Saturday will be huge in terms of the BCS outlook for the rest of the season as the #8 Oklahoma Sooners will take on the #5 Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The Irish are having their best season in recent memory, and when I say recent memory I’m talking like the last 15-20 years. A win for the Irish would set them up to be able to run the table and make a run at a BCS title game appearance. Standing in their way is the Oklahoma Sooners, who have their own aspirations on making it to a BCS game. The Irish come in with an undefeated record, and the Sooners have just one loss on their resume. Both teams have a legitimate chance at a BCS game, and a lot will be on the line when the teams clash Saturday. Let’s look at the X’s and O’s.
Oklahoma Offense vs. Notre Dame Defense
Oklahoma will rely on the arm of veteran Quarterback Landry Jones. The Oklahoma offense is a hybrid pro-style/spread offense that can hurt you on both the ground and through the air. The big question is whether the Sooner offense will be able to stay balanced against a stingy Irish defense. The Irish defense led by All-American LB Manti Te’o shut down potent rushing attacks in MSU, Stanford, and Michigan this season. They’ve also contained dangerous running threats Denard Robinson, Leveon Bell, and Stepan Taylor so far this season. However, they have yet to face an offense as balanced as Oklahoma. The Oklahoma offense utilizes both spread and pro-style sets in an attempt to be balanced. Oklahoma is very capable in the running and passing game. Oklahoma will utilize lots of different personnel sets from 122 (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR), 104 (1 RB, 4 WR), 113 (1 RB, 1TE, 3WR) 212 (2RB, 1 TE, 2WR). Oklahoma will identify sets where they have an advantage and ride them until the defense can stop them. The versatility of the Oklahoma offense is its greatest threat due to the fact that it forces the defense to spend a lot of time preparing for a wide variety of looks. This can cause defensive players to overthink and play slower, which is exactly what Oklahoma wants. Landry Jones has been very efficient this year completing 134 of his 213 pass attempts for 12 touchdowns. Jones is complemented by 2nd string QB Blake Bell who is the Sooner red zone specialist. Bell is a battering ram in goal line situations, and his ability to throw the ball makes him that much more dangerous in goal line situations. Bell has 8 rushing TD’s in 6 games. Those are some pretty good stats for your back up QB, and all of those TD’s came in red zone situations. Bell isn’t the only Oklahoma rushing threat either. The Sooners have 34th best rushing attack averaging just a shade less than 200 yards per game. This combined with their 22nd ranked passing attack has the Oklahoma offense averaging 44.7 points per game, good for 5th best in the nation. Oklahoma boast’s a diverse group of playmakers. Kenny Stills at WR, Damien Williams at RB, Landry Jones, and Blake Bell both playing QB is a lot to ask any defense to prepare for. But, if anyone is up to the task it is Manti Te’o and the Irish defense. The Irish will utilize a 3-4 defense and I expect them to disguise coverage to confuse Landry Jones in the pass game. The Irish are strong in the front 7, and I expect them to hold the Sooner rush game in check. The Irish defense has been playing elite football as of late only allowing 9.4 points per game which is good for second in the nation just behind Alabama. However, they do have questions in the defensive backfield, and have yet to see an elite passing game to take advantage of those question marks in the defensive backfield. With the loss of veteran safety Jamoris Slaughter to an ACL injury, and inexperienced corners that are either freshman, or converted from other positions, the Irish have major liabilities in the secondary. The key question is whether the front 7 for the Irish can pressure and contain the Oklahoma pass game. I would expect a lot of zone coverages and zone blitzes in an attempt to pressure Jones, as well as protect their suspect secondary. If Jones is able to pass the ball accurately, manage the game, and limit turnovers…Look for it to be a long night for the Irish. But, if the Irish can force some turnovers, and at least slow a potent Sooner offense down in the passing game they should be able to pull out a victory. But, that’s easier said than done. I know the Irish have a great defense, and their resurgence has been getting a lot of love in the national media, but they have yet to face an offense as talented and balanced as Oklahoma’s.
Notre Dame Offense vs. Oklahoma Defense
Brian Kelly’s potent spread attack has some question marks coming into this week. Starting QB Everett Golson will play despite suffering a concussion recently. Tommy Rees is a more than capable back-up, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see both QB’s play Saturday. Oklahoma’s defense has excelled under first year coordinator Mike Stoops who had been the head coach at Arizona the past few years. The Oklahoma 1st string Defense has not allowed a point in the last two games, and there will be a lot of pressure on Everett Golson and Tommy Rees to make good plays and limit turnovers. Notre Dame does a good job running out of their spread formations when they see a numbers advantage, but this will be a tough task against the front seven of Oklahoma. If the Irish want to win this game it will have to be in the pass game, as this one is sure to be tough treading in the trenches for both squads with two elite defenses battling. The Notre Dame offense favors 104 (1 RB, 4 WR), 005 (5 WR), and 113 (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) sets. They will rely on first year QB Everett Golson to move the ball with both his legs and his arms. Golson will have to continue to make good decisions with the ball. Turnovers will hurt ND against a dangerous and potent Oklahoma offense, and if either Golson or Rees commit more than one, ND will have no chance. Notre Dame’s offense relies on adjustments from the QB, coaches on the sideline, and WR’s on the fly to get this best possible plays called against whatever defensive alignment they see. I would expect ND to mix in both the run and the pass most of the game, even though they are a primarily spread passing type of team. Notre Dame has several talented running backs in Cierre Woods and Theo Riddick. I expect them to try and use more of a ball control type of approach with a young QB early, and draw the Sooner defense into the box to open up the pass game. Notre Dame wants to pass the ball make no mistake. But, Notre Dame also has to be conscious of their young quarterback Golson, who has yet to prove he can win a game solely with his arm. If Notre Dame is able to gain at least moderate success on the ground it will open up the pass game for Golson, and passing the ball is what the Irish are really looking to do offensively to begin with. I also wouldn’t be surprised if we saw Tommy Rees Notre Dames starting QB from last season. Rees led ND on a last minute game winning drive against Purdue this season, and if ND gets in a pressure situation I wouldn’t be surprised to see Rees take the helm. There is also concern about Golson’s health. If Golson is unable to complete the game it wouldn’t necessarily kill the Irish. Rees isn’t as much of a threat on the ground, but is superior in the passing game, and has far more game experience than Golson. So it isn’t a huge drop-off for ND if Rees ends up in the game for the Irish. It will be interesting to see how ND’s offense looks as it hasn’t been as potent as some of Kelly’s past offenses. ND’s top receiving threat TE Tyler Eifert has been relatively quiet so far this season. I expect ND to look for him more this week in passing situations. If the Irish are able to run the ball effectively, limit mistakes from a young QB, and create some big plays off of play action passing I expect them to stand at least a fighting chance in this game. That will not be easy though. Mike Stoops’ defense has been nothing short of spectacular this year. They have talent and speed all over the field. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of man-coverage and blitzing from Oklahoma. The Irish don’t have any deep-threat receivers that the Sooners have to worry about, and if the Sooners can pressure Golson/Rees early and force some turnovers this game will be over quick. The Irish had trouble moving the ball against BYU last week, and the Sooners are an NFL defense in terms of talent when compared to BYU. The Sooners will use a base 4-3 defense mixed in with nickel and dime packages to combat the Irish spread. The Sooners are also sure to apply pressure with cover 0 man blitzes as well to force ND to make some plays through the air. And ND will have to do just that to win this game. If ND cannot pick up pressure, and their wide receivers cannot get open against man coverage, ND has no shot in this one.
X’s and O’s Pick: Oklahoma
Bob Stoops has a reputation for not coming through in the big games. He has a chance to prove all the naysayers wrong, and Saturday he will do just that. The Irish have been getting a lot of love in the national media, but I think it’s more that people WANT the Irish to be back rather than them actually being back. Case in point- Michigan has a good team this year, but not a great team. The Wolverines turned the ball over SIX times, and ND only won by 7 points. ND also beat Stanford in OT. Stanford is also just a good team, but not an elite team. The similarity between Stanford in Michigan is they are both fairly one dimensional rushing teams, and the Irish have a strong rush defense. Oklahoma has a future NFL QB with Landry Jones, an elite red zone threat with Blake Bell, a great defense, good WR’s, and a good rush game. They are a complete team. They have the capability to seriously threaten ND in both the air and on the ground. This is something ND has yet to face this season. A big game, a young QB, inexperienced secondary, and a mediocre offense spell doom for ND. Is ND on its way back? Yes. Are they top 5 back yet? Absolutely not. The “experts” who have ND in the top 5 are even bigger frauds than ND themselves. ND is a good football team. Top 15 for sure, but not good enough to play with the Oklahoma’s, Oregon’s, and Alabama’s of the world. Remember where you heard it first, because after Saturday the world will know, and all the “experts” who have ND so highly rated will be back peddling. ND has beaten some good teams, but they haven’t beaten any elite teams. Oklahoma is right on the border of good and elite, but closer to elite than ND is, and they will prove it Saturday. This game will be a defensive struggle, but in the end Oklahoma just has too many threats on offense to contain for an entire game, and ND just doesn’t have the firepower on offense to be able to move the ball consistently on a defense that has been playing great football as of late. I predict this game will start off pretty close with both defenses playing well, but in the end Oklahoma will pull away. Or, ND’s offense is inept and Oklahoma will bring the ND bandwagon back to reality with a good old fashion butt kicking, and you can ask Texas fans what they feels like because they still have bruises from theirs. Either way we come to the same conclusion, an Oklahoma victory. I’m willing to bet the farm on that.
Since the whole game is an OU highlight we decided to post the whole game of OU vs. Texas…