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Head-to-head: Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma

| Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Irish defense will face its toughest test yet in Sooners senior quarterback Landry Jones. Jones owns nearly every record for an Oklahoma quarterback, including wins, passing yards, touchdown passes and completions. The senior has already thrown for 1,644 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. In his last three games, Jones has 871 passing yards, seven touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 151.7 while throwing just one interception. The Sooner offense is fifth in the NCAA in scoring, averaging 44.7 points per game.
Jones leads a Sooner offense that has found its groove since a 24-19 loss to then-No. 15 Kansas State on Sept. 22. The Sooner have outscored their last three opponents by a 156-48 margin. In those games, Oklahoma averaged 484.7 yards of total offense. Junior receiver Kenny Stills remains an explosive threat, leading the Sooners in receiving yards (471), receptions (38) and receiving touchdowns (4). Jones and his receiving corps average a first down per completion at 12.4 yards per catch. Out of the backfield, junior fullback Trey Millard poses a significant passing threat. The fullback averages 15.5 yards per catch and has two touchdowns to go along with his 201 receiving yards.
Going up against the 24th best passing offense in the country, the Irish secondary has been criticized for its inexperience. But the Irish passing defense ranks 14th in the nation, giving up only 174 passing yards per game. Sophomore defensive end Stephon Tuitt is third in the NCAA in sacks with eight-and-a-half after recording two in Notre Dame’s 17-14 win over BYU on Saturday. Meanwhile, only one player in the FBS has recorded more turnovers than Irish senior linebacker Manti Teo’s six. After an interception Saturday, Teo is tied with junior cornerback Bennett Jackson for the team lead with four. The Irish defense gave up a touchdown for the first time in over a month Saturday in the form of two passing touchdowns. The Irish also came away with two more interceptions against the Cougars.
Junior running back Damien Williams leads a balanced Sooner rushing attack with 572 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns. But the real twist in the Sooner offense is sophomore quarterback Blake Bell. Used in short-yardage and goal line situations, the 6-foot-6, 254-pound Bell leads the team with eight rushing touchdowns.
The Irish defense still has not allowed a rushing touchdown this season. The Irish head to Norman boasting the second-best scoring defense in the country  and the 15th best rushing defense.  Against BYU, the Irish gave up only 66 rushing yards. Saturday’s matchup at Oklahoma will pit the Sooners’ top-ranked red-zone offense against Notre Dame’s second-ranked red-zone defense.

Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco has succeeded at preparing his defense against a variety of threats this season and looks to do the same against the best offense he has seen so far this season.

Oklahoma is the only team in the FBS to rank in the top six in kick return average (31.2 yards) and punt return average (17.9 yards). Last week Sooners returned a 90-yard punt return and a 100-yard kickoff return for touchdowns.
Sept. 1    @ UTEP                   W 24-7
Sept. 8       Florida A&M                 W 69-13    Sept. 22    Kansas State                    L 24-19      Oct. 6    @ Texas Tech          W 41-20    
Oct. 13     Texas                   W 63-21
Oct. 20    Kansas        W 52-7    
Oct. 27    Notre Dame        
Nov. 3    @ Iowa State        
Nov. 10    Baylor    
Nov. 17    @ West Virginia
Nov. 24    Oklahoma State
Dec. 1    @ TCU



Sophomore quarterback Everett Golson is back in the starting role after missing Saturday’s 17-14 win over BYU due to a concussion suffered the previous week. Filling in for Golson, junior quarterback Tommy Rees threw for 117 yards with a touchdown and an interception while completing less than half  of his passes. Golson leads the Irish with 968 passing yards and four touchdowns and has also thrown three interceptions. The win over BYU saw senior tight end Tyler Eifert return to form with four receptions for 73 yards and a touchdown. Eifert leads the team in receiving with 319 yards and three touchdowns while junior receiver T.J. Jones leads the team with 21 recptions and is second on the team with 275 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
Oklahoma’s passing defense ranks ninth in the country in passing defense, giving up only 163.5 passing yards per game. Senior safety Javon Harris leads the Sooners with four interceptions, including two last week in a 52-7 win over Kansas. In their last three games, the Sooners have forced nine turnovers, with seven of them coming as interceptions. Junior safety Tony Jefferson leads the team in tackles with 48.

In the last three games, the Irish have rushed for 796 yards, led by senior running back Theo Riddick. Riddick had a career game last week against BYU, rushing for a career-high 143 yards and averaging 9.5 yards per carry. The highlight of the afternoon came on a hard-fought 55-yard run in the third quarter where Riddick kept his balance and nearly ran for a touchdown. Riddick leads the team with 451 rushing yards and 95 carries. Just as he did in a 41-3 win over Miami on Oct. 6, senior running back Cierre Wood gave the Irish a second running back with over 100 rushing yards in a single game with 114 yards on 18 carries. Since missing the first two games to suspension, Wood has rushed for 393 yards and two touchdowns. Sophomore running back George Atkinson gave the Irish their only rushing touchdown Saturday early in the fourth quarter to give Notre Dame a lead it wouldn’t relinquish. Atkinson has recorded 314 rushing yards and leads the Irish with four rushing touchdowns and an impressive 8.1 yards per carry.
The Sooners have the No. 12-ranked scoring defense in the country, giving up 15.3 points per game. The Sooners also give up 138.2 rushing yards per game, good enough for 46th-best in the nation. Against the Jayhawks last week, the Sooners gave up 185 rushing yards, while they gave up 213 rushing yards in a 24-19 loss to Kansas State.

The Irish may have found a niche in its rushing attack, but Brian Kelly’s spread offense has been inefficient in the passing game. Meanwhile, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops and his brother, defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, have a track record as one of college football’s great defensive coaching staffs.

Sophomore kicker Kyle Brindza missed two field goals against BYU and is 1-for-3 in field goals of 40 yards or more. Senior punter Ben Turk averages over 40 yards per punt, but the Irish average only 2.8 yards per punt return with freshman receiver Davonte Neal. Atkinson averages 19.4 yards per kick return and has yet to show the same explosiveness on returns as he did last year.

Sept. 1    vs. Navy         W 50-10    
Sept. 8    Purdue        W 20-17    
Sept. 15    @ Michigan St.        W 20-3
Sept. 22    Michigan        W 13-6
Oct. 6    vs. Miami        W 41-3
Oct. 13    Stanford       W 20-13 (OT)
Oct. 20    BYU        W 17-14
Oct. 27    @ Oklahoma    
Nov. 3    Pittsburgh    
Nov. 10    @ Boston College
Nov. 17    Wake Forest
Nov. 24    @ USC