Notre Dame football enters what most consider to be the biggest test of its 2012 BCS legitimacy on Saturday at 8:00 pm as the Fighting Irish take on #8 Oklahoma at Norman.
This will Notre Dame’s first contest against Oklahoma since 1999 and it’s first in Norman since 1968. The Irish don’t have a long, drawn out historical rivalry with the Sooners like they do against USC, Michigan, and Navy. The two have met only 9 times, and all but one of those were Notre Dame victories (the lone loss came 1956). It’s going to be interesting to see how the Fighting Irish – especially redshirt freshman quarterback Everett Golson – react to the vast change in scenery after their recent 5 game home stand. In fact, the Irish have only played on “true” away game against Michigan State. The other two games not played at Notre Dame Stadium were neutral sites, and the argument can be made that both sites were more friendly environments for the Irish than they were for their opponents.
After the last two games, the Irish may need a change of scenery. In those games, the Irish have scored only a total of 37 points and have had to post back-to-back comebacks to win those contests. If they fall behind early against the Sooners and are forced to rely on the pass game to get them back into it, it could lead to a slippery slope of mistakes that will ultimately lead to a loss.
The way I see it, Notre Dame needs to follow the same kind of game plan against Oklahoma that Kansas State did (Kansas State being the Sooners only loss, holding the Sooners to 88 yards on the ground). It’s nothing but old-fashioned smash mouth football: Run the ball and stop the run. Notre Dame happens to be fairly successful at doing both of these. The Irish run game has three legitimate run threats, and averages 193.9 yards per game. Regarding stopping the run, the rank 15th in yardage allowed (106.7) but have yet to allow a rushing touchdown (if you read my “mid-season” review- – http://wp.me/prUUN-Nmj – this probably sounds familiar). That will force quarterback Landry Jones to try and take over.
The problem with this strategy is two-fold: Oklahoma averages just under 200 rushing yards per game, and has scored 20 rushing touchdowns in 6 games. Add in the fact that the run defense allows just 138.2 yards per game and has only given up 5 touchdowns and that could make it tougher to keep the offense on the field and give the defense some critical rest. Oh, and not to mention that Landry Jones isn’t exactly a slouch when it comes to quarterbacking. So far he’s thrown for 1,653 yards and 12 touchdowns. So basically it’s a case of easier said than done, but it remains the best chance for Notre Dame to pull out a W.
My 3 Things to Watch
Run Offenses vs. Run Defenses – I know I just got done talking about this, but it really is what I feel will be the key to the game for either team. The feather in Notre Dame’s cap on this is that they have played a bit tougher of a schedule. Yes, Oklahoma as played Kansas State and a stumbling Texas team, but the rest of their schedule leaves a bit to be desired (see UTEP, Florida A&M, and Kansas). Notre Dame has played 3 teams that were ranked at the time of the game, and has gone up against some killer run games. Because of that, I definitely like the Irish’s run defense better in this one, especially with Manti Te’o tearing things up this year. The run offense for Notre Dame is a question mark in this one. The Irish really haven’t played an elite defense to this point, so we don’t really know how well the Cerberus of running backs they employ can handle to step up in talent.
Everett Golson – If there is a point in time this season where Golson is going to have to put his big boy pants on, it has to be this game. And let me be clear that I absolutely do not expect Golson to take charge of this game. The Irish are not going to win this based on his throwing the ball. Golson will have to make smarter decisions when he does throw the ball and avoid making stupid mistakes. Also expect to see him roll out of the pocket a lot, and try to keep drives alive with his feet. If he can avoid turning the ball over and make some plays on the ground, the offense will have a better chance at scoring.
Manti Te’o and the Magnificent (front) Seven- Boy if there ever was a line that screamed “jinx,” it has to be this one, right? Anyway, I digress… The Sooners offensive line will have to key in on Te’o to get their equally impressive run game going. If they do manage to get Te’o under wraps, it could open up things for Stephon Tuitt, Kapron-Lewis Moore, Louis Nix, and the rest of the boys to wreak havoc on Landry Jones.
My 5 Predictions
Irish running backs – I say the run game will do its job and put yards and maybe even a score on the Sooners defense. The three backs combine for 145 yards and a touchdown.
Golson/Rees – Even though Golson is getting the start, it should in no way delude you to the fact that he’s been replaced by Tommy Rees in every game this year except the Navy game (when Rees was suspended) and Michigan State. If the game is close in the 4th quarter or Golson struggles in the first half, Rees will see more playing time. That being said, neither guy is likely to light it up. They combine for 185 yards, and 1 interception.
Landry Jones -Even if Notre Dame can stuff Oklahoma’s run game, Jones has a good shot at picking apart the Irish secondary. I’ve been down on the secondary most of the year, and in large part they have proven me wrong. But Jones will be the best quarterback they see this year save for Matt Barkley. I see him putting up 295 yards and two touchdowns.
Oklahoma running backs – Here’s where things get interesting. Though Oklahoma can pound the ball, Notre Dame is even better at stopping the run. However, if Jones starts ripping the secondary apart, things will loosen up a bit on the line. I don’t see them getting more than 80 yards, but they’ll be the first team to hit pay dirt against the Domers this year.
Final Score – As much as I’d like to make Notre Dame the winner here, I think that Oklahoma as a bit too much talent all around for them to come out on top. Notre Dame loses, 23-14.
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