Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops still wakes up in the middle of the night thinking about the program’s missed opportunity in its last trip to Notre Dame Stadium in 1999.
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops has earned 152 victories, eight Big 12 championships and one national championship during his tenure with the Sooners.
In his fourth game as the Sooners’ head coach, Oklahoma led 30-14 in the second half against an eventual 5-7 Notre Dame squad, but Bob Davie’s Irish stormed back behind quarterback Jarious Jackson to score 20 unanswered points in a 34-30 Notre Dame win.
One national championship, eight Big 12 championships and 149 wins later, Stoops returns to the site of his second-ever road game as a head coach.
“More than anything I remember us leading in the third quarter and looking around and seeing too many happy faces, meaning I felt there were too many guys who thought that they had this won,” Stoops said at his weekly press conference Monday. “We had not learned how to truly compete yet for four quarters and the realization — I remember telling the coaches in the meetings the next day — that they hadn’t led anybody like that on the road before.
“They don’t know how to handle it and we’ve got to teach them how to handle it and finish games and win those games because those guys hadn’t been in those situations.”
This year, Oklahoma travels to Notre Dame with an astounding 1-9 all-time mark against the Irish. The most recent face-off between the college football superpowers came in Norman, Okla., a year ago and resulted in a 30-13 Irish win. Landry Jones’ 364-yard passing output resulted in just 13 Sooner points, due in large part to the Oklahoma rushing game (15 yards on 24 carries) and its third down efficiency (4 of 14), Stoops said.
“They were better at getting off the field and getting the stops,” he said. “In critical third downs as you’re getting close to field goal position, you’ve got to convert those.
“We did take advantage of what they were doing and moved the football throwing it, but as much as anything that game’s 10-6 going into the fourth quarter and ends up 13-13 and they make every play after it, whether it’s the interception, long pass, whatever. We’ll need to run it better.”
After reaching three national championship games in his first 10 seasons and earning the nickname ‘Big Game Bob,’ Stoops has been criticized by the Sooner faithful in recent years for the program’s performances in signature games. He said he does not view this weekend’s tilt with Notre Dame as a season-altering contest.
“All of the sudden Texas doesn’t matter or Big 12 championships don’t matter,” Stoops quipped. “I don’t believe there is [any truth to Notre Dame being a signature game]. I believe winning this game one way or the other isn’t going to do anything for the rest of the season. That’s not the best way to say it. Obviously, when you win it gives you momentum, but at the end of the day, it’s not a conference game. We’ve played one conference game and there’s a big schedule out in front of us, so it’s just another one in a line of games.”
In the Oct. 27 matchup a year ago, then-backup quarterback Blake Bell notched the first rushing touchdown of the season against the Notre Dame defense. He’s now a first-year starter but Stoops does not expect him to be fazed on the road, due in large part to his contributions behind Jones.
“I think that game as well as all the other experiences he’s had the past couple years and being out there in critical situations … give him an opportunity to be able to handle this in a positive way and not be shaken at all by it,” Stoops said. “He’s a great competitor and he’s been in a lot of critical situations and has handled them well.
“He’s not a true first-time guy out there playing because the last few years he’s been in a lot of big games in those situations where it matters how he reads or goes with the ball.”
Bell’s first road start will come in the stadium where his coach began his ascent to elite status 14 years ago.
“Nothing cooler than pulling up in a bus to a bad visitor’s locker room and going on a field, we do it all the time,” Stoops said. “I’m giving Notre Dame respect, I’m not discounting that, I’m just saying as a coach, you’re not involved in that part of it.
“Once you’re pulling up, you’re pulling up to compete and you’re not worried about anything else. You don’t care what the band looks like or anyone else. You’re just in work mode and go.”
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