No. 5 Notre Dame will take on its most difficult test of the season this Saturday when the Irish travel to Norman, Okla. The No. 8 Sooners are ready for the Irish and will challenge them in this game. Notre Dame’s only chance to earn the win is to play SEC type football.
This is a huge BCS matchup with a lot of postseason implications built into it. The Irish are trying to make a case for an at-large bid into the national title game and Oklahoma is trying to climb back into the discussion with a loss on the resume.
The Sooners will bring a home crowd and an explosive offense to this game. The Notre Dame defense will need to play like an SEC squad to stop this balanced attack for Oklahoma.
Potent Defense Wins Big Games
Notre Dame is giving up 174 yards per game through the air ranking them as the No. 14 pass defense in the country. The rush defense is right in line at No. 15 in the country, giving up 106 yards a game on the ground.
The defense has to continue to be potent against the Oklahoma offense. The Sooners bring junior Damien Williams (552 yards, 7.5 YPC, 7 TDs) to the field to help complement the Landry Jones (1,653 yards, 62.9 CMP%, 12 TDs) led Oklahoma offense.
Landry Jones wants to air out the football. They can run the ball well, but getting the ball in the air is what produces the most consistent results for this Bob Stoops led team. Keeping a lid on both will be difficult, but keying on a pass rush and stopping big plays will be crucial.
Oklahoma is not giving the ball away often, but expect Notre Dame to be able to pick a few throws from the air if the Irish bring an aggressive SEC style play to the secondary.
These Irish defensive backs will also need to make work of the Oklahoma receivers, separating the ball on regular occasion’s right at the point of catch. Aggressiveness is the key. Notre Dame has to stop this air-raid style Sooners offense.
Turn Up the Ground Game
The Irish have a stable of running backs that have yet to capture their potential so far through the first half of the season.
Notre Dame backs have a total of 1,357 rushing yards through seven games. Theo Riddick, Cierre Wood and George Atkinson III have all been the primary ball carriers this season. Wood and Riddick have received the bulk of the carries so far, but Atkinson III has been the most impressive.
Riddick and Wood are seniors so the favoritism makes some sense, but the Irish have Atkinson averaging 8.1 yards per carry with 37 rushes under his belt. It makes no sense for him to have half the carries of his teammates.
Brian Kelly told CSN Chicago "We still have to continue to get more touches for George Atkinson.” That is as blatant of an endorsement as you can get and I would agree.
It is obvious that Wood and Riddick are leaders, but use the explosive sophomore more often—he has earned it. Atkinson III may be the fastest player on the Irish team. Use the SEC model and put speed on the field.
Get to Jones
Can the Irish Beat the Sooners in Norman?
The Sooners are ranked No. 54 in the country in sacks allowed through the first half of this year. Notre Dame is No. 21 in sacks per game. That is an advantage that the Irish must use in this game.
Oklahoma will be very potent if Jones is able to stand in the pocket and control the offense without disturbance. This Notre Dame front will have to reach him often, but sacks aren’t as important as just knockdowns. The Irish must get in the face of the quarterback consistently.
If Notre Dame can follow the basics and play strong defense, run the football and rush the passer, they should be able to play a very good game in Norman. It will not be an easy win, but if the Irish want to win this game they have to do it with SEC swagger.