Bend-don't-break defense suits Irish perfectly at Oklahoma

Bend-don't-break defense suits Irish perfectly at Oklahoma
October 28, 2012, 11:45 pm
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NORMAN, Okla. -- Landry Jones looked in rhythm on Oklahoma's first drive, slinging passes around the field like a quarterback who would move into sixth place on the NCAA all-time passing leaderboard Saturday night. But that was all part of Notre Dame's plan.
The Irish allowed Jones to make all the short, quick passes he could in order to take away Oklahoma's quick-strike capabilities. Jones' longest completion was for 35 yards, his second-lowest longest pass in a game this year. Against Kansas State, Jones' longest completion was 27 yards -- and K-State won that game, too.
"It was a little difficult at first because it was very fast-paced, and you can't really simulate in practice as much as you try," safety Zeke Motta explained. "So we came out and just tried to find a groove and rhythm. We knew they would get some yards on us initially, but just to have that confidence as a defense play after play, get lined up and ready to go, obviously you're going to be tired a little bit. Once the play starts, you just go balls to the wall no matter what."
Notre Dame quickly adjusted to the pace, though, and locked down whenever Oklahoma neared the end zone. 
Jones threw for 356 yards against Notre Dame, but didn't come close to throwing a touchdown when it mattered. It took the Belldozer -- 6-foot-6, 254-pound quarterback Blake Bell -- to get OU in the end zone, and while that was the first rushing score Notre Dame allowed in 2012, it was the only touchdown the Irish allowed on Saturday.
Limiting an Oklahoma offense that had racked up 156 points in its last three games was critical for Notre Dame. Coach Brian Kelly understood the Irish wouldn't win a shootout. If the points started rising into the 30s and 40s, chances are, Oklahoma was going to come away with a victory.
"We were going to give up yards to keep the points down," Kelly said after the game. "We could not let the points get out of reach for us. This was the first time that we showed we could be on our own a bit offensively and put some points on the boards. But we could not have won this football game if the points got up into the numbers that were probably out of reach for our offense."
So Notre Dame's cornerbacks gave OU's receivers large cushions, forcing Jones to throw almost nothing but short passes. But the strategy wouldn't have been executed well without quality tackling, which Notre Dame's secondary certainly pulled off -- led by true freshman KeiVarae Russell. And holding Oklahoma's run game to 15 yards on 24 carries helped Notre Dame's case a little bit, too.
"It worked great," cornerback Bennett Jackson said. "We all stuck together, we all rely on each other, we got total confidence in everybody on the team and we stuck it out and had a great win."