The Sooners will look to end their slide against the Irish.
Last season, Notre Dame came into Norman and embarrassed Oklahoma on its home field 30-13. You have to believe Sooners head coach Bob Stoops will be reminding his team about that every day this week.
This one is about revenge.
Oklahoma (3-0) is coming off a bye week, following a 51-20 win over Tulsa in Week 3. The offense, led by Blake Bell, finally looks to be settling in.
On the other hand, the Irish (3-1) have struggled over the last two weeks after losing to Michigan 41-30. The quarterback play hasn’t been consistent and the defense has looked shaky at times.
This matchup brings together two teams who are on different paths. However, it also has the potential to right the ship or derail the train for one or the other.
Who will come out on top this time around?
Clay (left) must get the run game going early.
1. Capitalize on Red-Zone Opportunities
In last year’s meeting, Oklahoma was just 1-of-5 inside the red-zone. Furthermore, the team was just 1-of-3 in goal-to-go situations.
That has to change this time around.
Through three games, the Sooners are faring a lot better in the category. The team ranks No. 37 in the nation, going 15-of-17 (88.2 percent) inside the red-zone—nine touchdowns and six field goals.
With quarterback Blake Bell at the helm, this is an aspect Oklahoma should be better at. The junior entered 2013 with 24 rushing touchdowns inside the red-zone. In fact, Bell was responsible for the team’s lone touchdown in the 30-13 loss to Notre Dame last season.
Look for the Sooners to fare much better on Saturday.
2. Establish the Run
Against the Irish last year, Oklahoma ran the ball just 24 times while passing it 52 times. The team totaled just 15 yards on the ground.
That’s a recipe for disaster.
This year, the Sooners boast the nations No. 16 rushing attack, averaging 271.7 yards per game. Furthermore, the team averages 50.3 rush attempts compared to just 30.3 pass attempts per game.
With Brennan Clay (262 YDS, 2 TD) and Damien Williams (161 YDS) in the backfield, expect the Irish to get a healthy dose of the Oklahoma run game this weekend.
3. Overcome History
The Sooners are just 1-9 against Notre Dame all-time. In fact, the team has now lost seven straight in the series.
If Oklahoma has any hope of contending for the BCS title, they need to put an end to the streak.
For the last time the team beat the Irish, you’d have to go all the way back to 1956 when Bud Wilkinson’s Sooners won 40-0. That team would go on to win a college football record of 47 games in a row.
Ironically enough, that streak came to an end the very next year against, you guessed it, Notre Dame.
The Irish need their run game to come to play this weekend.
1. Expose Blake Bell
Prior to the start of the season, Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops snubbed Bell by opting to go with redshirt freshman Trevor Knight at quarterback. Yes, the same guy who threw for just 205 yards and three interceptions on 43.8-percent passing during his first starts.
There has to be a reason Bell lost the job to that.
Sure, the junior managed to put on a show against Tulsa in Week 3. However, most of his yardage came on short throws, with the receivers doing most of the work. Not to mention, Bell had pretty much all day to release the ball.
If Notre Dame can put pressure on the first-year starter and make him rely on his instincts, there’s a good chance the team can expose the faults that caused Bell to be benched in the first place.
2. Re-Discover the Run Game
Calling the Irish’s run game atrocious would be an understatement.
Through four games, the team ranks No. 100 in the nation, averaging 113.3 yards per game on the ground. In fact, no Notre Dame running back has rushed for more than 70 yards in a game. Furthermore, the team has had only one rush that went for more than 20 yards.
That’s not going to get any easier against a better-than-expected Sooners defense.
The Irish’s leading rusher is Cam McDaniel (165 YDS, 2 TD). While he has the potential to be a consistent threat on the ground, he has only averaged 3.7 yards per carry thus far.
Notre Dame can’t expect to win by telegraphing to opposing defense’s that they will be throwing the ball.
Bell has made OU's offense a force to be reckoned with.
Blake Bell (QB, Jr.)
In his debut as starting quarterback, Bell was phenomenal.
The junior threw for 413 yards and four touchdowns on 27-of-37 (73 percent) passing. He was so good that he actually set a school record for most yards by a quarterback in his first start.
Against Notre Dame, Bell will get the opportunity to prove the performance was no fluke.
At Norman, anybody—minus Trevor Knight—can settle into a groove and look like the next coming of Sam Bradford. But on the road, at South Bend no less, is where a quarterback earns his stripes.
Look for Oklahoma to rely on the run early to take some of the pressure off Bell.
Last year, the Sooners’ defense was the laughing stock of the Big 12. That didn’t sit well with defensive coordinator Mike Stoops.
Thus far, his unit has come to play.
Through three games, Oklahoma ranks No. 5 in scoring defense (9.0 PPGA), No. 20 in total defense (291.3 YPGA), No. 18 against the run (100.7 YPGA) and No. 39 against the pass (190.7 YPGA). The team also ranks No. 15 in third-down defense, limiting opponents to just 12-of-44 (27.3) in such situations.
The only knock against the Sooners is that the team has yet to play anybody.
Sure, Notre Dame’s offense isn’t going to knock anybody out. However, playing on the road against a ranked opponent is certainly a good litmus test for a defense that has been building its confidence up since Week 1.
Full Depth Chart: click here
Rees will have to step his game up for the Irish this weekend.
Tommy Rees (QB, Sr.)
If Notre Dame wants to pull off the upset, Rees must be on top of his game.
Sure, the senior has played mistake-free ball, throwing for 1,111 yards and eight touchdowns to just two interceptions. However, Rees’ accuracy is still a problem area, as he has completed just 56 percent of his passes. That was made especially evident with his performance against Michigan State last week (14-of-34 for 142 yards).
Oklahoma’s defense should be a stiffer test. Given that the Irish have absolutely no run game, it’s imperative that Rees becomes a little more aggressive through the air.
DaVaris Daniels (WR, Jr.)
Daniels has been Rees’ go-to-guy in the passing game.
Through three games, the junior has 20 catches for a team-best 305 yards and four touchdowns. His key performance coming against Purdue in Week 3, when he hauled in eight grabs for 167 yards and two scores.
With a sluggish run game, it’s import for Notre Dame to have a solid receiving corps. Along with T.J. Jones, Daniels helps the team have just that.
Look for Rees to target Daniels plenty against the Sooners.
Full Depth Chart: click here
The Stoops brothers are looking for a better result against Notre Dame this year.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes are from Oklahoma’s Meet the Media conference on Sept. 23 via Soonersports.com.
Head coach Bob Stoops:
I treat [this game] like another road game. Just two years ago, we walked into Florida State; we’re going to walk into Tennessee in a couple of years. We’ve been all over the map. We’ve been out to Oregon, we’ve been to Alabama, we’ve got Ohio State at some point coming up, so it’s just another game and all that matters, again, the fields are pretty much the same. Their grass is a little higher but all that matters is what’s between the lines during the game.
Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops:
Well I think you get more in [during a bye week]. You’re able to watch more tape. So I would anticipate they will try to break some of their tendencies. So you don’t want to overreact to what you see. You want to be able to counter what they’re seeing and what we’re seeing.
Senior fullback Trey Millard:
There are still a lot of similarities to last year. They still have a great front seven even though they don’t have [Manti] Te’o. They have a lot of experienced guys that have played in a lot of games. They’re going to be ready.
Senior linebacker Corey Nelson:
I look forward to see how they do things traditionally. I look forward to seeing how their fans are and the atmosphere. This will be the first time I’ve ever been to Indiana, let alone South Bend. It will be exciting to see what they have in store.
The Oklahoman's Berry Tramel:
The Sooner depth has improved to the point that Chuka Ndule, OU’s only returning D-line starter who was moved from end to tackle, wasn’t even mentioned by Stoops as a tackle prospect. He’s primarily back at end. Stoops said that Torrea Peterson, Jordan Wade and Quincy Russell would be the next in line to supplement Phillips should OU need two tackles.
ESPN's Brandon Chatman:
OU’s leading tacklers after three games are Corey Nelson and Frank Shannon. Last season, the Sooners’ leading tacklers were safeties Tony Jefferson and Javon Harris. Jefferson and cornerback Aaron Colvin combined for 21 tackles in OU’s loss to ND last year, a sign that the defensive line and linebackers were subpar at best.
It should be all smiles for the Sooners on Saturday.
Don’t expect Oklahoma to come out flat this time around against Notre Dame.
Last year, the Irish used a dominant performance on the road against the Sooners to propel them into the BCS championship game. This year, Oklahoma will be looking to return the favor.
With Tommy Rees at quarterback, the Notre Dame offense has looked sub-par. The team has struggled to find consistency and lacks any sort of punch. That’s bad news for a defense that looks like a shell of its former self.
For the Sooners, the defensive unit will get its first real test of the season. Not to mention, quarterback Blake Bell will be making his first road start in one of the toughest venues to play at.
In a game that will likely feature a couple turnovers from both sides, look for Oklahoma’s defense to make a statement and for Bell to play just well enough to secure a much-needed victory.
Prediction: 24-10 Oklahoma
All stats used in this article are courtesy of NCAA.com