Notre Dame and Oklahoma are two of college football's premier programs and meet on Saturday in a huge measuring stick game for both teams. The Fighting Irish have had the Sooners' number.
In 10 all-time matchups, Oklahoma is just 1-9 with an average score of 16 points. The Sooners haven't defeated Notre Dame since 1956, when Oklahoma grabbed its lone victory in the series in a 40-0 blowout win, en route to a national championship. In fact, it was the Fighting Irish that ended Oklahoma’s record 47-game winning streak in 1957. The Sooners have a staggering .733 win percentage against all other opponents in their program history but sit at just a .100 win percentage against the Irish.
Historically, Oklahoma has stacked up exceptionally well against college football's preeminent programs. Oklahoma owns more wins than losses against Texas since the 1940s; Oklahoma owns a 45-38-3 edge against Nebraska; and holds a winning or even mark against the likes of Alabama, Florida State, LSU, Michigan, Ohio State, Oregon, Penn State and Tennessee. After a 30-13 loss in Norman last season, which saw the Sooners held to a mere 15 yards rushing, Bob Stoops is eager to turn the tables on Brian Kelly and the Irish.
Notre Dame and Oklahoma appear to be two teams moving in opposite directions. The Irish, fresh off their perfect regular season a year ago, have limped to unimpressive victories the last two weeks. The Sooners appear to be on the right track, off to a 3-0 start and allowing the fifth-fewest points in the nation. If there's a time for Oklahoma to change the momentum of the series, this may be the year.
3 Things to Watch
Sooners' Rushing Attack
We are used to seeing Oklahoma, under Landry Jones and Sam Bradford, pass upwards of 50 times a game. That isn't the identity of this Sooners squad. The team averages 50.3 rush attempts compared to just 30.3 pass attempts per game. The Sooners boast the No. 16 rushing attack in the nation, averaging 271.7 yards per game behind the two-headed monster of Brennan Clay and Damien Williams. Look for Blake Bell to be a factor in the red-zone as the "Belldozer" has 24 rushing touchdowns on just 118 career carries.
Can Tommy Rees bounce back?
Since Everett Golson left the team in the summer, Notre Dame fans have been fearing the inconsistent play of senior Tommy Rees. Rees has thrown for over 300 yards in every game but last week's uninspiring performance against Michigan State, where he completed just 14 of 34 passes for 142 yards. His decision making has been in question at times, with his two costly interceptions against Michigan. Give Rees credit, however, as he led the Irish back against Purdue and avoided any big mistakes against Michigan State. Rees will need some help for the running game as the Irish haven't topped the 100-yard rushing mark since their opener against Temple.
The Sooners defense looks much improved from a year ago. Currently, Oklahoma ranks No. 5 in scoring defense, allowing just nine points per game, and No. 20 in total defense, allowing 291 yards per game. The defense already has four interceptions through three games. It is worth noting that the Sooners defense hasn't been truly tested and could be exposed against a quality Irish team.
Key Player: Blake Bell, QB, Oklahoma
Initially passed up for the starting QB job, Bell replaced an injured Trevor Knight two weeks ago against West Virginia. After a stellar performance against Tulsa, Bell will start against Notre Dame. The junior set a school record for passing yards by a quarterback in his first start with 413. He also threw for four touchdowns, but it's his skills with his legs that could be key to this game. Notre Dame feasted on a stationary Landry Jones last season, holding the Sooners to just 13 points. Bell, a more dynamic athlete, will cause the Irish to respect his scrambling abilities and could open more holes in the secondary.
I like the Sooners to get a big win against the Irish. I think Blake Bell's mobility and ability to move the pocket will prove troublesome for Bob Diaco's defense. I will be interested in watching the battle between the Sooners offensive line, which seems much improved from a year ago, and Notre Dame's defensive line. If Louis Nix can keep Oklahoma from establishing a running game, then I think the Irish will be able to expose some of Bell's deficiencies throwing the football. Ultimately, I don't like the stagnant nature that Irish offense displays at times and I believe they will struggle against the speed of Oklahoma's defense.
Prediction: Oklahoma 24, Notre Dame 7