[Photo: Matt Cashore, Notre Dame]
The much anticipated game between Notre Dame (7-0) and Oklahoma (5-1) is almost here as the fifth-ranked Fighting Irish head into hostile territory on Saturday to face No. 8 Oklahoma. This is only the second meeting since 1968 between the traditional football powers and Notre Dame’s first trip to Norman, Okla., since 1966.
Back in 1957, Oklahoma’s 47-game winning streak came to an end with a 7-0 home loss to the Irish.
Notre Dame definitely has the defense to hold Oklahoma’s offense at bay, but do they have enough offense to beat the Sooners? That factor will likely decide the outcome.
The Fighting Irish have averaged 25.9 points, but their biggest offensive outputs came against over-matched opponents such as Navy and Miami.
Against teams with stronger defenses like Michigan State, Michigan, Stanford and Brigham Young, the Fighting Irish averaged only 17.5 points and the Stanford match up went into overtime.
Oklahoma has the nation’s fifth-ranked offense, averaging 44.7 points. This will the stiffest test for a Notre Dame defense that has allowed just 9,5 points per game. The Sooners’ defense also has proven stingy, with the first-team unit allowing just one touchdown in the last three games.
Oklahoma’s only loss was 24-19 against Kansas State, which ripped West Virginia a week ago.
The big question will be which Notre Dame offense takes the field since quarterback play has been shaky at times despite the unbeaten start.
Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson and his offense will need to control the ball and avoid turnovers while hoping for a road victory that will extend their unbeaten run. Golson sat out the BYU game last week because of concussion-related symptoms.
Notre Dame’s defense will need to limit Oklahoma’s big plays and try to keep the Sooners outside the 20-yard line. Within the 20 in the “red zone,” Oklahoma has come away with points just under 97 percent of the time. The Sooners also like to pound it out on the ground and are averaging just under 200 rushing yards per game.
Junior running back Damien Williams is having a big year for the Sooners, averaging 92 yards rushing. On the defensive side, Notre dame’s Heisman Trophy candidate Manti Te’o and teammates Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt must apply pressure and control Oklahoma’s strong running game.
While Williams has played a crucial role in Oklahoma’s run game, their passing game is equally as potent and ranked 26th in the nation behind quarterback Landry Jones (288 yards per game). The pass plays that Oklahoma runs are not typically deep balls, but watch for Jones to take some shots down the field hoping to expose Irish cornerbacks Bennett Jackson and KeiVarae Russell with speedy wideout KeiVare
Pressuring Jones and limiting the rushing total will be major factors if the Irish hope to win.
With Golson back at the helm this week, turnovers remain an issue. Notre Dame’s running game is working well with Cierre Wood, George Atkinson III and Theo Riddick providing consistent production. Golson may look to send a few more passes in the direction of Tyler Eifert and T.J. Jones.
Notre Dame’s hopes for a national championship are riding on this tough road contest in Norman, Okla. A road game in a hostile environment against the best opponent they have faced this season should prove to be a formidable test for coach Brian Kelly’s squad.