Big Ten

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."

Illini play freshman quarterback Cam Thomas for first time, but still fall at Minnesota

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USA TODAY

Illini play freshman quarterback Cam Thomas for first time, but still fall at Minnesota

While Saturday's trip to the Twin Cities featured some more of the same for the Fighting Illini, it marked important step in Lovie Smith's rebuilding project.

Freshman quarterback Cam Thomas, a Marian Catholic product, saw action for the first time in his collegiate career, Smith busting out a new option at the game's most important position. Thomas threw a nasty pick six, but he did lead Illinois in rushing in a 24-17 loss at Minnesota.

Thomas only made four throws, completing two of them and landing a third in the hands of a Minnesota defender, but his play injected a bit of excitement into what's looking like another dreadful season of Illinois football, with Smith's team falling to 2-5 through the first seven games of his second season at the helm of the program. Thomas mostly starred with his feet Saturday, rushing for a team-high 79 yards in the defeat.

His first appearance came following the first of the Illinois' defense's three takeaways. Thomas ran for a nine-yard gain on his first carry, and the Illini tied the game with a touchdown on the next play. Thomas was interchanged with starting quarterback Jeff George Jr. from there on out.

While the Illini defense kept the Gophers at bay for much of the day thanks to those three takeaways, P.J. Fleck's team had no trouble racking up rushing yardage, finishing with a whopping 292 rushing yards. Minnesota engineered a 12-play, 75-yard drive in the fourth quarter exclusively running the ball to break a 10-all tie and go up 17-10.

Thomas threw a pick six on the very next play from scrimmage, sending the Gophers up 24-10 to effectively seal the deal. George led an Illinois touchdown drive on the next possession, but the Illini couldn't make up the suddenly big gap in the limited amount of time.

Illinois finished with only 282 yards of offense. George was 18-for-23 for 128 yards and a touchdown. Ra'Von Bonner carried the ball 18 times for 57 yards and a touchdown.

The defeat dropped the Illini to 2-5 on the season and 0-4 in conference play. One of just two teams without a Big Ten win (Indiana is the other), Illinois faces off against a top-10 Wisconsin team next weekend.

Bulls' Bobby Portis publicly apologizes to Nikola Mirotic: 'I'm wrong for what I did'

Bulls' Bobby Portis publicly apologizes to Nikola Mirotic: 'I'm wrong for what I did'

Bobby Portis publicly issued an apology to Nikola Mirotic for the punch that broke two bones in Mirotic’s face and caused a concussion earlier this week.

Portis was suspended eight games by the NBA while Mirotic will be out 4-6 weeks after he goes through concussion protocol, following an incident in Tuesday’s practice where the tensions boiled over between the two power forwards.

“I'm wrong for what I did. I want to publicly apologize to Niko,” said Portis outside the Bulls locker room at the United Center, hours before the home opener against the San Antonio Spurs. “I feel like I let my fans, the Bulls organization, and most importantly my teammates down. This is not who Bobby Portis is.”

Sticking to clear talking points, repeatedly saying “we were competing” as a way to describe the incident, it was a more toned down version of Portis. Portis is usually colorful and engaging when talking to the media.

Saturday, he was muted, almost robotic in a sense. And he didn’t want to go into the incident in detail, one that many sources have said was instigated by Mirotic as the two were going back and forth physically during several possessions.

The play before, things intensified, causing assistant coach Randy Brown to step in and break things up. The next time downcourt, Mirotic apparently charged at Portis and Portis responded with one punch that sent Mirotic to the floor.

Gently choosing his words, Portis said, “We were competing and kinda went back and forth and things happened.”

When asked if he was shoved, Portis reiterated the two were competing although numerous accounts say Mirotic did push him leading up to the direct incident.

“Yes I was surprised by my own action,” Portis said. “That's not who I was, as I first stated. I'm a competitor at the end of the day but I never meant to hurt my teammate.”

Portis and Mirotic have not yet spoken, although Portis said he’s called and texted Mirotic with no response. It hasn’t been determined whether Mirotic will take legal action on Portis.

“Not concerned with that at this point,” Portis said. “At this point I’m just trying to publicly apologize to Niko and my teammates, and that I’m real sincere about the situation.”

Portis will be allowed to practice during his suspension, having returned Friday and Portis believes things can be mended with he and his teammate.

“Going forward I want to make sure that me and Niko are cool and we can be teammates again,” Portis said. “I'm pretty sure we can. We just have to repair this relationship.”

Justin Holiday said the issue will have to be addressed head on as opposed to being swept under the rug or letting the element of time naturally heal things. Whether that conversation is initiated by teammates or the coaching staff or front office, as long as both are wearing a Bulls uniform, it will be necessary.

“It hasn’t been arranged, but I’m pretty sure we’ll have to talk it out,” Portis said. “And I’m pretty sure it will be a gentle conversation. I’m pretty sure we can get past this.”