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October 24, 2012

Notre Dame to offer a new kind of challenge for Sooners

NORMAN — The challenge Oklahoma faces on Saturday night differs from the typical October game. Instead of combating a defense that takes any sort of gamble imaginable to force a turnover, it is simple brawn No. 5 Notre Dame will bring to Owen Field.

“There’re a lot of similar characteristics: very disciplined, very well coached, very physical. Those patterns and similarities are consistent with a lot of great teams,” OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “It’s how you have to play.

But the eighth-ranked Sooners haven’t faced many teams willing to plod their way into the end zone. The Big 12 Conference, which morphed into a passing league long ago, doesn’t offer that week-to-week challenge.

One reason for OU to be concerned was its season was thrown for a loop when Kansas State methodically trudged its way to a 24-19 victory over the Sooners on Sept. 22.

Offensively, Notre Dame and Kansas State do differ. The Wildcats’ main source of offense is quarterback Colin Klein running the ball.

Notre Dame will use two quarterbacks on Saturday — Everett Golson and Tommy Rees — but neither is going to be a main cog in the rushing attack.

The similarity is in the use of big bruising offensive lines and the desire to keep opposing teams’ offenses on the bench.

The Fighting Irish do it with a three-headed running back attack of Theo Riddick, Ciere Wood and George Atkinson III. All three averaged over 40 rushing yards a game and at least 4.7 yards per carry.

The slugfest philosophy has worked. The Irish are 7-0 for the first time since 2003. One of the ways they’ve done that is by wearing teams down.

They’ve outscored teams 100-28 in the second half of games. That includes the overtime victory over Stanford two weeks ago.

“They’re a team that’s trying to establish the run early and trying to control the clock,” OU middle linebacker Tom Wort said. “It’s gonna be a challenge for us.”

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