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.”
Lately, OU’s been up the challenge. It’s held Texas Tech, Texas and Kansas to under 3.5 yards per carry. Nevertheless, the Sooner defense got a tremendous amount of help in all three of those games. OU put up a minimum of 24 points in the first half of all three games. The Red Raiders, Longhorns and Jayhawks spent most of the games trying to play catch-up.
That advantage isn’t always there.
“We’re going to have to do a good job of controlling the line of scrimmage,” defensive end David King said. “That’s been a key for us the past three weeks. That’s going to play a huge factor in deciding who wins Saturday.”
In that sense, Sooners will get a shot at redemption. Three costly turnovers were what led to their loss to Kansas State. However, the Wildcats did rush for 50 yards in the fourth quarter with two touchdown drives and another to run the final four minutes off of the clock.
The Sooners were clearly pushed around when the game was on the line. Notre Dame has a seven-game winning streak because it can do the exact same thing with the ball.
“If we come out there and hit them in the mouth,” defensive end Chuka Ndulue said. “They’re gonna try to do the same.”
John ShinnFollow me @firstname.lastname@example.org