NORMAN, Okla. -- It all changes now for Notre Dame. Saturday night's defining 30-13 victory over Oklahoma -- no, at Oklahoma -- speeds everything up. It's no longer about wondering if Everett Golson is ready to handle being the quarterback at Notre Dame, it's about wondering just how good he can be. It's no longer about avoiding the noise, it's about making a lot of it. And it's no longer about going to a BCS bowl game, it's about going to the BCS bowl game -- the national championship game.
Golson, Notre Dame's beleaguered redshirt freshman quarterback, coming off a concussion that forced him to sit out last week, took command of the huddle with nine minutes to go in the fourth quarter. The record crowd of 86,031 at Memorial Stadium was shaking down its own thunder after the dormant Sooners offense woke up and tied the game 13-13 on Blake Bell's 1-yard touchdown run -- the first rushing touchdown surrendered by Notre Dame all season. But Golson, a guy who admitted to succumbing to the pressure at home against Michigan, a game in which he was yanked in the second quarter, came into his own on the next drive.
His beautiful 50-yard pass to Chris Brown over the top set the Irish up at the Oklahoma 15. And after stalling out in the red zone all day -- heck, all season -- Golson hit Theo Riddick and Tyler Eifert to set up third-and-goal from the 1, then shoved his way into the end zone, shoving Notre Dame into the national championship conversation.
It's a shocking development. Shocking because the Irish (8-0) entered the season facing an unbeatable schedule with a presumably beatable secondary and a rookie quarterback. Shocking because the Irish entered this game as 11-point underdogs, nothing more than high-profile fodder for Oklahoma's offensive threshing machine. And shocking because, well, the Irish looked absolutely overmatched early on.
Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones (35-of-51, 358 yards) shredded the Irish defense in the first quarter, facing no pressure in the pocket and seemingly no coverage in the defensive backfield. But OU's first two very impressive drives yielded just three points. And when Cierre Wood busted through the middle for a 62-yard touchdown run two snaps after the Sooners' field goal, he gave the Irish more than just a 7-3 lead. He gave them confidence and calmness in the storm of Sooners fans at Memorial Stadium. When the Irish forced two straight punts after that, the crowd quieted, and the Irish slowly took control of the clock, and of the game.
The Irish held a tenuous 10-6 lead into the locker room, and came back out with a purpose -- running the ball down the Soooners' throat. They opened the second half by driving 60 yards on 11 plays in nearly seven minutes, but Kyle Brindza pulled a 35-yard field goal wide left, a seemingly crushing blow.
But the Irish defense responded by forcing a punt, and the Irish offense responded, too, driving from its own 3-yard line to the Oklahoma 27 for a 44-yard Brindza field goal -- another character-defining drive for Golson, who showed off skills, savvy and toughness. He finished 13-of-25 for 177 passing yards, with 54 rushing yards.
And when Oklahoma showed new life by tying it up with 9:10 to go, Golson showed his killer instinct. After the go-ahead score, Manti Te'o -- who else? -- sealed the win with a diving interception of a tipped ball, and ND added a 46-yard Brindza field goal and a 15-yard Riddick TD run, sending the Irish into a three-game stretch of weak opponents, and a potential 11-0 record when they travel to USC for the season finale, a game that -- remarkably -- could have everything on the line.