SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame gave too much away in Saturday's home loss to Oklahoma.
Tommy Rees was intercepted three times leading to 21 points for the No. 14 Sooners, who picked up a 35-21 win over the No. 22 Irish.
"Obviously, I'm disappointed with how I played individually," said Rees, who was 9-for-24 passing for 104 yards with two touchdowns. "You've got to be better. You can't turn the ball over and expect to win games against good teams like Oklahoma."
Coach Brian Kelly said the interceptions against Oklahoma (4-0) do not all fall on Rees' shoulders.
Rees was hit from behind when a linebacker came off the left side unblocked on the game's third play leading to the first interception and the Sooners' first touchdown 49 seconds into the game.
Rees' other two interceptions each came off tipped passes.
The second interception landed in Frank Shannon's hands, and the Sooners linebacker returned it 24 yards to the Irish's 32. Oklahoma scored four plays later as running back Damian Williams blew past freshman linebacker and former Bishop Luers star Jaylon Smith for an 11-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead with 12:15 to play in the third quarter.
Rees' third interception came with 5:25 to play in the first half when another pass was tipped. Oklahoma's Julian Wilson, who scored on the first interception, picked off the pass at the Sooners' 12.
Oklahoma then marched 88 yards in 10 plays with Lacoltan Bester hauling in a 26-yard touchdown pass from Blake Bell for a 21-7 lead with 42 seconds left in the first half.
"We don't want to put this whole thing on Tommy. It's everybody," Kelly said. "We always go back to the quarterback around here. But this is about 11 players.
"We don't execute on the offensive line and the first fumble. We don't run the right route. I mean, it's natural for everybody to go back to the quarterback, but there are 11 players out there. So we just have to do a better job of taking care of the football."
On the run
Notre Dame's dormant running game finally awoke in the loss to Oklahoma.
The Irish gained 220 yards with George Atkinson III leading the way.
The junior ran for a career-high 148 yards on 14 carries and scored on an 80-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
"I just did my job," Atkinson said. "I just thank the coaches for the opportunity to let me run the rock. I just did my job."
Kelly had challenged Atkinson to run with more authority going into Saturday's game.
"We didn't think George ran physical enough," Kelly said. "We told him that. We told him if he wanted to be the starter, that he can't get tackled by his ankles. He can't be the guy that goes down.
"He's 220 pounds and I thought he ran the ball today like I expect George Atkinson to run the ball. He's got to do that every week. He shouldn't be tackled by his ankles, and he showed that today, and I hope he brings that game with him each and every week because it was sure fun to watch George Atkinson run today. Wasn't it fun to watch him run? That's the way he should run each and every week. I think he's capable of doing that, and we just need that from him consistently."
No revenge factor
Sooners coach Bob Stoops brought the first Oklahoma team he coached to Notre Dame Stadium in 1999.
The Irish sent Stoops and the Sooners home with a 34-30 loss.
While Stoops enjoyed the win Saturday, he insisted that there was nothing personal about the victory.
"I don't take anything personally," Stoops said. "To me, I didn't play today. My players played, and got a bunch of coaches all coaching, so we all take pride in it together.
"I've got a lot of family here, so I can't deny with all the family here there is not a place you come to every year. Got to admit we were here in '99 and that's still a little bit of a sore spot that we were up 16 and lost. We were pretty determined not to let that happen again. Fortunately, it ended up the right way for us."
Saturday was only the second time the Sooners defeated the Irish in 11 games between the programs.
"I'm sure I'm glad for the older Oklahomans that have been through all those games and Notre Dame had beaten us, that we get some level of satisfaction winning this one," Stoops said. "Who knows when we'll play again? So they can live it up and say we got you last until we go again."
Notre Dame backup quarterback Andrew Hendrix got into the mix for the first time this season.
The senior started playing during the Irish's third drive, and he ran five times for 10 yards and threw one incomplete pass.
"You know, we're just trying to diversify the offense a little bit, trying to add some more looks," Kelly said. "He's got some work to do. We've got to continue to work with him, but I think it gives us some things that the defense has to defend as well with him in there."
Notre Dame likely took itself out of the BCS bowl picture with the loss to Oklahoma.
The Irish have lost both of their Top 25 matchups so far this season (Notre Dame fell to No. 17 Michigan in Week 2), and they only have one more ranked opponent to face this season when they travel to play No. 5 Stanford in the season finale.
But that doesn't mean Notre Dame players feel this season is lost.
"I think the biggest thing is that this can still be a great team. We can still have a great season," left tackle Zack Martin said. "Obviously, we're not going to be going to the national championship again. We can still have a great season. We can't hang our heads on this one."
- Notre Dame had a 10-game home winning streak snapped Saturday. The Irish haven't won 11 straight home games since the program picked up 19 straight home wins from Sept. 19, 1987 to Sept. 29, 1990.
- Atkinson's 80-yard TD run was Notre Dame's longest play from scrimmage since Terrance Howard also ran for 80 yards against West Virginia on Oct. 21, 2000.
- Tight end Troy Niklas caught his third career touchdown Saturday. He now has four touchdowns on 16 career receptions.
- Freshman running back Tarean Folston ran for 36 yards to set up the Irish's first touchdown. It was his 10th career carry.
- Smith, the former Luers standout, had seven tackles.