The Norman Transcript

September 25, 2013

OU’s Saunders recalls bitter taste from loss to Irish

By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Oklahoma wide receiver Jalen Saunders set a school record with 15 receptions last season against Notre Dame and set a career high with 181 receiving yards in the game.

Yet, he has a very sour taste in his mouth from the game. Midway through the fourth quarter, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o’s diving interception on a pass that tipped off Saunders’ hands was the highlight of the game. It helped fuel Te’o to a second-place finish in the Heisman Trophy balloting last season.

“I’ve seen that play a lot. It’s really disappointing and really hard to even watch,” Saunders said. “I’m ready for Notre Dame and to get back at them for that.”

The game truly was Saunders’ breakout performance. OU had 379 yards of total offense in that game. Just about half of it came on Saunders’’ receptions.

But receivers coach Jay Norvell was not surprised to hear Saunders’ feeling about that game.

“I think it was a real opportunity and we let it get away,” he said. “You really remember the ones that get away from you even more than the ones you win. I think Jalen had a real productive day, but at the end of it there was a real lack of satisfaction because we didn’t win.”

Holding up against the run: OU is currently 17th in the country in rushing defense, holding teams to 100.7 yards per game. OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops would love to see that average drop after the Notre Dame game, but he isn’t counting on it.

“We’ll see come Saturday. This is a different animal than what we’ve seen — the physicality that they play with, and they’re going to keep coming at you and try to wear you down as the game goes on,” he said. “This is a very physical test for us and we’re not going to sell out to try to stop the run and there’s got to be balance in there.”

Although, the Fighting Irish’s running attack appears to have regressed from 2012. They averaged 189.38 rushing yards per game in 2012. Through four games this season, the average is 114.2.

Wrong century: OU is 1-8 all-time against Notre Dame and OU’s players and coaches are getting tired of hearing about the record. In the players’ case, only last season’s 30-13 loss at Owen Field was a game they played in. The rest of the games were played in the 20th Century, which is something OU linebacker Corey Nelson pointed out Monday.

“I wasn’t here back in the 1900s whenever we played them,” he said.

Of the nine previous games, seven were played prior to 1968. Half of OU’s coaching staff — offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh, special teams coordinator Jay Boulware, running backs coach Cale Gundy, offensive coordinator Josh Heupel and defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery — were not alive for the first seven meetings.

Going deep: OU quarterback Blake Bell hit a couple of deep passes in his first start against Tulsa. He’ll need to hit more of them against Notre Dame.

Heupel believes consistently hitting some deep passes is the one aspect that has held the offense back since the season opener.

“We haven’t been nearly as efficient as we can be and need to be with our deep balls. That’s everybody playing a part. It’s protection. You can point to a couple of things in the first ball game. It’s competitiveness on the outside and the wide receivers making a play. The quarterbacks being better throwing it too,” he said. “It’s all those three things that have to come together. We’re going to need to hit one or two of those.”

John Shinn

Follow me @john_shinn

jshinn@normantranscript.com