Notre Dame Football: Keys for a Season-Defining Victory vs. Oklahoma
Coming into Week 9 ranked fifth in the BCS standings, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish have a chance to soar into the national championship conversation with a victory over the eighth-ranked Oklahoma Sooners in Norman on Saturday night.
Defying all expectations, Brian Kelly's squad is undefeated and boasts possibly the nation's best defense.
Regardless, the Sooners present a set of unique challenges that could derail the storybook season in South Bend. To defeat Bob Stoops' red-hot Oklahoma squad, the Irish will have to execute in vital areas and avoid critical mistakes to get the victory.
With that in mind, here is a look at what the Irish need to do to defeat the Sooners on Saturday.
Get a Strong Performance From Everett Golson
There may be no quarterback controversy heading into Saturday's contest, but there are undoubtedly questions about Golson's ability to handle the spotlight.
Though the redshirt freshman isn't asked to do much in the Irish's system. Nevertheless, he's shown a massive downtick in performance against top-tier teams.
Here are Golson's stats in Notre Dame's three most difficult games (when in the lineup): 29-of-64 (45.3 percent), 349 YDS, 2 TDs, 2 INT.
For comparison, here are his stats in three games played against lesser opponents: 50-of-71 (70.4 percent), 619 YDS, 2 TDs, 1 INT.
If the Irish hope to get a win in Norman, they will need a performance on par with the latter statistics, rather than another case of the freshman follies.
Unfortunately for Golson, he'll have to perform at a high level against the third-best pass defense in college football.
Pound the Ball With Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood
The only way Golson will be able to be effective is if the Irish use their running attack to set up play-action passes.
That should mean a huge workload for Riddick and Wood, who have both continued to be the lifeblood of Notre Dame's offense.
The two-headed attack combined for 257 yards on 33 carries in last week's victory over BYU and actually should be able to find success against the Sooners.
Despite their renowned prowess in pass defense, Oklahoma has shown some big-time weaknesses against elite rushing teams. In their only loss of the season, the Sooners allowed Kansas State to scamper for 213 yards, and the team ranks fifth in the Big 12 in run defense thus far.
Riddick and Wood aren't on the level of Collin Klein and John Hubert, but with Notre Dame's defense, they don't have to be. If the duo is able to hit anywhere near the 150-yard mark on the ground Saturday, the Irish will be in a fantastic position to win the game.
Halt Landry Jones' Production
Though he's taken a backseat to the ground game this season, Jones will have reclaim his Heisman-level form on Saturday.
The Irish have continually taken away top-notch running attacks, and there's no reason to think they won't stop Sooners breakout star Damien Williams.
That leaves Jones alone to carry Oklahoma's offensive workload.
For the Notre Dame secondary, this will undoubtedly be the unit's biggest test of 2012. A question mark coming into the season, the Irish's pass defense has surprisingly superb this year, albeit against mediocre opposing quarterbacks.
It remains to be seen how they will handle an elite signal-caller, but the result of the game will likely come down to Jones' final statistics.
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