Coming off two narrow victories over BYU and Stanford, No. 5 Notre Dame is now 7-0 and sits atop the Independents standings.
But perhaps Notre Dame's greatest challenge awaits in Week 9: No. 8 Oklahoma.
The Sooners have gone 5-1 this season, with their sole loss coming against No. 3 Kansas State. The offense is rolling, averaging 44.7 points per game (fifth in the nation) behind quarterback Landry Jones and a running game consisting of Damien Williams, Dominique Whaley and Brennan Clay.
We all know about the Fighting Irish defense, led by Heisman contender Manti Te'o. The unit has allowed just 9.4 points per game this season, second only to No. 1 Alabama.
But don't forget about the Notre Dame running game.
Despite having inconsistencies at quarterback, the Fighting Irish have racked up 14 rushing touchdowns this season while averaging 4.76 yards per carry behind Theo Riddick, Cierre Wood and speedster George Atkinson III.
Brian Kelly said this week, via ESPN:
I think as we went through the spring it became pretty apparent to me that the success of our offense was going to be predicated on what we could do up front and running the football. I think it started to emerge in all of our coaches' minds that it was going to be a runfirst kind of offense and still spread the field, still be able to attack.
That running game consists of dual-threat quarterback Everett Golson, who will start in Norman on Saturday after passing post-concussion exercises on Monday. Golson rushed for 51 yards against Stanford two weeks ago.
On the other hand, Golson lost three fumbles in that game as well. He's accounted for seven of Notre Dame's eight turnovers this season (three interceptions, four fumbles). He has to do a better job of taking care of the pigskin against Oklahoma.
Is Kelly concerned about it?
Kelly said, via ESPN:
Very concerned. It's something that obviously we cannot continue to have. He's got to take better care of the football, and he's got to do it in practice, and he's got to be smarter.
On the other hand, Jones better be careful about turnovers, too. While he has three interceptions in 213 attempts this season, Notre Dame's front seven can cause serious problems in the backfield.
Sophomore defensive end Stephon Tuitt is tied for fourth in the county with eight sacks this season. That includes eight QB hurries. Junior outside linebacker Prince Shembo also has eight QB hurries on Tuitt's side.
A scout spoke of Jones earlier this month, via NFL.com:
If he gets hit a couple times, he’s done. Lots of skill, absolutely -- great size, good arm, accurate, tons of production the last three years. But he’s killing himself...He shows he can do everything we want him to do, he just hasn’t shown he can do it consistently in pressure situations.
Expect Tuitt to be up to the challenge.
The sophomore told the Associated Press before the overtime victory over Stanford, via the Walton Tribune:
We want to be great. To be honest, I want to break the history books. I want our name to go down for doing things that past teams haven’t done. I just really want to play on a great defense, like completely lock-down and shut-down with a head-banging mentality.
It all shapes up to be a great game between two Top 10 teams gunning for a BCS bowl and beyond this season. Stay tuned this Saturday—it figures to be an excellent battle.