Oklahoma vs. Notre Dame: Crucial Players in Saturday's Epic Clash

Andrew GouldFeatured ColumnistSeptember 27, 2013

NORMAN, OK - SEPTEMBER 14:   Quarterback Blake Bell #10 of the Oklahoma Sooners looks to throw against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane September 14, 2013 at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Oklahoma. The Sooners defeated the Golden Hurricane 51-20.  (Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)
Brett Deering/Getty Images

Oklahoma and Notre Dame meet again in a game containing palpable BCS implications.

The two schools squared off last year as the Fighting Irish were vying for a national title bid. They dominated the trenches, outrushing the Sooners by 200 yards in a 30-13 triumph.

In this game Oklahoma brandishes the higher rank at No. 14, and a win over Notre Dame could help sweeten the pot for a brighter bowl game bid. On the opposite spectrum, a loss for Notre Dame could lead to catastrophic results, plummeting the prestigious organization outside the AP Top 25.

There are plenty of new faces lined up for this matchup, most notably a quarterback that tested the waters with a rare rushing score against Notre Dame's impenetrable rushing defense last season.

These players will go a long way in deciphering which ranked opponent leaves Notre Dame Stadium with a win this Saturday.


QB Blake Bell, Oklahoma

Bell saw the field very sparingly in last year's showdown, completing his one pass attempt while sneaking in a one-yard touchdown run. This time around, it's his show to run.

The junior snatched the starting gig two weeks ago, going 27-of-37 for 413 yards and four touchdowns in Oklahoma's 51-20 victory over Tulsa. Maybe he's more than just a fullback listed as a quarterback.

But his first road start comes on a heightened platform in Indiana, which is no easy task for any student-athlete.

Luckily for Bell, Notre Dame's secondary has not looked as boisterous as last season, allowing 228.2 passing yards per game. Michigan's Devin Gardner exposed the Fighting Irish in their lone loss of the season, tossing 294 yards and four touchdowns.

For Oklahoma to secure a major road win, Bell will have to keep proving that he's much more than a burly goal-line runner. He must make plays through the air for the Sooners to keep soaring.


RB Cam McDaniel, Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 21:  Cam McDaniel #33 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates his game-winning touchdown against the Michigan State Spartans at Notre Dame Stadium on September 21, 2013 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Michigan St
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

One of Notre Dame's running backs has to show something.

George Atkinson III has averaged 5.0 yards per carry, yet Brian Kelly has yet to have afforded him 10 or more rushes in a game. After starting the season with two solid outings, Amir Carlisle has since gained 25 yards on 14 carries during the last two games.

Cam McDaniel, virtually by default, has begun seeing a heavier share of touches in Notre Dame's backfield. He has notched 16 carries and a rushing touchdown in each of its past two matches, but the junior is only averaging 3.7 yards per carry this season.

The Sooners have not surrendered a passing touchdown this season, so Tommy Rees will need some help from the ground game. Someone needs to ease the burden off the quarterback's shoulders, and Kelly seems intent on McDaniel becoming that guy.

It's going to take more than 3.7 yards per carry to get the job done against a team that has allowed nine points per game.


LB Corey Nelson, Oklahoma

Dec. 30, 2011; Tempe, AZ, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes running back Jordan Canzeri (33) is tackled by Oklahoma Sooners linebacker Corey Nelson (7) and defensive back Demontre Hurst (6) during the second half during  the 2011 Insight Bowl at Sun Devil Stadium.   Man
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Corey Nelson is one of the main reasons Oklahoma has managed to disrupt opposing offenses so well this season.

The senior is a menace all over the field. He leads the team with 20 tackles and three tackles for losses, helping his team permit just 100.7 rushing yards per game. He has one of the team's three sacks and two of its 10 quarterback hits.

He also wreaks havoc in passing coverage, deflecting three passes through the first four games. Nelson's well-rounded skill set is a key component to Oklahoma's ferocious defense, and one that is essential to top the Fighting Irish.

Not only can Nelson help derail the assortment of Notre Dame running backs fighting for looks, but he can also stymie Rees on the pass rush. Look to hear Nelson's name pop up frequently during the broadcast on Saturday afternoon.