Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma: Pitting the Irish Front 7 vs. the Sooners O-Line

Michael Felder@InTheBleachersNational CFB Lead WriterOctober 22, 2012

NORMAN, OK - SEPTEMBER 22:  Quarterback Blake Bell #10 of the Oklahoma Sooners powers into the endzone against the Kansas State Wildcats  on September 22, 2012 at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Oklahoma. Kansas State beat Oklahoma 24-19. (Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)
Brett Deering/Getty Images

I don't particularly care about Notre Dame snapping Oklahoma's 47-game winning streak.

It happened in 1957, and while it certainly has its place in college football lore, it doesn't have much place in the game that we're going to be seeing this weekend.

No, Saturday won't be about Bud Wilkinson or Terry Brennan; it will be about how the current Fighting Irish front seven handles itself against the Sooners offensive line.

The Oklahoma offensive line is an interesting exhibit of stats not telling the full story. Actually, it's a fine example of statistics all-out lying where performance is concerned.

You see the numbers—200 yards rushing per game—and expect to see a team that moves the ball on the ground with some gumption. In reality, Oklahoma is a team with numbers that are boosted by two 300-yard rushing games—one against an FCS team and the other against a Texas unit that has been woeful in Big 12 play.

That 200-yard number also ignores the two games where the Sooners failed to get to the 100-yard mark. Sure, the Kansas State loss can be chalked up to the Wildcats' stout defense, but this weekend against Kansas? The Sooners just have no true interest in establishing the run game if it doesn't get rolling early, like it did against Texas.

If you're a Sooners fan, don't expect that "establishing the run" plan to work against Notre Dame. The Irish are going to make sure that Damien Williams doesn't get going early; it is simply what they do. Led by Louis Nix III and Manti Te'o as a group, Notre Dame is going to stymie the run out of the gate.

This game will boil down to what the people want to see:

Oklahoma's passing attack against Notre Dame's defense.

Trust me, we'll get to the secondary later this week. For now, the focus is on the front seven. 

Ultimately, the battle that folks are signing up to enjoy is how the Irish handle Landry Jones. Luckily for Jones, the Sooners have an offensive line that is far more comfortable backing up than they are firing off the ball to run block. Oklahoma has only give up 10 sacks this season, and their remade offensive line is excelling when it comes to "catching" opponents and giving Landry Jones time to throw.

However, this Notre Dame front seven will be the stiffest test that the Sooners likely face this regular season. There is pro talent at all three defensive line spots, an All-American linebacker, and a player in Prince Shembo, who has become a problem with both his hand down and standing up. 

For Notre Dame to win this battle, they have to harass Landry Jones early. The senior quarterback has proven time and again that if teams get to him at the start of games, he has a tough time rebounding to find success through the air. So, if you're Notre Dame, you load up early.

That means bringing Shembo hard off the edge. It means sending Te'o and Dan Fox on inside dogs to bring pressure up the gut. It means breaking out your zone pressures to make the offensive line think. It means stunting Stephon Tuitt, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Sheldon Day and even Louis Nix III to create problems.

The Irish have been fairly basic this season, with Denard Robinson, the Naval Academy's scheme and the power-running approach of Michigan State and Stanford—these all lend themselves to vanilla schemes. Now, this is when Bob Diaco gets to use some of the more exotic looks he has in his playbook.

This has to be less of an all-out blitz game plan and more of an early onslaught push to rattle Jones, then strategically timed pressures to continue to unsettle the quarterback and force the offensive line to make mistakes.

On the Oklahoma side of things, expect Notre Dame to try and force the issue. The Sooners can combat that by using simple protections, passing off the cross-blitzers and making sure they are not fooled by the different looks Bob Diaco throws at them.

This offensive line is good enough to keep Landry Jones upright and allow the quarterback to confidently complete passes.

The meeting between the Irish and the Sooners is all about the big guys in the box. Expect Notre Dame to stop the run early, but the real facet to watch will be getting pressure on Landry Jones. Pressure on Jones can help stop the Oklahoma passing game from torching the secondary. However, the Sooners offensive line is at their best backing up to pass protect.

This battle should be the deciding factor in the game.


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