Series Record: Notre Dame leads 8-1
Time/TV: 8 p.m. ET, ABC (HD)
It’s quite a weekend of good matchups in college football. In the Big 12 K-State vs. Texas Tech, the SEC has Georgia vs. Florida and Alabama vs. Mississippi State, the Big Ten features Ohio State vs. Penn State and in the ACC, the surprising Duke Blue Devils and Florida State face off with first place at stake.
What sticks out though is the odd October non-conference matchup between Notre Dame and Oklahoma. The teams agreed to a home and home matchup for 2012 and 2013, and the Fighting Irish travel to Norman, OK for their toughest test of the season. It’ll be a battle of two historic programs who both field top 10 teams. If Notre Dame wins, their national championship hopes stay alive in 2012, and they bring a tough as nails defense to face QB Landry Jones and an experienced Oklahoma team that is determined not to lose twice at home this season. Here’s what to look for between these two teams in Norman on Saturday:
When Oklahoma is on Offense
Football Jones: The battle for this game will be won in the trenches on Saturday. Notre Dame brings a terrific run defense that hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown all year. If Oklahoma can’t run against them, the Irish defense led by Manti Te’o can pressure Landry Jones into turnovers, which was the Sooners downfall at home against Kansas State at home earlier this year. One of Oklahoma’s weapons in the trenches, is 6’6″ 254 pound Blake Bell, a backup QB that has turned into a bruising back in the red zone for the Sooners. Bell has rushed for 8 touchdowns in 2012. If the Sooners can get some production from the running game, that opens up the playbook for Landry Jones to play pitch and catch with his core of playmaking receivers. Against K-State, Jones turned the ball over twice while under pressure, and Notre Dame’s defense is a little better than K-State’s. Jones has been extremely accurate in the past three games, and is easily the best quarterback this Irish defense has faced in the 2012 season. If the Irish are forced to blitz against him, Jones has the precision to hit his check down or hot routes and force the Irish secondary to make the tackles against the fleet receivers of the Sooners. What could be effective for Jones is the screen pass to RB Damien Williams during a linebacker blitz. That could give the Sooners huge yardage and keep the LB’s honest.
When Notre Dame is on Defense
Keep the Faith: The defensive numbers that the 2012 Notre Dame team has put up are staggering. They still have NOT allowed a rushing touchdown this year, and are giving up 106.71 rushing yards a game, that ranks them 15th nationally. The strength of the defense is their pass rush and their ability to cause turnovers. The Irish front line is lead by Stephon Tuitt, who has been compared to Julius Peppers in his ability to get to the quarterback. If the Irish line is able to disrupt the running game, it will make it far more likely Jones will commit a turnover while under pressure. The Sooners offensive line will have a challenge as the Irish’s line of Tuitt, Kapron Lewis-Moore and Louis Nix average about 6’5″ and 315 pounds. In the 3-4 defense the Irish run, the front line should open up some blitzing lanes for Manti Te’o and the rest of the Irish linebackers. I think they’ll be able to dominate the line of scrimmage, but their secondary will be vulnerable to the big play.
When Notre Dame is on Offense
Triple Threat: QB Everett Golson is back after sitting out last week against BYU with a concussion. Golson’s main challenge against the OU defense will be making efficient reads and knowing when to tuck the ball and gain positive yardage with his legs. Notre Dame has the offensive identity of a power rushing team, and uses a mix of three running backs to keep the offense fresh. Against BYU last week, the Irish operated out of a two tight end set while not in the spread offense and would send a running back in motion in order for the safety to respect the sweep handoff. Frequently, the back would be used as a decoy for a reverse pitch, but the ball would be handed off to RB’s Theo Reddick and Cierre Wood to gain positive yardage up the middle. This established the ground game in the 2nd half against BYU. Eventually, BYU started blitzing their cornerbacks, which would lead to big gains by the best speed threat out of the backfield, George Atkinson III. In order for this to work against Oklahoma, the Irish might have to tweak this into a triple option with Reddick and Atkinson III stacked behind Golson. Mix in a little spread offense and have Golson find TE Tyler Eifert in one of his reads, and if he’s not open, have Golson tuck and run for yardage. If this gameplan is executed, the Irish will win.
When Oklahoma is on Defense
Prevent the Upset: In 7 out of the last 10 Oklahoma losses, the opposition has won the rushing battle. In order for the Sooners to be victorious on Saturday, the defense has to cause turnovers against the Irish offense. The Sooners defense is allowing only 15.3 points a game in 2012 and they have six sacks and nine turnovers in their last three games. What the Sooners need to accomplish on Saturday is a bend but not break attack on the Irish running game. I’d expect to see defensive coordinator Mike Stoops use one of the linebackers as a spy on Golson, and double covering TE Tyler Eifer who is usually Golson’s first read. The Sooners need to contain Golson and have him scramble laterally and not forward, as he is more prone to turn the ball over while he is scrambling to his right looking for someone to get open. A well timed safety blitz could create havoc in the Irish backfield, but it would be a risky proposition in the option if one of Notre Dame’s runners gets some space in the open field. Basically it comes down to this: let Golson make the mistakes that a redshirt freshman will make. It will certainly be a hostile environment in Norman, and it could cause some bad snap counts and miscommunication with an inexperienced quarterback.
Laying the Wood (Facts that will knock you off your feet)
The Football Mentalist Predicts
This is a statement game for Landry Jones, and BYU gave Notre Dame all they could handle last week at home. I’ll take the fifth year senior QB over the redshirt freshman QB.
Oklahoma 23 Notre Dame 10
Josh Adams is a contributor to FBSchedules.com. Follow him @Joshthescribe.