Oklahoma makes Notre Dame pay for turnovers

Brian Sandalow, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Blake Bell and Oklahoma held onto the ball. Tommy Rees and Notre Dame didn't, leading to the Sooners' 35-21 win on Saturday over the Fighting Irish.
The Oklahoma defense forced three turnovers and Bell had two touchdown passes, including a game-breaking strike to Sterling Shepard, as the Sooners beat the Fighting Irish for the first time since 1956.
The Oklahoma defense set the tone early. Corey Nelson kicked off the Sooners' scoring just 49 seconds into the game when he returned an interception 24 yards on the first of three first-half picks thrown by Rees, with two in the opening quarter.
"Defensively, we came up with the huge first quarter forcing the turnovers," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said.
Damien Williams rushed for a score and Lacoltan Bester also caught a touchdown pass for the Sooners, who were playing on the road for the first time this season.
Bell, who missed part of a series after leaving with a cramp, didn't allow the Irish any takeaways.
Making his second start since taking over for Trevor Knight, he didn't thrive like he did in his first against Tulsa during a 51-20 win. But he did enough for the Sooners (4-0) against the Irish.
He was 22-of-30 passing with 232 yards and two scores, including finding Shepard for a 54-yard score with 12:24 left in the game. After Bell and Shepard connected again for a two-point conversion, the Sooners led 35-21 and were able to avenge their 30-13 loss to the Fighting Irish last year.
"We really wanted this one bad, especially coming on the road," Bell said.
The Oklahoma defense showed that early.
On Notre Dame's first play after Nelson's score, Rees was intercepted by Frank Shannon. And 1:35 after that turnover, Williams scored from 11 yards, giving Oklahoma a 14-0 lead.
The Fighting Irish (3-2) played the Sooners evenly the rest of the way. They got an 80-yard rushing touchdown from George Atkinson III and receiving scores from T.J. Jones and Troy Niklas but couldn't recover from the rough start.
"You spot a great team like Oklahoma 14 points you're putting yourself in a tough situation," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said.
Rees was also disappointed with his 9-of-24 passing for two touchdowns and three interceptions. He struggled for the second straight game. Last week, he was 14 of 34 for 142 yards against Michigan State.
"We've just got to be more consistent. Deal with certain situations, stay out of the negative downs," Rees said. "Just got to continue to work hard and get better."
Still, Oklahoma only led 27-21 in the fourth quarter and was in danger of squandering the lead before Bell and Shepard connected.
On a third-and-3 from the Oklahoma 46-yard line, Shepard caught a crossing pass over the middle from Bell and outran the defense for a 54-yard score.
"I was just trying to fight to get open. I was trying to do that the whole game," said Shepard, who finished with five catches for 84 yards and the score. "I knew it was going to come. I just had to be patient and it came and stuff. When I caught the ball I just tried to get into the end zone."
Oklahoma now can look forward to entering its upcoming date with TCU undefeated, and possibly thinking about things bigger than a Big 12 title.
Much of that is thanks to Bell and how he handled the ball.
"He put the ball where it needed to be, finding the right guys, going through his reads," Stoops said. "And give credit to the line to give (him) the opportunity to find those guys. So I thought he played great."
NOTES: In the fourth quarter, Notre Dame LB Ben Councell was ejected for targeting Brennan Clay with his head, meaning Councell will miss the first half of the Irish's next game against Arizona State. ... Oklahoma is the first current Big 12 team to beat Notre Dame since Texas defeated the Fighting Irish in the 1970 Cotton Bowl. ... Freshman Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire took warmups before the game. Zaire has battled mononucleosis for most of the season. ... Nelson's first-quarter touchdown was Oklahoma's first on an interception return by a linebacker since Curtis Lofton against Utah State in 2007. ... Members of the 1957 Notre Dame team that beat Oklahoma 7-0, ending the Sooners' 47-game winning streak, were in attendance. That shutout was also the first against Oklahoma in 123 games. ... Representatives of the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers were at Notre Dame Stadium, along with ones from the Sugar Bowl.

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