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SPORTS: University of Oklahoma

Sooners Put Nation On Watch With Performance Defined By Toughness

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South Bend, Indiana -

Oklahoma center Gabe Ikard said this week the Sooners' game against Notre Dame would send the Sooners' season in one direction or another. Bob Stoops said it was just another game in a line of many the Sooners would play this season.

Regardless of whose theory you subscribed to, there's no doubt the Sooners' 35-21 win over Notre Dame Saturday afternoon is the biggest win for the program since No. 1 Oklahoma went down to Tallahassee two years ago to knock off No. 5 Florida State.

Saturday in South Bend, Ind. the Sooners out executed the Fighting Irish down the stretch of the fourth quarter, a complete role reversal from a year ago when it was the Irish who did all the right things in the final nine minutes to turn a 13-all tie into a 30-13 final.

Related Story: Out Of Luck: Bell, Defense Lead Oklahoma Past Notre Dame

Perhaps more important than the Sooners executing down the stretch was the overall toughness Oklahoma displayed in Saturday's game. Notre Dame this year is a far cry from the Fighting Irish team that played in the national championship game a year ago, but they're still a very tough bunch, with plenty of NFL talent, particularly on defense.

Even still, the Sooners weren't fazed by the physicality of the Irish nor the prestige and mystique of the Notre Dame country. Oklahoma went toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the country and came out on top because they were tougher team for 60 minutes.

Oklahoma didn't dominate the entire game. It may have not even dominated half the game if you add it all up. However, they dominated enough of the game to get the victory and a pretty convincing one at that.

The OU offense controlled the clock, holding the ball for than 35 minutes and racking up 212 rushing yards. Last year, the Sooners gained just 15. That feat becomes even more impressive when you consider the personnel of the OU offensive line and Notre Dame defensive front seven are the same except for three players. The strides the Sooners have made under new offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh have been very impressive and substantial.

On defense, the Sooners harassed Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees into a dreadful 9-of-24 performance with three interceptions and just 104 yards. The Sooners turned each of those picks into a first half touchdown. In the fourth quarter, it was the defense that forced three straight three-and-outs after Notre Dame drew to within 27-21 with 14:10 remaining in the game.

This game doesn't have the same impact it had a year ago, primarily because the game is much earlier in the year than last year's meeting at the end of October. Make no mistake, though, this game will propel the Sooners onto the fringe of the national title conversation. It's very early and the Sooners have a lot of games to play, but it's early to include anyone in the national title picture not named Alabama or Oregon, so why not throw the Sooners in there as well?

After all, this stretch of three games beginning Saturday, followed by games against TCU and Texas, looked to be the most difficult stretch of the Sooners season when the year started. Seeing how much TCU and Texas have struggled so far, the next two weeks don't seem nearly as daunting as they once did.

Oklahoma exorcised any remaining demons from last year's loss to the Irish and put the rest of the nation on notice Saturday afternoon. These Sooners are a tough bunch and are ready to prove themselves to the rest of the country.

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