The Fighting Irish, ranked 22nd in both polls, will host the Oklahoma Sooners, ranked 12th in the Coaches’ Poll and 14th in the AP Poll this week. The two storied programs will play in Notre Dame Stadium for just the sixth time in the 11th renewal of the series that was first played in 1952. The game coverage begins on NBC at 3:30 with kickoff around 3:41. Weather for South Bend as of this writing calls for partly cloudy, a high of 80 degrees, a ten percent chance of rain, and winds from the south-southwest up to thirteen miles per hour.
The Sooners are led by Bob Stoops, Iowa 93, in his 15th season in Norman, Oklahoma. Stoops’ record as a head coach is 152-37-0, all as the head man of the Sooners. He needs only six more wins this season to surpass Barry Switzer as the all-time winning head coach in Sooners’ history. Stoops’ personal .804 winning percentage ranks second behind Urban Myer among active FBS coaches and his 152 wins rank him first in total wins among active coaches.
Coach Stoops has coached a team in all four BCS bowl games and has appeared in four BCS Championship games and has won one while losing three. One of those losses was to Southern Cal who has vacated that win due to the Reggie Bush scandal. The Sooners have played in fourteen straight bowl games under Stoops. He heads a staff that has 209 cumulative years of coaching experience.
Stoops, a native of Youngstown, Ohio, has worked for some of the most acclaimed modern coaches in college football. He began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Iowa for two years under Hayden Fry. He then served as a volunteer coach at Iowa for three more years before serving one year under Glen Mason at Kent State. Then came eight years under Bill Snyder at Kansas State. He then became Florida’s defensive coordinator under Steve Spurrier and finally became Oklahoma’s 21st head coach in 1999.
Oklahoma is coming off of a bye week with a 3-0 record that includes a 34-0 win over Louisiana Monroe, a 16-7 win over West Virginia, and a 52-20 victory over Tulsa. Like Michigan State last week the Sooners will be playing in their first road game of the season. Coach Stoops is 0-2 against the Irish and Coach Kelly is 1-0 against Oklahoma and Coach Stoops.
Bob Stoops doesn’t lose very often in back to back years. In my research it’s only happened with Texas twice and Oklahoma State once. A loss to the Irish makes Notre Dame the third team to beat Coach Stoops in successive years.
Notre Dame- Oklahoma Connections
A bit of a stretch, but quarterback Blake Bell, center Gabe Ikard, and fullback Trey Millard studied abroad this past summer…in Ireland.
Oklahoma offensive coordinator Josh Heupel was the quarterback the last time the Sooners came to South Bend in 1999. The Irish came back from a sixteen point deficit to pull out a 34-30 victory.
Two Sooner staff members have Irish ties. Director of Football Operations Merv Johnson was an assistant coach at Notre Dame from 1975-78 and Jerry Schmidt Director of Sports Enhancement was an assistant at Notre Dame 1987-88 and from 1989-95. Both have been on staff when Notre Dame won national titles and both have been on staffs of three different teams that have won national titles.
Gone are all time Sooner winning quarterback Landry Jones and his top two receivers. A quarterback competition in the spring and fall gave the slot to Trevor Knight for the first two games this season. Knight suffered from less than stellar performances and ultimately a knee injury in the second game. As a result, Blake Bell, Landry’s backup, finally started his first game as a Sooner against Tulsa. His performance was just an Oklahoma record for yardage, 413 yards, and touchdown passes, four, among Sooner quarterbacks making their first career start and that includes two Heisman winners and one runner-up.
Oklahoma can run a variety of sets from their multiple offense. You might see four in the backfield in the variations of what they themselves call the Sooner Formation, double tights, pistol, spread variations, you name it. They also have enough talented depth to keep their skill players fresh.
Oklahoma is ranked 24th in total offense with 490 yards per game, 16th in rushing with 272 yards per game, and 75th in passing with 219 yards per game. Sooner scoring averages 34 points per game to rank 53rd. They have 5 turnovers, 2 fumbles, and 3 interceptions to rank in a tie for 48th. The Sooners have only allowed 4 sacks to rank them tied for 46th. In third down conversions Oklahoma is ranked 38th converting 24 of 50 third downs, a 40 % conversion rate.
In the Red Zone offense Oklahoma has scored on 15 of 17 strips inside the twenty for an 88% average and a 37th place in the FBS rankings. That breaks down into 3 rushing touchdowns, 6 passing touchdowns, and 6 field goals.
Oklahoma has been bested on some famous trick plays under Stoops reign. Two of note are a QB throwback off of a reverse by Nebraska to beat a 20th ranked Oklahoma and the famous Statue of Liberty play by Boise State to beat an 8th ranked Oklahoma team. One would have to think that those are in the Sooner repertoire, wouldn’t one?
Lacoltan Bester #1 was a high school quarterback so a flanker reverse pass isn’t out of the realm of possibilities. Also, any Oklahoma receiver is capable of a reverse.
Oklahoma Projected Starting Offense and Major Contributors
QB #10 Blake Bell, 6-6, 263, junior, 23 games, 1 start
RB #24 Brennan Clay #24, 5-11, 197, senior, 36 games, 10 starts
RB #26 Damien Williams, 5-11, 214, senior, 15 games, 9 starts, JUCO
RB #22 Roy Finch, 5-7, 167, senior, 37 games, 9 starts
FB #33 Trey Millard, 6-2, 259, senior, 43 games, 15 starts
WR #3 Sterling Shepard, 5-10, 193, 16 games, 7 starts
WR #11 Lacoltran Bester, 6-3, 195, senior, 65 games, 1 start
WR #5 Durron Neal, 5-11, 199, sophomore, 10 games, 0 starts, JUCO
WR #16 Jaz Reynolds, 6-2, 198, fifth year, 22 games, 7 starts
LT #71 Tyrus Thompson, 6-5, 320, RS junior, 16 games, 8 starts
LG #74 Adam Shead, 6-4, 315, RS junior, 25 games, 21 starts
C #64 Gabe Ikard, 6-3, 298, senior, 42 games, 42 starts
RG #68 Bronson Irwin, 6-5, 315, senior, 37 games, 16 starts
RT #79 Daryl Williams, 6-6, 321, RS junior, 22 games, 13 starts
Quarterback Blake Bell #10 was Landry Jones’s backup last year and presumed to be the starter this season by many of the Oklahoma faithful, but coming out of camp red shirt freshman Trevor Knight won the job. Bell (pictured) didn’t sulk or cause friction, but bided his time as Knight had two listless games with a 44% completion average, 3 interceptions, and an injured knee. Bell got the starting call in the third game of the season and responded like no other first time starter in Sooner history. He threw for 30-43-0 for 70%, 451 yards, and 4 touchdown passes. Granted it was against a Tulsa defense that had seven new starters this year, but he exceeded the starting debuts of Landry Jones, Sam Bradford, and Jason White whose initial starts came against more suspect competition.
Last year Bell was the “Belldozer” the guy who came in on short yardage or near the goal line and brought his 252 pound power into the fray for 24 touchdowns in two years. Going into this season he was 10-20-1 for 50% and no touchdowns for his career. Bell, who only played one year as a high school quarterback, is big, strong, mobile for his size, has a real quick release, and while he doesn’t possess a gun he can make all the throws and has a nice touch on deep throws. He also has a pocket awareness that belies his limited years as a quarterback. Bell can scramble to keep a play alive, but he’s more apt to run. He also runs the zone read.
Bell’s backup might be Trevor Knight #9 who may return by the time the Sooners and Irish meet. Knight has a strong arm, is mobile in the pocket, and he’s an excellent runner when he pulls it down. His problem is accuracy exhibited by his 44% completion average in his two starts. Knight can run option and the zone read very well, but his knee might limit that. Knight does not have the pocket presence Bell has.
The other possibility for Bell’s backup might be Kendal Thompson #1. This red shirt sophomore has been injured this season fracturing his foot on Oklahoma’s first fall practice. He’s never played a game in college. At the Sooner spring game he was 8-15-0 for 53% and 1 touchdown. He rushed 8 times for a 4.4 yard average. Thompson is an elusive runner, but he isn’t a very fast runner.
Brennan Clay #24 is one of the running backs by committee that Oklahoma uses in its ground game and usually the starter. Clay has it all, speed, acceleration, vision, power, balance and good size. He sees and hits the lanes in the open field, shows patience in traffic, and can bounce it outside. He’s rushed for an average of 5.8 yards, with a long of 34 yards, and 2 touchdowns. He hasn’t caught a pass yet this year, but his career statistics show 36 receptions, a 5.5 yard average, and 1 touchdown.
Damien Williams #26 will be back from a one game suspension just in time for the Irish this week. Last year he was the primary running back used against Notre Dame in Norman. The Arizona Western JC transfer, in his second year as a Sooner, was an NJCAA All-American. Williams runs with his pads low, has good vision, bounces off tackles in traffic, and is capable of running people over. He’s often hard to bring down keeping his feet moving on contact. Williams missed a thousand yards last year only due to ankle problems, a notable accomplishment in a backfield by committee. Of note is his ability to go the distance with deceptive speed exhibited by him being the only FBS player to have 4 runs of 65 or more last season. This season he has no receptions, but last season he caught 34 passes to show he’s a reliable threat out of the backfield. Williams, who could play at the next level, averages 4.4 Yards per carry, has a long of 17 yards, and 0 touchdowns.
Roy Finch #22 is small, but a potential deadly package, the speed back among the bruisers of the Sooner rotation. His quick feet, his ability to stop and get back to speed quickly, and his moves make him a tough guy to tackle in the open field. Finch showed potential and production his first two years in Norman, but exhibited some maturity issues and was in the staff’s doghouse last year and faded from the rotation. He has worked himself back into good graces and is contributing again. He’s a tough tackle in the open field and therefore dangerous on screens. A good receiver he has 3 receptions for a 10.3 yard average, a long of 29 yards (a screen), and 1 touchdown. As a rusher he averages 7.3 yards per carry, has a long of 48 yards, and 0 touchdowns.
Trey Millard #33 is a big cog in the Sooners’ running game with his blocking for the other backs. Millard plays a hybrid fullback/H-back/tight end position and as a tailback too. When given the ball he has great stats. He brings a load and a big burst to the hole when running the ball. Millard has good, soft hands as his career receiver statistics show. He hasn’t been used much as a runner because of his powerful blocking skills, but his career rushing average of 5.3 yards per carry, a long of 61 yards, and 5 touchdowns can’t be ignored. Neither can his career 64 receptions, a long of 73 yards, and 7 touchdowns. Millard is a weapon with or without the ball.
Getting more and more carries as the season moves along is Keith Ford #21. This blue chip freshman is a bruising runner who appears to love contact and one of my favorite videos this year is him running over and knocking back Oklahoma’s starting nose tackle, 324 pound Jordan Phillips, in a fall camp Oklahoma drill. Besides power he has good vision, quick feet, accelerates through the hole, and obviously can break tackles. Not a possessor of break-away speed he does have a good second gear. Ford has 11 carries, a 6.0 yard average, a long of 23 yards, and 1 touchdown. He hasn’t caught a pass this season, but he’d be a load in the open field.
This is a deep and talented unit and almost all could possibly play at the next level. The pre-season wags have them as the second best receiver unit in the Big 12. I’d like to see the team they rated first.
Sterling Shepard #3 is the Sooners’ leading receiver with 11 catches this season. He has good speed, good hands, runs good routes, and uses his body well to get separation. Oklahoma uses him a lot in the slot and he’s a load on a seam route or skinny post. Williams is averaging 13.3 yards per catch, has a longest reception of 44 yards, and 2 touchdowns.
Jalen Saunders #8 is second on the team with 10 receptions. The Fresno State transfer had 15 receptions against the Irish last year for 187 yards, including a school record of 8 receptions in the first quarter. A deep threat presence often allows him to be wide open on shorter routes. How deep a threat is he? As a sophomore he had 10 receptions over 40 yards. He’s even more dangerous on the skinny post or seam routes that Shepard. Though an undersized receiver he is dangerous after the catch, has quick feet, quick acceleration, and he can really shake and bake. He is average of 13.7 yards, a long of 30 yards, and 3 touchdowns.
Durron Neal # 5 can reach top speed very quickly. He has 4.4 speed, runs well after the catch, and is a competitive receiver who fights for the ball. Neal is the type of athlete that can get big yards after a catch especially on tunnel or bubble screens. Neal has 6 receptions, a 15.2 yard average, a long of 41 yards, and 0 receptions.
Lacoltran Bester #11 has good speed for his size and is an athletic receiver. He’s physical, fights for the ball, and explodes out of his cuts. Bester has 6 receptions for an average of 11.5 yards, a long of 32 yards, and 0 touchdowns.
Jaz Reynolds #16 has 5 receptions, a gaudy 24.2 yard average, a long of 82 yards (off of a slant pass) and 0 touchdowns. Suspended for the 2012 season and removed from scholarship after spring practice Reynolds has worked his way back to the field this year. Reynolds doesn’t possess the speed that his fellow receivers have, but once he gets rolling isn’t too bad evidenced by his yards per reception average. He has great body control, uses his height well, runs good routes, and has great hands. His career average on 59 receptions is 18.5 yards per reception.
No tight end listed on the Oklahoma depth chart has caught a pass this season. Most often the tight end slot are manned by fullbacks/H-backs Millard and Aaron Ripkowski #48.
Oklahoma returns four starters from last season’s offensive line, the top unit of the Sooner offense. While one of those starters has lost his job he still fits into the rotation bringing versatility and a breather to the big guys up front. Most observers feel that the Sooners are more physical up front than they were last year and that the offensive line is one of the top lines in the country. Statistically, the Oklahoma line has only allowed 4 sacks in 91 passing attempts. They wear their opponents down as the game progresses shown by increasing their rushing output per attempt from a game average of 5.3 yards per carry to a fourth quarter average of 7.0 yards per carry. What team wouldn’t want a 7.0 yard per carry average in the fourth quarter?
Center Gabe Ikard #64 is an excellent center and the leader of the Sooner line. Smart, he graduated with a 4.0, and the former tight end can play center or guard. Ikard is strong, athletic, football intelligent, and uses leverage well. He can block on the move and when blocking in space his skill level is very good. A good zone blocker, Ikard is very competitive, does a great job on combo blocks sliding off to pick up another defender on passing and running plays. He’s technically sound, 10 pounds larger and stronger this year over last, and a pleasure to watch.
Right tackle Daryl Williams #79 is a two year starter, a Big 12 honorable mention in 2012 as a sophomore, is much smoother than last year. He has long arms that he uses well on pass blocking along with good overall technique. Williams bends his knees, pulls well, and blocks in space better than most tackles. His improvement in run blocking, his size, and his length make him a better than average bet to play at the next level.
Left tackle Tyrus Thompson #71 was the number one backup at both tackles position last season and considering one of those tackles went on the number four pick in the 2013 NFL Draft and the other was honorable mention Big 12 it speaks of Thompson’s talent. Thompson has really long arms, great agility, and quick feet. His long arms just give defenders fits.
Right guard Nila Kasitati #54 pushed out a starter, Bronson Irwin, this season to start all three games. Recovered from a 2012 ACL tear Kasitati brings athleticism, physical play, and nastiness to the line. A high school tight end he has good feet and good speed. He pulls well and is physical in space.
Left guard Adam Shead #74 is a strong lineman, but an average pass blocker. He has short arms and is not the best on the Sooner line. His problems are with the bull rush, getting off balance, and in not bending his knees. Linebacker blitzes from the outside in give him problems.
Bronson Irwin #68 is the former starter who now acts as a swing man between guard and tackle. Irwin’s greatest strength is his ability to slide off combo blocks and pick up a blitzer pass blocking or get to the second level blocking for the run. He’s not Ikard’s equal in space, but he does get out well when pulling and on screens. Frankly, I don’t know why he isn’t the starting left guard.
Oklahoma runs a multiple front defense showing 4-3, 3-4, and more. They even ran a 4-0-7 against West Virginia although it was supposed to be a 4-1-6 but the extra defensive back was confused. Suffice to say the Sooners are more active, more aggressive, and better than they were last year.
Oklahoma is ranked 20th in total defense, allowing 291 yards per game, 18th in rushing allowing 101 yards per game, and 39th in passing allowing 191 yards per game. The Sooners are 5th in scoring defense permitting only 9 points per game. They are 15th in third down conversion defense allowing opponents to convert only 12 of 44 third down attempts for 27%. In turnovers Oklahoma is tied for 57th with six turnovers, 3 interceptions and 3 fumbles.
Red Zone defense by the Sooners finds them ranked in a tie for 15th allowing their opponents to score 4 times on 6 trips inside the Oklahoma 20. This breaks down into 2 rushing touchdowns and 2 field goals.
Oklahoma Projected Starting Defense and Major Contributors
RE #85 Geneo Grissom, 6-4, 263, RS junior, 20 games, 3 starts
LE #91 Charles Tapper, 6-4, 261, sophomore, 8 games, 3 starts
DT #98 Chuka Ndulue, 6-3, 274, RS junior, 22 games, 10 starts
NT #80 Jordon Phillips, 6-6, 324, RS sophomore, 14 games, 3 starts
OLB #7 Corey Nelson, 6-1, 226, senior, 43 games, 25 starts
MLB #20 Frank Shannon, 6-1, 230, RS sophomore, 15 games, 5 starts
OLB #19 Eric Striker, 6-0, 219, sophomore, 16 games, 3 starts
NB #2 Julian Wilson, 6-2, 199, RS junior, 27 games, 5 starts
RCB #15 Zack Sanchez, 5-11, 173, RS freshman, 3 games, 3 starts
LCB #14 Aaron Colvin, 6-0, 192, senior, 4 games, 28 starts
SS #10 Quentin Hayes, 6-3, 193, junior, 11 games, 3 starts
FS #9 Gabe Lynn, 6-0, 204, fifth, 34 games, 15 starts
The defensive line is a little short of scholarship players, particularly on the inside where the Sooners only had three scholarship players in the two interior positions making it necessary to move a defensive end inside. Last year’s line had difficulty in stopping the run and pressuring the quarterback despite being senior led. So Coach Stoops fire his long timed defensive line coach Jackie Shipp, who had been with him since 1999 and brought in Jerry Montgomery. Last season the defensive front was more read and contain while this season they attack and try to disrupt plays before they get started.
Nose tackle Jordon Phillips #80 is a standout on film. This disruptive nose tackle is obviously a load, but he’s also quick footed, agile, and plays with fire. Phillips has a quick burst, uses his hands extremely well, and is quick off the ball despite his size. His ability to soak up blockers frees his fellow defenders up to make plays. Phillips also has a pretty good inside move that can leave a center grasping air. He has 6 tackles, 1 solo, .5 for a loss, and 1QB hurry.
Defensive tackle Chuka Ndulue #98 was suspended for the first game. He is the only returning starter off the defensive line from last season and was switched to defensive tackle this year. He is quick off the snap, has good instincts, and pursues well. He wasn’t a great pass rusher as a defensive end and at 274 pounds he doesn’t have great push, but he has a good inside move and disrupts through penetration. Ndulue has 1 solo tackle and 1 fumble recovery.
Defensive end Geneo Grissom #85 is a very athletic lineman who has a motor that creates great lateral pursuit and backside pursuit often running down backs from behind. He uses his hands well, has a good burst off the snap, and changes direction fluidly. Grissom does a good job getting his hands up if he can’t get to the quarterback and reads screens well. Grissom has 8 tackles, 3 solos, 1.5 for losses, 1 pass batted down and one pass broken up.
Defensive end Charles Tapper #91 came to Oklahoma as an athletic big kid who could run. A former basketball player he didn’t start to play football until his junior year in high school. Tapper didn’t arrive in Norman very strong, but has worked hard in the weight room since then. He does a great job moving down the line of scrimmage in pursuit and hauls down backs from behind. He’s the most athletic of the Sooner defensive linemen. He has 14 tackles, 5 solos, .5 sack, and 2 QB hurries.
The linebacking corps is undersized, but very quick. Only one starter returns from last year’s game. Every starter is a quick blitzer coming on a straight or delayed blitz.
Outside linebacker Corey Nelson #7 is a bit undersized for an outside linebacker, but he’s in his third year as a starter. He’s a solid tackler, physical, fast, makes quick reads, and an effective blitzer. Nelson does a good job holding his ground when engaged and pursuing laterally. Last year he came out on passing downs, but he’s upped his game in that department. Nelson can cover a back out of the backfield and has good instincts. The leading tackler on the Sooners Nelson has 20 tackles, 12 solos, 3 for losses, 1 sack, has defended 6 passes, and has 2 QB hurries.
Middle linebacker Frank Shannon #20 came to the Sooners as a safety and made the transition during his red shirt year. Shannon has good speed for a middle linebacker and fills holes quickly. He has a good athlete’s body control that allows him to tackle well in space. As a run defender he pursues well from sideline to sideline. In pass defense Shannon reads screens well and breaks on a football in the air like a defensive back. He has 19 tackles, 11 solos, 1 for a loss, and 2 QB hurries.
Eric Striker #19 is usually found on the edge rushing the passer, but he does more despite his small size. He is fast, athletic, and comes off the edge with a good burst. He can rush, cover, play the run, and pursue. He’s usually around the football and has all the aspects one wants out of an outside linebacker save size. His major weakness aside from size is if he has a second move when his initial rush is thwarted I haven’t seen it. He has 10 tackles, 5 solos, and 2 QB hurries.
The Oklahoma secondary is the strength of the Sooner defense.
Free safety Gabe Lynn #9 is a big hitter who sometimes has coverage issues. Recruited as a corner he spent last year as the Sooner nickleback. Thought to be a corner opposite Colvin Lynn was switched to free safety to get their best on the field. He’s a good cover man for his speed, has good range, hits hard, and he fills quickly and fearlessly on the run. Lynn had a very good game against West Virginia with 3 tackles, a fumble return, and an interception return. On the season he has 5 tackles, 3 solos, 2 interceptions, four passes defended, and 1 fumble return.
Strong safety Quentin Hayes #10 is not a great athlete, but he has good football instincts and changes direction well. He has brought a better set of coverage skills and range to the strong safety position than Oklahoma had last year. Hayes has 12 tackles, 5 solos, .5 sack, and 1 forced fumble.
Cornerback Aaron Colvin #14 has good size, 4.5 speed, and covers well. Colvin was moved to strong safety his sophomore year and back to corner his junior year. Playing strong safety honed his hitting skills. Colvin is an aggressive run defender who shows no fear. He’s a bit of grabber on receivers downfield and often too physical while the ball is in the air like MSU’s Waynes was last week. Colvin is player who plays with intensity and pride who could be one of the top draft choices at corner in 2014. Injured against West Virginia he’s expected back against the Irish. Colvin has 8 tackles, 7 solos, .5 sacks, and 2 passes defended.
Cornerback Zack Sanchez #15 came to Oklahoma unheralded, but his speed and new found focus this fall camp have earned him the starting spot opposite Colvin. Sanchez has 4.4 speed, good hips, is a solid cover corner, and isn’t afraid to get his hair mussed in confronting the run. He replaced a more touted corner, Cortez Johnson who was suspended for the opener, as the projected starter in game one and hasn’t relinquished the position even though opponents go at him more than Colvin. He can fall for the double move at times. Sanchez has 15 tackles, 10 solos, .5 for loss, and 4 passes defended.
Nickleback Julian Wilson #2 has good speed and size for the hybrid position that Oklahoma employs most of the game. He closes and tackles well. He can also blitz from anywhere. Wilson has 8 tackles, 3 solos, .5 for a loss, 1 interception, and 5 passes defended.
Oklahoma Special Teams
The Sooners have one of the best special teams units in the FBS division. A tradition at Oklahoma since Stoops took over is excellence in special teams.
Mike Hunnicutt #18 is the Sooner place kicker. He is 8 of 9 on field goals with a long of 44 and a miss from 35 yards. Hunnicutt is 11 of 11 on extra points. He made a 53 yard field goal in his red shirt freshman year.
Nick Hodgson #39 does the kickoffs for Oklahoma. He averages 65 yards per kick and his 22 kick offs have yielded 1 out of bounds and 15 touchbacks. His return team has allowed an average of 19 yards per return to rank in at a tie for 40th.
Kickoffs are returned by Trey Franks #32 and Clay Brennan #24. Franks averages 26 yards per return on two kickoffs with a longest of 28 yards. Brennan’s only return went for 20 yards.
The Sooner punter Jed Barnett #44 is averaging 44.1 yards per punt with a long of 54 yards. His 13 punts have resulted in 3 of fifty or more yards, 7 inside the twenty, and 9 fair caught. His punt coverage team is ranked last at 123rd allowing a 37.5 yard average return based on two returns, one of 77 yards and one of -2 yards. That is a bit of an anathema to me and I find the 9 fair catches a more appropriate reflection of the Sooner punt coverage team.
Jalen Saunders #8 is the punt returner and he’s carrying a fine 13.5 yard average per return on 8 punt returns with a long of 45 yards.
Revenge is on the Sooners’ side after getting whipped at home last year by a 30-13 score in Norman. The game was tied 13-13 with under six minutes left in the game. That has to be festering with the Sooners.
You can’t escape that fact that Notre Dame leads the series 9-1.
The Sooners have outscored their opponents 40-0 in the second quarter.
Oklahoma lost to Notre Dame last year throwing 52 times. The Irish lost to Michigan this year throwing 53 times.
The Irish are converting 90% of their third downs in the third quarter. Surprisingly though they have scored their fewest points by quarters in the third quarter. Go figure.
Oklahoma really hasn’t played anyone yet. Notre Dame has played Michigan and Michigan State, a combined, but ugly, 7-1 between them. West Virginia, Oklahoma’s toughest opponent is 2-2 following a slaughter at the hands of Maryland last week 37-0.
Notre Dame Defense vs Oklahoma Offense – Advantage Oklahoma
Know where Jalen Saunders lines up. He’s the most dangerous Sooner receiver, particularly from the slot. Right after him the Irish need to know the whereabouts of Sterling Shepard.
Oklahoma can hurt anyone with skinny posts or seams from the slot receivers. Irish safeties will be under stress the whole game just on these two patterns alone.
Oklahoma runs great screens, especially to the outside. Irish linebackers, safeties, and corners have to be at their best tackling.
Stephon Tuitt is rounding into football shape, Sheldon Day should be back, and Louis Nix had a better game last week as well. Irish linebackers are getting better and the secondary certainly played their best game.
The game could well be decided by the Nix, Tuit, and Day battle with Sooners center Ikard and company. Last year Nix and Kapron Lewis-Moore had good games, but Tuitt was pretty much held in check.
Behind Manti Te’o, who had a great game last year, the top two tacklers for Notre Dame were Bennett Jackson and Keivare Russell. Their sure tackling after receptions and against the run were just as much a factor in the win as Te’o’s heroics. They need to do as well, if not better, this year because no Irish linebacker has stepped up to be anywhere close to Te’o.
Last year the Irish held the Sooner ground game to 15 net yards rushing and a 0.6 yard per attempt average. They need to do it again, or be close and force Bell to win the game for Oklahoma. If the Sooners mount a balanced attack the Irish are in trouble.
Dial it up in the second quarter. Irish opponents have scored almost twice as many second quarter points compared to the other three quarters. Add to that the Oklahoma 40-0 scoring advantage against their opponents in second quarters this year.
Notre Dame Offense vs Oklahoma Defense – Advantage Notre Dame
The Irish need to get out of the blocks early. Coming from behind against Oklahoma won’t be as easy as it was against Purdue.
The Irish offense has a size advantage while the Sooners defense has a speed advantage.
Oklahoma plays a more aggressive game with their defensive front than last year. Many times their linemen will come down hard inside and create gaps that must be filled by undersized linebackers. That will hurt the Notre Dame at times, but it may also open up some big plays if the Irish can hit some seams.
It’s another tough week for Notre Dame’s receivers as the Oklahoma secondary is talented and physical. However, I doubt that the Sooner secondary will play as much tight coverage as Michigan State did. They’ll pick their spots.
The Sooner linebacking corps is undersized, but fast. They’ll fill quickly on Irish running backs. The Irish, however, have a huge size advantage with Troy Niklas and Ben Koyack. They need to use it.
Last year Golson barely completed 50% of his passes. Tommy Rees needs to throw the ball like he did the first two games versus last week’s accuracy problems.
West Virginia ran for 169 yards against the Sooners. So Oklahoma’s ranking in run defense came at the hands of Louisiana-Monroe and Tulsa. However, Notre Dame hasn’t broken the century mark in rushing since Temple. The Irish simply need to run the ball better.
Notre Dame Special Teams vs Oklahoma Special Teams – Advantage Oklahoma
The Sooners have one of the best overall special teams unit in college football. I want no mistakes in coverage, no turnovers by Notre Dame, deep kickoffs like last week, and punting that keeps Oklahoma deep. If I get that I’m happy. Anything else would be gravy.
I can’t get excited over supposed defensive improvement when the opponent was Michigan State’s mediocre offense. No unit is playing at the level of last year. Linebacker play and safety play are considerably weaker. Yes, the Irish tackled better, covered better, and rushed better last week, but MSU has a lousy offense because of bad quarterback play. It’ll take a win this week and holding the Sooner offense in check to make me a believer in the Irish defense.
On offense whoever establishes a decent run game will probably emerge with the win. I don’t think the Irish can do so. They certainly haven’t wowed the fan base or their opponents running the ball. Personally, I think they give up too early on it and as a result the team’s self-confidence about the running game suffers.
There are just too many uncertainties with this team this year. The running game, the defense, and some of what I see as questionable play calling all leave me feeling uneasy about this one. As usual when picking this way I hope I’m wrong.
Oklahoma 27, Notre Dame 24