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Game Preview: Oklahoma Sooners-Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Brian Kelly

No. 5 Notre Dame (7-0) at No. 8 Oklahoma (5-1)
Owen Field (Norman, Okla.)
Oct. 27, 7:15 p.m.
TV: ABC
The Line: OU -10.5

Series: 10th meeting; Notre Dame leads 8-1, including 6 straight

GAME OUTLOOK

The Sooners face another powerful running team Saturday when Notre Dame comes to Norman for the first time in 46 years…ND is 38th nationally in rushing with 193.9 yards per game and running back Theo Riddick leads the way with 451 yards (4.7 per carry) and 3 touchdowns… His best game came last week versus BYU when he rushed 15 times for 143 yards, but no TDs.

Everett Golson will start at quarterback after suffering a concussion a two weeks ago … He hasn’t put up Heisman-type numbers, completing 79 of 135 (58.5 percent) of his passes for 968 yards with 4 TDs and 3 INTs… Tight end Tyler Eifert leads the receiving corps with 319 yards and 3 TDs.

Defense is Notre Dame’s strongest suit, allowing only 9.4 points per game (No. 2 nationally) and no rushing touchdowns… The D also is ranked 6th in total defense, yielding 280.7 yards per game… The Irish have sacked the quarterback 19 times and forced 17 turnovers… Linebacker Manti Te’o leads the defense with 69 tackles, 4 INTs and 2 fumble recoveries… End Stephon Tuitt has 8 sacks and 8 quarterback hurries.

Special teams may be the weakest link for the Irish… Punter Ben Turk averages 40.9 yards per kick… Kyle Brindza has hit all 14 PATs, but only 11 of 14 field goals… George Atkinson leads the team with 19.4 yards per kickoff return, and Davonte’ Neal has only 2.8 yards per punt return…

Landry Jones has improved in managing the offense the past three games… He and the receivers are now in a good rhythm, which will be important against ND’s pass rush… OU’s offensive line has also improved protecting Jones, and this game will be the most critical in keeping him off his butt…. The Sooners’ offense is 5th nationally in scoring (44.7 points per game) and 17th nationally with 488.2 yards per game… They must mix up the game plan versus the Irish defense.

Stacy McGee’s reinstatement to the team will add depth and experience to the defensive tackle rotation… He’s been practicing all season… Javon Harris has really improved since a year ago and leads the team with 4 INTs (two last week versus Kansas)… He is second  on the team with 34 tackles… Tony Jefferson, his backfield mate, leads the team with 48 tackles…  OU’s defense is no slouch either, giving up 15.3 points per game (12th nationally) and is 15th in total yards (302.5 per game)… A closer look reveals that OU’s first-team defense has yielded 205.8 yards and 6.7 points per game.

Special teams has been an asset for the Sooners this year as evident by a 90-yard punt return and 100-yard kickoff return versus Kansas… This was a first in OU history to have a punt return and kickoff return for touchdowns in the same game… Tress Way continues to kick good punts (42.8 average), and only six of his 24 punts have been returned for a 5.3 average… Oklahoma had good kickoff coverage last week, allowing KU just 16.2 yards per return.

This is Notre Dame’s first true road game since going to Michigan State on Sept. 15… The Sooners must shut down the Irish’s running attack and force them to be one-dimensional… ND will try to keep the chains moving and milk the clock with its ground game a la Kansas State… The ND defense may succeed at shutting down OU’s running game, but if Jones and his speedy receivers continue their rhythm, it could be curtains for the Irish… OU has a more balanced attack… Defense and turnovers will be the spotlight in this game…. Much attention will be on how well the Belldozer performs versus the Irish defense that hasn’t yielded a rushing TD all year… The team that best protects the pigskin will win.


ETC.

*The Irish are 4-0 in Norman.

*Bob Stoops lost his only meeting with Notre Dame (1999).

*ESPN College Gameday will be in Norman this week; OU has been featured as part of Gameday 28 times, third most behind Florida (34) and Ohio State (30).

*OU has a 19-8 record when Gameday is present; Notre Dame has a 9-11 record.

*This will be Gameday’s 7th appearance in Norman; OU lost its first Gameday appearance in Norman in 1994 (Colorado), but has since won five straight at home when Gameday was present.

*ND is 5-7 on the road with Gameday’s presence.

*OU is 9-3-1 on October 27th.

*ND is 14-3 on October 27th.

*OU and Notre Dame met once on Oct. 27, and the Sooners won their only game in the series on that date.

*OU is 10-6 versus top 10 teams in Norman, including three straight wins.

*Bob Stoops is 15-10 (60 percent) versus top 10 teams; 9-8 (53percent) versus top five teams.

*Brian Kelly has faced only one top 10 team while at Notre Dame, beating No. 10 Michigan State this year.

*Kelly was Cincinnati’s head coach when the Sooners beat the Bearcats, 52-26, in 2008.