Oklahoma vs. Notre Dame: Key Battles in Illustrious Non-Conference Matchup

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistSeptember 28, 2013

Sep 7, 2013; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Tommy Rees (11) throws a pass during the second quarter against the Michigan Wolverines at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

This is what college football is all about.

Oklahoma vs. Notre Dame is the kind of historic matchup that hearkens back to decades past. The two schools don't have what you'd necessarily term a rivalry, but they've met enough times in enough big situations to have created some drama anytime they step on the field against one another.

The Sooners will be looking for revenge from last year's defeat. They're undefeated and ranked 14th. A win wouldn't automatically put them into national title contention, but it's a signature win, and one that will look good at season's end.

For the Fighting Irish, this is a great chance to rebound after a so-so start. They lost to what looks more and more like a simply above-average Michigan team, and despite picking up the win looked pretty bad against Michigan State.

You'd favor Oklahoma, but the difference between the two teams isn't so great that OU is going to walk all over Notre Dame.

The winner could hinge on who wins these three positional battles.


Blake Bell vs. Notre Dame Secondary

Sep 14, 2013; Norman, OK, USA; Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Blake Bell (10) reacts after the victory against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane at Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Aside from his desire to beat Notre Dame, Blake Bell will also be motivated to perform in front of what will be a relatively large family contingent. The Oklahoman's Jason Kersey reported that Bell's family, which he says is a "devoutly Catholic group," has been planning for this game for months. Sixteen of Bell's family members in total will be at Notre Dame Stadium.

It's quite a story, but Bell will need to be at his best in order to send his family, and Oklahoma fans as a whole, home happy.

The junior signal-caller stepped up in a big way two weeks ago after losing his job to Trevor Knight. Throwing for 413 yards and four touchdowns against Tulsa is impressive. Still, there's plenty of question marks regarding his ability, and this is a great opportunity for Bell to put any doubts to rest.

In order for Oklahoma to prevail, Bell won't necessarily have to repeat that performance, but he'll at least have to avoid turnovers and move the ball up the field. That will wear out the Fighting Irish defense as the game goes on. Limiting interceptions will also close the door on any upset bid.

The Sooners have been very good on the ground. If they can attack Notre Dame with a balanced offense, then this should be an easy win.


Notre Dame Offensive Line vs. Oklahoma Pass Rush

Sep 7, 2013; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Tommy Rees (11) looks to pass during the second quarter against the Michigan Wolverines at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame has been very good when it comes to protecting the quarterback. The Fighting Irish have only given up an average of 0.75 sacks a game, good for 10th in the NCAA.

On the other side, Oklahoma hasn't been able to get after the passer.  They have recorded just three sacks, placing them 104th in the nation.

Through his first four games, Tommy Rees hasn't been a beacon of consistency. He's completed only 56 percent of his passes, hitting a nadir against Michigan State when he went 14-of-34. The loss to Michigan was also tough, as Rees threw two interceptions.

Oklahoma ranks ninth in passing efficiency defense. Rees isn't going to have an easy time on Saturday.

Where he could really be helped is in pass protection. With enough time in the pocket, he'll be able to find the open man and move the ball down the field.


Notre Dame Rushing Offense vs. Oklahoma Front Six

Aug 31, 2013; Norman, OK, USA; Oklahoma Sooners linebacker Corey Nelson (7) and Sooners linebacker Frank Shannon (20) tackles UL Monroe Warhawks quarterback Kolton Browning (15) during the first quarter at Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Manda
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

One other area where Rees could get some help is in the rushing game. With a consistent presence on the ground, Notre Dame would be able to keep the Sooners defense honest. When it moves up to attack the run, Rees can beat it over the top.

Conversely, shutting down the rush would only heap more pressure on the senior QB and make him win the game. That surely wouldn't be a welcomed development from Notre Dame fans. The Sooners are too good defensively to let Rees alone beat them.

Oklahoma has kept opponents to 100.7 yards per game, 18th in the country. Frank Shelton and Corey Nelson have been the biggest reasons for that. They are the top two tacklers on the Sooners, and much will be expected of Nelson as he's one of the few seniors in OU's front six.