I haven’t blogged in awhile either on sports or on working out. I’ve been nursing a bad heel for about 5 weeks new. Plantar Faciitis is not a fun thing when you are trying to maintain a cardio regimen. But I digress.
When last I wrote something here, it was right after OU dropped their first game of the season at home to Kansas State. Since then the Sooners have been on a tear winning three games in a row averaging 52 points per games and giving up 16 points per game. The Red River Shootout (that’s right – it’s still the “Shootout” for those PC thinkers out there that stomp about and insist that a shootout has negative connotations to it). To them, I say this, “DEAL WITH IT!” But I digress.
On second thought, to call this year’s game in Dallas a “Shootout” might be inappropriate, but not for the reasons mentioned above. Normally when one thinks of the word “shootout” it would indicate there was a flurry of shooting from both sides of the battle/skirmish. In this one . . .not so much. It was more like the result of a firing squad the way Oklahoma absolutely dismantled the Longhorns. The previous week, Texas had lost a close game to West Virginia in Austin in a game that was more reminiscent of a shootout than the match-up in Dallas. The horns lost 48-45 to a Mountaineer team that, as it turns out, has developed an OLE’ defense giving up just under 40 points per game (118th in the country on that stat). Man, I’m digressing a lot this morning. Rolling into Dallas, it looked for all the world like it would be more of the same, but the Oklahoma defense stymied the horn’s offense all day long with their only offensive points coming late in the 4th quarter when the game was already out of hand. A side note here: If you’re team in winning 36-2 early in the 3rd quarter and your quarterback throws a pick 6 from his own 20 and you start yelling the the TV in anger . . .you might be a Sooner fan. The final score in Dallas was 63-21 in yet another rout by Bob Stoops over Mack Brown. There are rumblings in Austin that it might be time to show Mack the door, but that will have to wait at least until the end of the season. The other two games featured Oklahoma getting their first win in Lubbock since 2003 win a 41-20 win over the Red Raiders (which was actually played the week before Texas) and a butt whuppin’ in Norman over Kansas 52-7 who looks even worse this year than last.
SO! – Oklahoma has bounced back and been rolling since the KSU loss.
Let’s look at Notre Dame.
The Irish are undefeated right now. 7-0 – their best start since 2002 when they started 8-0 before dropping a game at home to Boston College. That team has no relationship to the current edition of the Irish. This year Notre Dame features a very strong defense; 2nd in scoring giving up only 9.4 points per game which is pretty impressive. They have a very big, very physical front seven on defense led by linebacker Manti Te’o. His instincts on defense are amazing. He always seems to be where the ball is and is a play-maker and leader on the team.
The offense for Notre Dame also has a strong presence up front with the offensive line that has a lot of experience and a solid running game (38th in the country). The offense this weekend will be led by a talented redshirt freshman quarterback Everett Golson who has a lot of mobility and can make plays out of the pocket.
There are those who will tell you that this game is obviously “advantage Irish” because of the stingy defense that has only given up 17 points once this year while OU has given up more than that three times including a loss at home to a run-heavy Kansas State that looks similar to the Irish offense. Let’s look at that a bit more closely though, shall we?
Oklahoma has faced 3 top 10 scoring offenses this season, Kansas State, Texas Tech and Texas. The best offense Notre Dame has faced is Purdue who is ranked 50th in scoring. There are those who will say that the three top high scoring teams OU faced are a product of crappy defense in the Big XII and the low scoring teams the Irish have faced are a product of the amazing defense in the Big Ten. There are those who will say the Big Ten opponents Notre Dame has faced don’t have a lot of balance and limited weapons on offense. In fact, the most balanced offense the Irish have faced this season, Purdue, passes the ball roughly 55% of the time on offense, but even so, their running game has been abysmal averaging only 3 yards per carry. The Boilermakers took Notre Dame down to the wire and the Irish came away with a win on a 27 yard field goal with 7 seconds left in the game. So if you can bring some balance to the table, you can give the Irish trouble. (side note here: Purdue is 71st in giving up points this year at 27.7 points per game and they held the Irish to 20 in that one)
Oklahoma’s offense will be, by far, the best offense the Irish have faced this season ranked 22nd in passing, 34th in rushing and 5th in scoring. The big question for the Irish defense: How economically can you stop the rushing game of Oklahoma. If you can do it with just the front 4 or maybe 5, you can drop 6 or 7 into coverage and make it a long day for Landry Jones and company. If they have to use 7 up front to stop the OU rushing attack, Jones will pick apart the young cornerbacks as there are just too many weapons in OU’s passing game. Trey Millard, OU’s fullback, will likely have a huge role in this game, even if it’s just as a decoy to get Manti Te’o out of the middle to open up things there. If Te’o doesn’t pay Millard any mind, the Sooners will exploit that all night long and the Irish will go home very sad.
For OU, this will be the best defense they’ve faced, though not “by far.” Kansas State’s defense is ranked 14th and while they beat OU, it was due in large part to two of the three turnovers in that game being unforced errors on the Sooners part that the Wildcats were able to exploit.
The experts on ESPN and elsewhere keep talking about how OU’s offense matches up against Notre Dame’s defense, but what seems to be ignored here is the Sooner defense. Have the Sooners had three games where they gave up more points than the Irish have in any game all season? Yes. But can we break that down a bit?
Kansas State game (24 total points against OU) – the Wildcats had a defensive score on a forced fumble inside the Oklahoma 5 so that’s not on the Sooner defense – Defensive points given up in that game: 17
Texas Tech game (20 total points against OU) – It was 41-13 late in the game and all 2nd and 3rd stringers in for OU against Tech’s starters who got a touchdown with 56 seconds left in the game to lessen the sting of the blowout at home – Defensive points given up by starters: 13
Texas (21 total points against OU) – The horns got 2 points early when they ran back a botch extra point try after the Sooners first score. Their next trip to the endzone was the pick 6 early in the 3rd quarter when OU was winning 36-2. They score two touchdowns late in the game (at the 4:43 mark on a long bomb pass and the last play of the game) similar to Texas Tech, against 2nd and 3rd string defenders when the game was even worse than the Tech blowout – Defensive points given up by starters: 0
Suddenly – OU’s defensive points per game given up (when it matters) drops from 15.3 per game down to 9.5 right in line with the Irish and this done against offenses that run much more wide open than do the Irish opponents up to this point.
The Irish offense is strong in the running game, but inconsistent at best in the passing game. Golson will need to use his legs a lot to buy time and will need to be more accurate than the 58% completion rate he has had so far this season. Look for Mike Stoops to stack the box and dare the Irish to pass. This is possibly the best defense the Irish will face this season since USC now looks more vulnerable than they did at the beginning of the year.
If it all comes down to defense stopping the opponent’s offense, it’s advantage Oklahoma. I think for Notre Dame to win this game, they will need at least one defensive scoring play. They Irish will need to use their run game to eat clock and shorten the game. If they can’t stop the passing game of OU, it will be a long night for them.