Notre Dame stays perfect with massive win over Oklahoma

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Notre Dame stays perfect with massive win over Oklahoma

NORMAN, Okla. -- Despite an undefeated record and No. 5 BCS ranking, Notre Dame went into Oklahoma nearly a two-touchdown underdog against the No. 8 Sooners. It was only the second true road game for the Irish in 2012, and it was coming in a venue in which Oklahoma had only lost four times in 83 games under coach Bob Stoops.

But Notre Dame, led by a quarterback making just his sixth career start, went into Norman and beat the Sooners 30-13, a drubbing that vaulted the Irish squarely into the nation's national title race.

"For us, we knew what we could do, so today's no surprise," linebacker Manti Te'o said. "We knew that if we came to work, that if we came into today with confidence and everybody doing their job, we would be fine."

Few thought Notre Dame would be fine, though, heading into the wood chipper that is Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Plenty pointed out Notre Dame's strength of schedule had lost some clout, while others didn't think the Irish offense was good enough to compete with an OU attack that was fresh off a 52-7 torching of Kansas.

All that doubt provided a little extra fuel for Notre Dame on Saturday.

"I kind of like playing away," Everett Golson said. "I think it's because I like when people count me out, that's how I've always been."

"It just shows that everyone doubts us and doesn't respect us," cornerback Bennett Jackson added.

Notre Dame earned plenty of respect on Saturday, though, with what will go down as a signature win for the Irish. But getting to that point was hardly easy.

With the score tied at 13 midway through the fourth quarter, Golson found freshman Chris Brown downfield for a 50-yard completion. He then snuck the ball in from OU's one for what wound up being the game-winning touchdown with 5:05 remaining.

Notre Dame could've been content to try to plod upfield and run the clock, aiming for a field goal attempt. Instead, Brian Kelly, Chuck Martin and Notre Dame's offense made a bold call to throw it deep for Brown.

"I wanted to win the game," Kelly said. "I thought that we needed to throw the football and get a big-chunk play. We wanted to win and there was no way that we were going to turn down that opportunity."

But the key to Notre Dame's win, as has been the case all year, was on defense.

Against a high-powered Oklahoma offense that had scored 156 points in its last three games, Notre Dame's bend-but-don't-break defense held OU to 39 points fewer than that three-game average.

"We were going to give up yards to keep the points down," Kelly said. "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."

Blake Bell powered his way in for a rushing touchdown early in the fourth -- the first score of its kind any team has had against Notre Dame this season. That TD tied the game, but Notre Dame's response on both sides of the ball wound up being key in their 17-point margin of victory.

"I think with this defense when somebody scores, we get really frustrated," Te'o said. "And I think it showed our maturity by how we rallied after that touchdown. We just kept going and I'm very proud of our guys."

Notre Dame's defense was aided by a handful of critical mistakes made by the OU offense. Late in the second quarter, it looked like Bell had found the end zone, but his five-yard rush was called back for a holding penalty. OU running back Brennan Clay dropped a pass at the five that might have gone for a touchdown, and all the Sooners could manage was three points.

"I don't think they made a single mistake," OU linebacker Tom Wort said. "We made a couple mistakes. When you go against a good team like that, you can't make mistakes."

Notre Dame hasn't played mistake-free football all season -- just look to Golson's performances against Michigan and Stanford, for example. But facing about as hostile an environment as college football has to offer (Oklahoma's announced crowd of 86,031 was the largest in stadium history), Notre Dame avoided any momentum-shifting turnovers. That was arguably the biggest key to a signature win for the Irish.

Kelly and Notre Dame's players have explained to anyone within earshot about tuning out the noise this year. That will become a more difficult task when Sunday's BCS rankings are released, with national championship discussion shifting toward South Bend (as well as staying in Tuscaloosa, Manhattan and Eugene). So for Kelly, he feels as if Notre Dame stops to admire their position, it'll wind up costing them it.

"If we start listening to national championship and the BCS, we'll lose a football game," Kelly said. "And they're a pretty smart group, and they know if they stick with what we've done and stick with the process of just preparing for Pittsburgh, they'll be fine. But if they start thinking about all those other things and listening, we'll lose.

"It's what I told them in the locker room. Enjoy a great victory against Oklahoma, now let's find a way to beat Pittsburgh next week."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will the Bulls trade Jimmy Butler?

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will the Bulls trade Jimmy Butler?

Jordan Bernfield, Seth Gruen (Bleacher Report) and Jason Goch (SB Nation Radio) join Kap on the panel. The Pelicans fleece the Kings for DeMarcus Cousins. Should the Bulls have made an offer? Plus Jimmy Butler expects to remain with the Bulls but will he?

Chuck Garfien spoke exclusively with Kenny Williams to discuss the White Sox rebuild and his relationship with Chris Sale. Chuck joins the panel to discuss.

Plus the guys discuss if the Blackhawks are finally hitting their stride and preview Northwestern’s matchup in Illinois.

Check out the latest edition of the SportsTalk Live Podcast below: 

Evanston more prepared to make a deep playoff run this March

Evanston more prepared to make a deep playoff run this March

The biggest takeaway from a busy weekend of local high school basketball is Simeon beating Morgan Park for the city championship on Sunday at Chicago State.

The eighth city title for the Wolverines is important and it is the reason that Simeon currently sits at No. 1 in the latest CSN Preps Power Rankings. But Simeon's win Sunday also meant that people quickly forgot (or dismissed) how well Evanston played against Simeon the previous night in the annual McDonald's City-Suburban Showdown.

The 18-point win over Simeon does come with an asterisk because of the Wolverines' playing backups a lot of minutes because of the impending Morgan Park game. Evanston does deserve credit, however, for still put a beating on Simeon, impressing Wolverines' head coach Robert Smith enough to acknowledge that Evanston might have won even if Simeon was at full strength.

It's part of the reason that Evanston comes in at No. 2 this week in the latest Power Rankings.

"I give them credit. They did everything they needed to do to win the game," Smith said. "Even if we were at our best, I don't know what the outcome would be. It would have been a little more competitive than that. But they did some good stuff out there."

The scary part about Evanston's takedown of Simeon is that star senior and Purdue commit Nojel Eastern only totaled four points. Unlike a lot of top-10 teams in the CSN Preps Power Rankings, the Wildkits only have one player signed to play college basketball next season. 

Eastern is the big draw for Evanston but he doesn't have to score for the Wildkits to beat good teams this season. He still helped with nine rebounds and played a solid floor game -- showing his usual ability to find open players with creative passes -- but Eastern didn't shoot the ball well and missed multiple dunks.

"We talked about [Nojel's play]. We talked about that at halftime," Evanston head coach Mike Ellis said. "Ten-point lead and Nojel had played below average. Imagine how we look in the second half if he plays above average? Let's be honest about the whole thing, Nojel is such an unselfish player that it doesn't cause his teammates to panic. Nojel is not a guy, if you don't get us 30 points we're gonna lose. He's the glue that keeps our team together and it gives others confidence to say that he looks for me [to make plays]."

The Wildkits faltered down the stretch last year to end the regular season and ended up losing to Notre Dame earlier than some predicted in the sectional semifinals, but this year's group appears to be peaking later in the season.

A deeper and more experienced Evanston team showed its overall depth and talent in the Simeon win. Senior Chris Hamil knocked in five three-pointers and played hard on both ends while senior Malcolm Townsel had a good outing as well with a team-high 20 points. 

Others like senior Elyjah Williams and sophomores Lance Jones and Jaheim Holden have shown great flashes of play as well this season and the Wildkits go even deeper than that at times. Evanston isn't just a one-man team. That showed with Saturday's win as they had 20 field goals on 15 assists.

Four years with a notable player on varsity has shown Eastern and Evanston plenty of unique defensive looks like box-and-ones and differing zones. In the past that might have rattled Evanston. This year's team is more prepared to handle those situations now after playing more of a national schedule in 2016-17 that included the loss to nationally-ranked Montverde at the Chicago Elite Classic and finishing as the runner-up in the loaded Beach Ball Classic.

Evanston has a solid draw as the No. 1 seed in the Waukegan Sectional as they hope to make a run in Class 4A. Eastern has talked before about his desire to take the Wildkits back to Peoria with his group of seniors and other teammates.

And the Wildkits still only have one loss to an Illinois opponent all season, when they lost to Naperville North back in January at Glenbard East.

Simeon might be bigger favorites in Class 4A at full strength as we get closer to March but Evanston is ready for a run of its own.