The Norman Transcript

September 25, 2013

OU preparing for raucous environment in South Bend

By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Each afternoon, for 10 days, music has blared onto the Oklahoma practice field. The songs change, but the level of noise doesn’t.

The whole point is for Oklahoma to get accustomed to the crowd for Saturday’s game at Notre Dame. There will be more than 80,000 people packed in into Notre Dame Stadium. The overwhelming majority would love to be a factor in disrupting anything the Sooners want to do.

But at least one veteran Sooner player believes trying to simulate a raucous road environment can’t happen.

“You can’t prepare for playing in a hostile environment,” OU cornerback Aaron Colvin said. “You have to focus on yourself and doing the right things within your team and your defense.”

For players like Colvin, the OU-Notre Dame game will be nothing new. He’s played games in many historic venues. But OU will have several players making their first career starts away from Owen Field Saturday. How they perform could be the deciding factor.

Clearly, players like Colvin know what they’re talking about. The old moniker of the Sooners being dominant at home but lackluster away from home has switched.

The 14th-ranked Sooners are 23-6 since the 2011 season began. Three of the losses were at Owen Field, another was at a neutral site (last year’s Cotton Bowl), while the other two were on the road at Baylor and Oklahoma State in 2011.

Last season, the Sooners were a perfect 5-0 in true road games. That hadn’t happened since 2008.

There is a confidence that comes from going on the road and winning. It’s something No. 14 OU (3-0) will draw on when it faces No. 22 Notre Dame (3-1) at 2:30 p.m., Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind.

One thing the Sooners have done over the last year is ignore the differences between playing at home and away.

“You don’t even acknowledge it. Guys are expected to play at a high level for us. It’s a 100-yard field. It’s no different than any other. You’ve got to block all that out regardless of where you’re at,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “It didn’t do us a lot of good last year playing at home. You’ve got to go on the road and play great defense and it will be a great test for us regardless of what you guys say or think.”

But the line of demarcation between good teams and elite ones has always been the ability to win tough games away from home. The Sooners’ schedule is set up where they must win big games away from Owen Field this season. Currently, they have three games on the schedule against ranked teams. All three of them — No. 22 Notre Dame, No. 19 Baylor (Nov. 7) and No. 11 Oklahoma State (Dec. 7) — will all be on the road.

If OU wants to contend for a national title or a Big 12 Conference title, it has to play well on the road. Saturday’s game could be a litmus test for the rest of the season.

“How are we gonna play in a tough environment? When things don’t go well, how are we gonna respond? Are we gonna do the little things that you have to do to win on the road in a tough environment and be a championship type football team?” offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “We’ll find out a lot.”

John Shinn

Follow me @john_shinn