NORMAN — With 22 players on the field, it’s rare when you truly get two teams’ best players going head to head. On Saturday night, however, it will happen when No. 8 Oklahoma (5-1) faces No. 5 Notre Dame (7-0) at Owen Field.
The game within the game will be between Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o and OU fullback Trey Millard. It will be the best versus the best in their own personal “Oklahoma Drill.”
“It’s definitely 11 on 11, but I know there are a lot of schemes where I’ll be blocking him,” Millard said. “It’s something you look forward to in practice and get prepared for.”
He should because opportunities like this don’t come along often. Millard may have developed into a very skilled offensive player this season. The guy is averaging 7.8 yards per carry and 15.5 yards per reception. Nonetheless, Millard is still the Sooners’ No. 1 fullback, and that job is earned by neutralizing linebackers.
“I love making big blocks and I love springing guys,” Millard said. “If I have the ball in my hands, I love doing that, too. I definitely think if we have some of those longer runs, it definitely gets the whole offense kind of fired up, makes the play-action that much more dangerous, makes the wide receivers that much more dangerous.”
Te’o is better than any linebacker the Sooners have gone against in years. The last linebacker to finish in the top five in the Heisman Trophy balloting was OU’s own Brian Bosworth, who finished fourth in 1986. Te’o, who has four interceptions and a fumble recovery this season, would probably surpass that, based on the way he’s played in the first seven games.
“He’s a great player,” OU coach Bob Stoops said of Te’o. “Those guys have had a great year so far for us, too. It’ll be one of the many battles in there.”
This, however, is one the Sooners have consistently won in the last three games. One of the main reasons OU’s Blake Bell has been so effective in the red zone has been having Millard as a lead blocker. Go back and watch a replay of many of those touchdowns. Most include a knockdown block by Millard on a linebacker.
Getting to a player of Te’o’s caliber is the problem. The Fighting Irish knows how to keep offensive linemen away from him. The defense is designed to give him free rein to make plays. Te’o makes those plays better than any player in college football.
It’s a challenge Millard wants.
“I think that’s part of the reason you come here,” Millard said. “You play with the best and also against the best. It’s definitely a matchup that I’m looking forward to.”
The overflow crowd at Owen Field on Saturday night should relish watching it. It may not be the prettiest one-on-one matchup of all time. However, Bud Wilkinson created the “Oklahoma Drill” 60-plus years ago and it will play out between two of college football’s best players many times.
Take the time to watch it. It will be as good as it gets.
John ShinnFollow me @email@example.com