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  • No Sooner Welcome Wagon for Irish

    by John Vannie

    Notre Dame travels to Norman, Oklahoma on Saturday night to play the Sooners in what is the most significant football game for the Irish in seven years. Everett Golson returns at quarterback for Notre Dame, who will need an offensive spark to keep pace with the high scoring Oklahoma attack. The eighth-ranked Sooners stand at 5-1 on the season while the undefeated Irish are trying to bolster their credentials in the national championship conversation. The ABC network will provide national television coverage beginning at 8:00 PM Eastern time.

    Coach Bob Stoops, who boasts a 79-4 record in home games and a .804 overall winning percentage in his 14th season, has built his 2012 team on the shoulders of senior quarterback Landry Jones and a vastly improved defense. The Sooners dismantled Texas Tech, Texas and Kansas in the past three weeks by an average score of 52-16 following a disappointing home loss to Kansas State. Although the Oklahoma coaches and players have downplayed the importance of this non-conference matchup in various public statements, there are signs emanating from Norman that the game is indeed significant.

    Stoops suddenly reinstated defensive tackle Stacy McGee this week, ending a season-long suspension. The school has asked fans to dress in school colors to show solidarity, which by itself is hardly significant. What is more telling is the number of local media stories dedicated to the rivalry between these schools, highlighted by Notre Dame’s historic victory to end the Sooner ‘s longest ever 47-game winning streak and its overall dominance in the series. One such article focused on the hatred of Irish or Catholics harbored by various Sooner faithful, many of whom were not even born in 1957

    Meanwhile, Notre Dame is not a team that lights up the scoreboard but is simply trying to improve from week to week. A stout defense has carried them for most of the season, but they have been helped by a productive running game that has kept Manti Te’o and friends fresh and resilient. Golson and the passing game must generate balance and find the end zone if the visitors are going to be successful this week. The Sooners have an outstanding passing attack featuring several future NFL players, and are built to score points against anyone in college football.

    This matchup represents a significant test for the Irish, who have not faced a quarterback as proficient as Jones and a group of receivers quite as dangerous as Kenny Stills and company. In fact, this game will serve as excellent preparation for next month’s showdown in Los Angeles against USC, as both opponents are remarkably similar on both sides of the ball. That discussion will be set aside for another day, however, as Irish players and coaches have enough to worry about this week in Oklahoma.


    The Sooners do not have any superstars on the defensive front seven, but they are a solid group of talented and well-coached players. Defensive Coordinator Mike Stoops has returned to his brother’s side to coach a 4-2-5 unit lead by active tackle Jamarkus McFarlane and ends David King and Chuka Ndulue. Oklahoma has not dominated against the run this season and McGee’s return to the depth chart may indicate that the Sooners are concerned about Notre Dame’s punishing ground game.

    Stoops frequently deploys a pair of junior linebackers and five defensive backs in his base set against pass-happy Big 12 opposition, but Notre Dame’s power game will undoubtedly force him to counter with a 4-3. Tom Wort handles the Mike position and is flanked on the weak side by Corey Nelson, who is equally adept at rushing the passer and dropping into coverage. When a third linebacker is utilized, it will probably be sophomore Aaron Franklin or senior Jaydan Bird. Whichever alignment Stoops chooses, it does not appear that he can neutralize Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert.

    The secondary is the strength of Oklahoma’s defense, particularly at safety. Tony Jefferson and Javon Harris lead the team in tackles by a wide margin. The corners are Aaron Colvin and Demontre Hurst, and Colvin is a legitimate All-American candidate. Nickel backs Gabe Lynn and Julian Wilson get on the field in passing situations. The Irish need to stay out of third and long situation against this talented and confident group. “It’s going to be a defensive battle, and we’re going to impose our will on the other team,” Harris said earlier this week.

    Golson must be able to throw the ball on any down, but Notre Dame has to stay within striking distance on the scoreboard so the effects of its running game can pay dividends in the second half. Stoops may be able to come up with a scheme to slow down the Irish running backs early, but it will be difficult to sustain for four quarters. It is vital that Notre Dame is poised and ready to execute its attack at the outset, as an early turnover could ignite the Sooners and result in an insurmountable deficit. If the Irish can stick to their game plan and control the clock, they will gain confidence and yardage as the evening progresses.


    Jones is an efficient quarterback who has completed 63% of his passes this season with only three interceptions. He has several quality receivers at his disposal, with Stills as the primary target. Justin Brown, Sterling Shepard and Trey Metoyer are all capable of big plays. The Sooners will likely stick to short passes early out of respect for Notre Dame’s pass rush. Jones will release the ball quickly and count on his receivers to generate yards after the catch, so the Irish linebackers and secondary will focus on precise positioning in the passing lanes and crisp tackling.

    Defensive Coordinator Bob Diaco will strive to disrupt Jones’ rhythm in the pocket and move his feet while attempting to pass, although it is doubtful the Irish will resort to an all-out blitz very often. Instead, they will guard against the big play and try to win the majority of the battles on third down. The Sooners have converted on more than 50% of these opportunities this season, so Notre Dame will face a difficult task.

    Oklahoma’s running game is improved from recent years and has enabled the Sooners to be more balanced. Damian Williams is the starter at tailback, averaging 7.5 yards per carry and nearly 100 yards per game. Dominique Whaley and Clay Brennan share the workload and also have impressive numbers. The Sooner ground attack has contributed 200 yards per game and 20 touchdowns to the offense, including a red zone power formation called the “Belldozer” run by reserve quarterback Blake Bell. At 6’6” and 254 pounds, Bell is a supersized version of Tim Tebow, and has scored eight rushing touchdowns in six games.

    Obviously, Notre Dame’s defense cannot allow Oklahoma to run the ball successfully, as Diaco does not want to move his safeties toward the line of scrimmage given the Sooner’s explosive wide receivers. Trey Millard, a 250 pound fullback, will be a key player in taking on Manti Te’o, who must shed blocks quickly and play another strong game for the Irish. Oklahoma’s offensive line is anchored by center Gabe Ikard and senior left tackle Lane Johnson, but there is youth and inexperience in this group that Notre Dame must exploit to keep the high-scoring Sooners under control.


    The Irish were fortunate that comparatively poor special teams play and field position challenges did not cost them victories against Stanford and BYU. Oklahoma has the ability to exploit this weakness with an excellent punt and kickoff return game as well as reliable coverage units. Both its return teams have recorded long touchdowns this season. Neither punter Tress Way nor kicker Mike Hunnicut has exceptional leg strength, but Hunnicut is nearly automatic on field goals within 45 yards.

    Coach Brian Kelly admitted some disappointment with his special teams this week, and noted that kickoff return man George Atkinson’s production has been limited by ineffective blocking. The Irish could use a spark in this area and Atkinson could deliver if the ten players in front of him bring more intensity to their job. Kicker Kyle Brindza narrowly missed a couple of easy chances against BYU, but those kicks did not appear to mark the beginning of a slump. He will need to be sharp this week, and punter Ben Turk must eliminate the sub-35 yard shank that seems to pop up in every game.


    Oklahoma will be aggressive from the start in an effort to take the early lead and put Notre Dame at a disadvantage. It is vital that the Irish survive the first quarter and overcome the butterflies caused by the hostile environment and Sooner pressure. Bob Stoops has correctly maintained that turnovers will be decisive in this contest, but there are other factors to watch as well. The team that maximizes its strengths and mitigates its weaknesses is most likely to prevail. For the Irish, the strong points are its ground attack and ability to stop the run, but Golson’s ability to complete a few passes against Oklahoma’s suffocating secondary is critical to maintain possession. For the Sooners, protecting Jones and staying ahead on the scoreboard are the key ingredients to victory.

    Kansas State’s win in Norman last month proved that Jones and the offense can be contained, but a trio of rare Oklahoma mistakes made a world of difference in the 24-19 loss. Jones fumbled in his own end zone to hand the Wildcats one touchdown, and threw an interception deep in his own territory to set up another. In the only red zone possession this season in which the Sooners did not put points on the board, Bell’s fumble on the Kansas State one yard line cost his team another seven points. Absent these mistakes, one could argue that Oklahoma should have won by as much as 27-10. While Sooner fans cannot change the past, they would dearly love to end Notre Dame’s dreams of perfection this season.

    The Irish will need to create disruption and force similar uncharacteristic mistakes if they are to pull off the upset this week. Here are the key questions that will determine the outcome:

    Which quarterback will best protect the football?

    Can Notre Dame shut down the run and make the Sooner offense one dimensional?

    Will the Irish get off to a solid start on the road?

    Can Notre Dame’s receivers get open against the talented Sooner secondary?

    Will poor special teams play finally cost the Irish?

    Can Notre Dame improve its own efficiency in the red zone?

    At what point in the broadcast will you hit the mute button on Brent Musberger?


    Despite the dire predictions of several noted experts, my heart insists that the Irish are capable of victory. A good start is critical, and although the visitors might win only two or three times out of ten, the only result that matters is driven by how this particular game unfolds on Saturday night. Notre Dame has won close games this season because its defense has remained firmly in control while the offense grinds out just enough points. In this matchup, the offense will have to be much more efficient because Oklahoma is too potent to be shut down entirely. Regrettably, my head tells me that Golson is not quite ready for a challenge of this magnitude, the gap between him and Jones at quarterback is too great, and the chronic weakness of the Irish special teams will combine to put the Sooners over the top.


    26 Responses to “No Sooner Welcome Wagon for Irish”

    1. OK offense will prove that big twelve has point inflation and weak defenses.
      OK Defense won’t contain Golson or run game
      ND 21 OK 17

    2. Bill Rueter says:

      Several members of the media are predicting a blow out for the Sooners.If we can survive the early blitz and possibly be even or only down one touchdown I think we can pull it out in the 4th quarter.Golson must have a good game!

      • Bob Howsam, Jr. says:

        Several members of the media? Brian Kelly has publicly stated he’s one recruiting class short to play competitively on Saturday. Waiving the white flag before kickoff to cover your butt has to be resonating throughout the locker room.

    3. Thomas Burke says:

      We’d have to be looney tunes to admit we’re not nervous about this game, and I’d hate to say that I’d have to go with OK with a gun to my head. However, this is a special team! You can detect the faint wiff of ’93–the certain smell, that although we tried to ignore it, was absent in ’02 and ’06 (’05, maybe). That being said, I feel Kelly is truly laying the foundation as Holtz did. And we know ’88 and ’93 (if you don’t think 1993 should be right above “play like a champion today” please tell me why) were not supposed to national championship years… Lou put big hearts in his player’s chests to win. Let’s hope Kelly keeps it up!!! Golson has a break-out game, and Irish win 28-23. Our Lady of the Lake… Go Irish!!!

    4. It all depends on which Golson shows up to play Saturday…

    5. ElkhartIrish says:

      I’m scared, Sarge. We’re all scared son.

    6. Nothing to be skeered about, son. It’s all in the previous preparation. If you prepared consistentlly and well, the victory will come. If not, why worry? Just let it unfold, and face the consequence stoically.

    7. Bob Howsam, Jr. says:

      I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. The key to the Irish success is going up-tempo, 4- and 5-wide and spreading the field.

      The Irish running game will be unstoppable if ND can force Oklahoma’s CBs and safeties to stay out of the box and honor the passing game.

      Golson’s doesn’t need to throw a lot in this game, he simply needs to convince Oklahoma, particularly the safeties that he can and will throw deep to Daniels, Eifert and Jones.

      Spreading the field and sending receivers deep will not only syphon off run defenders, it will also make the check downs and toss pitches far more effective.

      Forcing Golson to throw back shoulders, go and post routes would be huge mistake. Everyone seems to be convinced that Golson can’t run an up-tempo, 4 and 5 WR spread offense. I’m not one of those. The kid has it, but this game will come down to whether ND can put 28 points on the board and they simply cannot do so with a 2 or 3 WR set.

      Irish 28 Sooners 24

    8. it all depends on whether kelly can come up with a game plan and not be ultra conservative. also our special teams must step it up. a significant part of any game is special teams and ours have been close to disgraceful for three years. punting and punt returns are especially poor. we need to be able to turn field position around with punts and returns. Against very good teams all aspects of the game must be clicking and I see this as our major weakness

    9. OK versus ND would have been a true test for Lou and the squad back then in his 3rd year. Today we have the defense and the “Mo” to be ready to play. When Lou coached his team to a NC he had a QB that was mistake free and could run at will when he saw the chance and a Defense probably better if you can recall.

      Does Kelly have the same mindset or options given such a great defense…with a young EG at QB. I think whatever happens it will be an eye opener as to how far we have come in year 3 with BK. If OK is a not lose the faith…we have some great talent and the hope our coach in BK will continue to be a great recruiter. That being said..BK …take a note from Lou and give your QB a chance to be great in the rest of the season…run wild on OK

    10. I think John is spot on with this analysis. We have a great D and an O that still has not found its stride. We have weaknesses and this year’s team has been fun to watch. There are times when you can ride the horse just so far. My hope is that when the 4th quarter starts, we are within a score and playing well. Obviously, we all want to win, but if lose and still look the part of a team that is worthy of recognition, there will be some long term gain in it.

      It would be great if this were one of those “Notre Dame Moments”. I think we will need one to prevail in this game.

    11. If I’m Notre Dame I would go into this game with a nothing to lose attitude. Why? Well going back to preseason or probably even further back than that there isn’t/wasn’t one person in the United States who thought the Irish would be 7-0 and ranked 5th going to Norman. In fact, I don’t think there was anyone who thought they would get through September unscathed. If the Irish win it’s just another notch in their belt towards a fantatstic season. If they lose, so what no one thought they would beat Oklahoma anyway and most still think that way. So I’d tell my team lets lace them up and strap them on and go bang heads with the Sooners and let the chips fall where they may.
      I have a feeling Kelly is going to open up the playbook a little more and throw some things at Oklahoma that ND hasn’t shown yet. Just a few more wrinkles to keep the Sooners honest. Anyway, I would love to see ND win and keep this great season going.

      • Bob Howsam, Jr. says:

        Opening up the playbook “a little more” won’t cut it against the Sooners. Oklahoma has been playing with a vengeance since they got destroyed by KSU at home. To win this game Kelly has got to take the training wheels off the offense, spread the field and increase the tempo. It also be nice to see Knute Rocket (Davonte Neal) somehow get some touches on offenses. When you have a lamborghini, you don’t leave it in the garage on game day. Neal’s done nothing on punts because the punt team can’t block to save their lives. But Kelly could run a reverse or two with Neal and if he got into space he could take it to the house and Kelly will need all the game-changers he can find.

    12. No rocket science here – control/protect the ball, don’t fall behind early, minimize the impact of the crowd, and get the game to the 4th quarter where someone – probably on defense – can make a play to win the game.

    13. Captain Jack says:

      Irish will have to throw to set up the run for later on. This is crucial. Oklahoma will be geared up to stop the run and it would be nice to see some early play action passes as well as a wrinkle or two where we pass off of the spread read option plays. He has to completely take the training wheels off of Everett and trust he is ready. As we all saw last week Rees is limited in his abilities and is so limited athletically we would have no chance to win this game. On defense I believe they will have to take the occasional chance blitzing at the right times. If we just sit back in fear of exposing our secondary you can bet OU will dink and dunk down the field and unlike some of the previous teams they will score when they get in the redzone. Dear Bob Diaco, play defense to win the game! Do not have corners 10 yards off the receiver on 3rd and 5. This will kill keeping our defense fresh. Id rather get burned once or twice for long plays then have OU keep us on the field for 6-7 minute drives to still give up the TD. All that being said I think if they do these things I think Landry Jones is prone to choking in a big spot. The key will be hanging in to the game long enough for him to make a crucial mistake. ND 23-17

    14. I am with you Irishone! Go in there with we have nothing to lose attitude! But this attitude is most important for BK who has been real conservative in his play calling as of late. Like bloggers are saying we need 4 and 5 receiver sets to get the d backs out of the way then run quick slants or outs and also play action pass or just run the ball down their throats. But they have to at least appear differently. BK has had everyone in the box too often. He has got to open the play book and show the Sooners different looks. If he doesn’t they will be on our offense like a Pitbull on a Poodle! Go Irish!

    15. I mostly agree with your summary, but I think we’ll win. I think the toughest defense by far that Oklahoma has faced – including the strongest pass rush – will hold them to 20 points or less, and the offense will do enough to win. The one thing I’d take issue with, and it bugs me whenever analysis includes things like this, is that the gap between Landry Jones and Everett Golson isn’t relevant because they’re not playing against each other – just like last night wasn’t Verlander vs. Zito, it was Verlander vs. the Giants hitters and Zito vs. the Tigers hitters. It’s the gap between what Jones can do against our defense and what Golson can do against Oklahoma’s defense that matters, and there I think we can stand up to them. I’m letting my heart take over again after having my natural optimism pounded into submission over the last 15 years.

    16. Mike Honcho says:

      I’m not saying that an ND loss wouldn’t disappoint me, but I’m thrilled to see the Irish in a position to play a game of this magnitude and play well. I don’t think ‘playing well’ will necessarily lead to victory given OU’s success at home, and a close loss would still tell us a lot about thew progress of this team (I think in the preseason, I chalked this game up as an imminent bloodbath).

      But I’m a bigger homer than Lou and I want to see the type of game that makes our enemies fear and hate us.

      ND 24
      OU 23

    17. The Irish defense again will win. Jones is shaky under pressure and the Irish are a bigger harder hitting team.Golson must protect the ball when he runs. If he plays like he did against Miami, and doesnt turn the ball over, Irish win. No mindless penalties.

      ND 24–Sonners 18

    18. Irish defense plays as if it had 14 players on the field, all with quickness and heart. Defense will have to keep ND in game until 4th Q, when Tommy Rees takes over for 1 TD and a field goal for win. OU D-line will have been worn down enough by running game to give Rees more time to pass

      Golson is still learning and while far more athletic than Rees, lacks the almost robotic composure that Tommy displays. Kelly’s early play calling, especially tendency to pass on the very first O play, makes it more difficult for Golson to settle into a rhythm. ND 27 OU 24.

    19. Agree with all the comments above. Would love to see the team play with nothing to lose. Diaco to blitz, Golson to play loose, and continued solidarity amongst the team. Nobody wants to let each other down (best moment last weekend was when Lewis-Moore went over to talk w/ Nicklas’ personal foul penalty). A lot of good football to come…

      “I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is the moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious.” – Vince Lombardi

      ND 17
      OU 14

    20. Ryan from Omaha says:

      We’ve all been talking about how Kelly’s been keeping some plays in his back pocket for when he needs it, will our hunch be confirmed or is this the offense we have for this year? I’d love to see more read option and what happened to that counter that we ran (was it against Mich? I know it was early in the year) if someone who’s had more time to re-watch film knows the play I’m talking about I’d love to know which game, fooled the D, was beautiful.

    21. This week the Irish reverse roles with the underdogs who come into South Bend trying to “hang in the game and be close, come the 4th quarter.” If we’re still in this game in the 2nd half I see an Irish victory. It’s time for Kelly to tap some of that Notre Dame magic. I wanna see a reverse or 2 involving Atkinson. Maybe a fake punt. How about Goodman catching a back pass and letting a bomb rip down the field. On the other side, I want to see a couple of goal line stands. I want to see a turnover turned, not only into good field position, but taken all the way back for the score. Has anybody thought about the green jerseys? I know it’s on the road, so it’d be white jerseys with green numbers, but still, this feels like the kind of game the green was made for?!

      Irish 28 OKlahoma 27. A battle for the ages.

    22. Fitz I agree with you on what we need to do versus OK. The other posters are spot-on with the comments to come out and play with a it is our last game do or die.

      However I do not ever want to see the cursed green jerseys or single-game uniform BS with the helmets and the “once or twice in a season” ND new look. Bring on ND in the way it has won the big games on the road in the past with the white and gold.

      That being said whatever the Irish dress for this weekend… If Golsen and Kelly are not ready, not on the same page to do battle offensively then our D will have to pay the price. Unfair as it may sound the D can not win every game or be held accountable as we move up the ladder in talent against very good teams like OK and USC.

      Remember early on how we thought the secondary was so weak because of injuries and how it would be such a major exposure for us with powerful passing game opponents…that is gone now – thanks D and the likes of Tuitt and Teo and many more stepping up. But will it be revisited as we move up and play against the top of the lineup against the likes of OK, USC and in a bowl game with Oregon, LSU and Alabama.

      My hope is that we win the rest of the season with a strong offense and defense…and most importantly win whatever bowl we get into. The rest is irrelevant at this point. This program needs to turn around with a bowl win…lets table National Championship talk for a time next January when we can look back and talk about a convincing and powerful bowl victory this year.