fine on the kickoff returns. The Irish won the game thanks to their two primary running backs, Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood. Wood’s 62-yard touchdown run broke open the game, when it appeared that the Irish were on their heels after the Sooners started quick. Riddick iced the game with his 15 yard touchdown run, and ran hard between the tackles, gaining 74 yards on 19 tough carries.

In a game like this, Atkinson was a guy that was likely going to get lost in the wash, with special teams the primary place he was going to make an impact. But in a 17 point victory, it’s tough to say anybody was missing.

Sooners brought tempo, but Irish had the answers.

Oklahoma came out blazing, running the offense with efficiency, moving quickly and taking advantage of soft underneath coverage throughout. Landry Jones completed 35 of 51 passes for 356 yards, and he continued to target Jalen Saunders underneath, racking up a ridiculous 15 catches for 181 yards.

But when it came down to it, the Irish had the answers in the red zone, forcing field goals instead of touchdowns and doing a great job from the end of the first quarter until the fourth, when the Sooners punted five times and got one field goal.

Against their biggest test, Notre Dame’s defense came up huge.

Belldozer scored, but the Sooners running game got stuffed.

With fourth and short and Blake Bell on the field, Bob Stoops had his sledgehammer of a quarterback throw for the first down. Sure it led to a touchdown, but perhaps it showed more than the Sooners’ head coach was willing to acknowledge.

Notre Dame absolutely dominated the line of scrimmage, outgaining Oklahoma 215-15 on the ground. Sure, Bell got his rushing touchdown. But Notre Dame absolutely dominated the Sooners on the ground, taking control of the game and the clock and never giving it back.

Everett Golson grew up tonight.

We said it all week. If Notre Dame was going to win, Everett Golson had to play his best game in a Notre Dame uniform. And he did.

The stats weren’t staggering: 13 of 25 passing for 177 yards, and 11 carries for 64 yards, but Golson was flawless. He threw the ball away, he commanded the offense and he made the big plays when they were needed.

Vegas was wrong.

You certainly can’t blame a town that’s probably built a few towers taking advantage of Irish fans’ optimism. But this was the Saturday that was supposed to be the reckoning. And instead, it plunged the Irish into the national title conversation.

The Irish took Oklahoma’s best shot, with the Sooners coming back to tie the game at 13 in the fourth quarter. But instead of laying down, they rattled off 17 straight points, running away from the Sooners, and ending any discussion about Notre Dame’s schedule or the Irish’s ability to play with the country’s premiere talent.


Evaluating VanGorder’s scheme against the option

ANNAPOLIS, MD - SEPTEMBER 19:  Keenan Reynolds #19 of the Navy Midshipmen rushes for his fifth touchdown in the fourth quarter against the East Carolina Pirates during their 45-21 win on September 19, 2015 in Annapolis, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Notre Dame’s ability to slow down Georgia Tech’s vaunted option attack served as one of the high points to the Irish’s early season success. After spending a considerable amount of offseason energy towards attacking the option and learning more, watching the Irish hold the Yellow Jackets in check was a huge victory for Brian VanGorder, Bob Elliott and the rest of Notre Dame’s staff.

But it was only half the battle.

This weekend, Keenan Reynolds and Navy’s veteran offense come to town looking to wreak some havoc on a defense that’s struggled to slow it down. And after getting a look at some of the new tricks the Irish had in store for Paul Johnson, Ken Niumatalolo and his offensive coaches have likely started plotting their counterpunches days in advance.

How did Notre Dame’s defense slow down Georgia Tech? Brian Kelly credited an aggressive game plan and continually changing looks. So while some were quick to wonder whether Notre Dame’s scheme changes were the biggest piece of the puzzle, it’s interesting to see how the Irish’s strategic decisions looked from the perspective of an option expert.

Over at “The Birddog” blog, Michael James utilizes his spread option expertise and takes a look at how the Irish defended Georgia Tech. His conclusion:

Did the Irish finally figure out the magic formula that will kill this gimmick high school offense for good?

Not exactly.

The Irish played a fairly standard 4-3 for a large chunk of the game. James thought Notre Dame’s move to a 3-5-3 was unique, though certainly not the first time anybody’s used that alignment.

But what stood out wasn’t necessarily the Xs and Os, but rather how much better Notre Dame’s personnel reacted to what they were facing.

Again, from the Birddog Blog:

The real story here, and what stood out to me when watching Notre Dame play Georgia Tech, was how much faster the Irish played compared to past years. I don’t mean that they are more athletic, although this is considered to be the best Notre Dame team in years. I mean that they reacted far more quickly to what they saw compared to what they’ve done in the past.

Usually, when a team plays a spread option offense, one of the biggest challenges that defensive coordinators talk about is replicating the offense’s speed and precision. It’s common to hear them say that it takes a series or two to adjust. That was most certainly not the case here.

James referenced our Media Day observations and seemed impressed by the decision to bring in walk-on Rob Regan to captain what’s now known as the SWAG team. And while VanGorder’s reputation as a mad scientist had many Irish fans wondering if the veteran coordinator cooked something up that hadn’t been seen, it was more a trait usually associated with Kelly that seems to have made the biggest difference.

“It wasn’t that the game plan was so amazing (although it was admittedly more complex and aggressive than we’ve seen out of other Notre Dame teams),” James wrote. “It was plain ol’ coachin’ ’em up.

“Notre Dame’s players were individually more prepared for what they’d see. Notre Dame is already extremely talented, but talented and prepared? You can’t adjust for that. That’s more challenging for Navy than any game plan.”

Irish prepared to take on the best Navy team in years


Brian Kelly opens every Tuesday press conference with compliments for an opponent. But this week, it was easy to see that his kind words for Navy were hardly lip service.

Ken Niumatalolo will bring his most veteran—and probably his most talented—group of Midshipmen into Notre Dame Stadium, looking to hand the Irish their first loss in the series since Kelly’s debut season in South Bend.

“Ken Niumatalolo has done an incredible job in developing his program and currently carrying an eight-game winning streak,” Kelly said. “I voted for them in USA Today Top 25 as a top-25 team. I think they’ve earned that. But their defense as well has developed. It’s played the kind of defense that I think a top 25 team plays.”

With nine months of option preparation, Notre Dame needs to feel confident about their efforts against Georgia Tech. Then again, the Midshipmen saw that game plan and likely have a few tricks in store.

As much as the Irish have focused their efforts on stopping Keenan Reynolds and the triple-option, Navy’s much-improved defense is still looking for a way to slow down a team that’s averaged a shade over 48 points a game against them the last four seasons.

Niumatalolo talked about that when asked about slowing down Will Fuller and Notre Dame’s skill players, an offense that’s averaged over 48 points a game during this four-game win streak.

“We’ve got to try our best to keep [Fuller] in front of us, that’s easier said than done,” Niumatalolo said. “We’ve got to play as close as we can without their guys running past us. I’ve been here a long time and we’re still trying to figure out how to do that.”


Navy heads to South Bend unbeaten, defeating former Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco‘s team just two Saturdays ago. And while Diaco raised a few eyebrows when he said Navy would be the team’s toughest test of the year (they already played a ranked Missouri team), the head of the UConn program couldn’t have been more effusive in his praise.

“I have been competing against Navy for some time and this is the best Navy team I have seen for, let’s say the last half-dozen years,” UConn coach Bob Diaco told the New Haven Register. “I could click on footage from three years ago and see a lion’s share of players who are playing right now in the game as freshmen and sophomores. They have a veteran group, a strong group, a talented group and they look like the stiffest competition among our first four opponents.”

As usual, there will be those who look at this game as the breather between Clemson and USC. That won’t be anybody inside The Gug. So as the Irish try to get back to their winning ways in front of a home crowd, a complete team effort is needed.

“I’ll take a win by one,” Kelly said Tuesday. “That would be fine with me.”