In what is shaping up to be the statement game for the Fighting Irish, No. 5 Notre Dame (7-0) is on the road Saturday in Norman, Oklahoma to face the No. 8 Oklahoma Sooners (5-1) at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. All this excitement starts at 8 pm ET and will be broadcast on ABC.
The BYU Cougars fell victim to the undefeated Fighting Irish last week in a nail biter 17-14. The Sooners spanked division rivals Kansas Jayhawks by a score of 52-7. The two heavyweights last met each other back in 1999 in South Bend. The Fighting Irish prevailed over a No. 25-ranked Sooner team that day 34-30. Overall, the series dating back to 1952 is led by Notre Dame, 8-1. The Irish will try to give the Sooners only their fifth loss at home in the Bob Stoops’ era dating back to 1999.
Fighting Irish Coach Brian Kelly has tried to keep his players focused on the game amid all the hoopla and pressure this week.
“We know who Oklahoma is,” Kelly continued. “We have a great deal of respect for them. Our guys were clearly excited about it (this week’s game) when we talked on Monday, but it’s been a good week, because for me they’ve been focused on themselves and what they need to do to win this game.”
Here is how this mighty matchup should look this week between the blue and gold and the red and white:
Notre Dame Offense
As reported here earlier on IrishCentral Notre Dame starting QB Everett Golson has been medically cleared to start on Saturday. He has not seen any action since suffering a head-to-head concussion against Stanford on October 13th. Golson played well that day for three quarters passing for 141 yards and one touchdown. Backup QB Tommy Reese, who started against BYU last week (117 passing yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) will be on call if needed to take over.
The Fighting Irish have had difficulty scoring against ranked opponents in 2012 averaging roughly 17 points a game. This will certainly be remedied by a fierce Fighting Irish rushing tandem in Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood. The pair combined for over 257 yards against BYU as the team averages a combined 193.9 yards on the ground per game, good for 38th in the nation.
Notre Dame Defense
The school’s defense rests second behind Alabama in points allowed (9.4). An opposing player has yet to score a touchdown rushing on Notre Dame that gives up only 280.7 yards per game. The Heisman Hopeful and team leader Manti T’eo will be the driving force to stall the high-powered Oklahoma offense. On the year T’eo’s 69 tackles pace the team and four interceptions are second best in the nation.
The offense has been on a tear generating 156 points over the past three games thanks no less to the sublime play of QB Landry Jones: 62.3% completion rate, 880 yards, 7 touchdowns, 1 interception. He has lead a high-octane offense that has scored on 15 of its last 20 drives resulting in 12 touchdowns. The Sooners’ average offensive output of 44.7 ranks it fifth in the country
Jones has able receivers in Kenny Stills (38 receptions, 471 yards, 4 TD), Justin Brown (24 receptions, 299 yards, and 2 TD), Freshman Sterling Shepard (19 receptions, 252 yards, 2 TD).
Oklahoma RB Damien Williams (74 carries, 552 yards, 7 TD) counters the potent Sooner passing attack. His athletic prowess makes Williams a threat as a receiver as well having caught 11 passes for 134 yards.
The blue and gold defense best be on watch for the OU “Belldozer”. The play is named for backup Oklahoma QB Blake Bell who will rush with the ball in short yardage situations with great success. This season the 254-pound Bell has rushed for eight touchdowns on 31 carries.
OU had a strong unit only been surrendering 15.3 points per contest. Just in their last three games the Sooners have sacked opposing QBs 6 times and have forced nine turnovers.
The Sooners backfield is manned by the team’s leading tacklers DB Tony Jefferson (48) and DB Javon Harris (34) .
Prediction: Notre Dame 21 Oklahoma 17