Game Of The Week: #5 Notre Dame at #8 Oklahoma

The Irish Offense:  Sophomore QB Everett Golson will be the starter. He backed up Tommy Rees last week after suffering a concussion in Week 7 against Stanford. Through 7 games, Golson has thrown just 4 TDs and 3 INTs, with a completion percentage of 58.5%. (In total, the Irish have 6 passing TDs and 4 INTs.) When a team is 7-0 and the QB has numbers like that, you can conclude two things: their run game is good, and their defense is good. Both are very true of the Irish. They have 14 rushing TDs on the season, from six different players. Theo Riddick leads the team in rushing yards, with 451, and George Atkinson III leads in rushing TDs, with 4. Senior Cierre Wood (393 rushing yards, 6 yards per carry, and 2 TDs) would have even better numbers if he wasn’t suspended to start the year and might be the best of the Notre Dame runners.  The Irish have a three headed monster at the running back position.  In addition to a solid stable of running backs, Golson is a rushing threat himself (81 yards, 2 TDs). Needless to say, the number one task of a defense facing Notre Dame is to stop the run; number 2 is to keep Golson contained in the pocket and force him to throw.

The Irish Defense: When you’re ranked second in the country in points allowed (averaging 9.4 per game), you’re doing a lot of things right. The Irish have allowed only 5 TDs all season, all of them through the air, and have snagged 12 INTs. Interestingly, five of them have come from linebackers Manti Te’o (4) and Danny Spond (1). I don’t expect Te’o to win the Heisman, but at this point, his presence in New York for the ceremony is almost a certainty.  Te’o leads a very solid front 7 for the Irish and their ability to stop the run and the pressure they put on quarterbacks are of great help to a secondary that came into the season with serious questions about their quality and experience.  They’ve had help but have also answered the call themselves.

The Oklahoma Offense: The Sooners are averaging 44.7 points this season, good for 5th in the nation. QB Landry Jones has an impressive array of receivers at his disposal, notably Kenny Stills (471 yards, 4 TDs), Justin Brown (299 yards, 2TDs), and Sterling Shepard (252 yards, 2TDs). As far as the running game, Dominique Whaley and Damien Williams are more than capable of racking up the rushing yards when called upon. The duo has combined for 793 yards and 8 TDs. FB Trey Millard is a threat to carry or catch the ball, and when he’s not doing either he’s a very capable blocker. The offense, particularly Jones, had a rough outing a few weeks ago against Kansas State in their only loss, but they’ve redeemed themselves in the three games since, outscoring opponents 156-48.

The Oklahoma Defense: First and foremost, the Sooners- ranked 12th nationally in points allowed- need to stop the run. Secondly, they need to keep Golson in the pocket. Finally, they need to get pressure on Golson. He’s not a great passer, but with time in the pocket to set his feet, he’s not terrible either. Forcing a turnover or two would be a big help, and the Sooners have a 9-to-3 turnover ratio in their last three games. DT tackle Stacy McGee, suspended the week before the season started, has been reinstated by coach Bob Stoops and he could be a big difference maker up front.

Prediction: I could see this game going either way, but one stat helped me make a decision: under Bob Stoops, the Sooners are 79-4 at home. Oklahoma 27, Notre Dame 21.