No. 5 Notre Dame (7-0) at No. 8 Oklahoma (5-1)
Owen Field (Norman, Okla.)
Oct. 27, 7:15 p.m.
The Line: OU -10.5
Hard to quantify how big a game this is for Oklahoma. Win this game, and OU puts itself squarely into the conversation about the best one-loss football team in the country and creates massive momentum for a long stretch run in November with only two home games.
Notre Dame is something of an enigma this year, winning games in the same manner that they lost games last year. Big early wins came over teams that look pretty average this year in Michigan and Michigan State.
OU has faced a similar team to ND in Kansas State (although ND does not have a QB anywhere near as good/experienced as Collin Klein), but ND has not faced anyone who has a QB as talented/experienced in the passing game as Landry Jones.
This seems like a classic matchup of strength versus strength. Keep an eye on...
*Special teams edge
With both capable of fielding defenses that will make life tough on the offenses, special teams will play a factor here. Hitting field goals and getting points from outside the red zone will be big. OU appears to have the edge at kicker.
The return game will also play a big role, especially if both teams are punting frequently.
OU has a big edge here over ND on kickoff return defense (27th for OU, ND is 93rd) and kickoff returns (OU is 3rd, ND is 96th). On punt returns, OU is 6th in punt return yardage, while ND is 111th. In defending against punt returns, ND has the big edge over OU.
So far ND has not show big-play ability in the return game, while OU has big-time playmakers on both kickoff and punt returns.
Hidden yardage and points could swing this game.
*How does ND match OU's personnel?
What does ND do when the Sooners go to their big set (Trey Millard, Aaron Ripkowski, Damien Williams and two wide receivers) and their spread look (three WRs, Millard and Williams)? ND could keep its talented front seven in the game for OU's power look, but can the LBs keep up with Williams and Millard in space as receiving threats? Can OU run with success out of that formation against the strength of the ND front seven to set up play-action strikes to OU's WRs?
More likely, OU will try and spread ND out and force the Irish to decide between keeping their LBs on the field versus playing more DBs. Can ND keep up with OU's WR depth if OU goes to three or four WRs the whole game? Can ND defend the run when spread out that much to cover the OU WRs?
Watch out for Jalen Saunders to have a big game finding gaps in an ND secondary that's focused on Kenny Stills and Justin Brown.
If there's a nagging weakness to the OU defense, it is in stopping a power running game. KU had a little success last week running the ball, and KSU has had the most success. ND will go with mobile QB Everett Golson, but don't expect Brian Kelly to expose him to any QB run game action after his concussion.
ND's best bet for a win is having success lining up and pounding its three good RBs between the tackles, then taking big shots downfield off play action against the OU corners, killing the clock and keeping thei defense rested.
If Mike Stoops can keep ND in third-and-long, the Irish are in big trouble.
Can Golson or Tommy Rees keep from turning the ball over? Last year, the Irish were turnover machines. They seem to have stopped that, but OU's pressure defense could put Golson or Rees in spots where INTs or fumbles can happen. Golson needs to extend plays with his mobility without making critical mistakes. For a young QB in his first real road game, it's a tough assignment.
If OU has established any kind of multi-possession lead in the 2nd half, Golson/Rees will be in a tough spot to bring the Irish back. Turnovers late could turn a close game into a blowout.
*ND's interior pass rush
OU's offensive tackle grouping has already handled Texas' vaunted defensive ends on the outside pass rush, but ND probably has the best interior defensive line play that OU has faced to date. One sure way to disrupt Landry Jones is pressure up the middle. However, if ND has to blitz to bring pressure, then the ND secondary could be facing a long day.
OU's WR-QB combo is miles ahead of anything that the Irish have faced this year.