Oklahoma Sooners: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Houston NFTC notebook 

April, 6, 2014
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HOUSTON -- On-again, off-again rain couldn’t put a damper on the Houston Nike Football Training Camp on Sunday, and three athletes -- safety Deionte Thompson, tight end Jordan Davis and offensive tackle Jerry Tillery -- earned golden tickets to compete at The Opening this summer in Oregon.

Seven players left The Kinkaid School practice facility with MVP honors at their respective positions: Skyler Bonneau (quarterbacks), Remus Bulmer (running backs), Gary Haynes (wide receivers), Erik McCoy (offensive linemen), Nikolas Daniels (defensive linemen), Spencer Choka (linebackers) and Deontay Anderson (defensive backs).


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California has always fed the Pac-12 a majority of its recruits, as Southern California in particular is the recruiting hotbed for the conference. But as the Golden State is arguably the most talent-rich state in the country when it comes to high school football, programs outside the Pac-12 haven't been content to sit back and watch conference teams load up on California recruits.

Television, the internet and social media have all helped out-of-conference programs invade California looking for recruits, but nothing has aided those programs more than good old-fashioned effort, according to Fresno (Calif.) Central East assistant coach Tony Perry.


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A wild week for the West's best 

January, 31, 2014
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Plenty of attention will be paid to the West on signing day, as four of the region's top eight recruits are set to announce their commitments on Wednesday. That number -- which includes the top-ranked uncommitted prospect in Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Serra) -- dwarfs that of the top eight prospects in any of the other regions.

But before each makes a huge statement on signing day, all made some noise this week, as this region and the Pac-12 conference sets up for a very interesting day on Feb. 5.


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After taking official visits to Alabama, Notre Dame and Oklahoma, ESPN 300 athlete Michiah Quick (Fresno, Calif./Central East) will stay closer to home for his fourth and fifth trips, according to Quick's assistant coach, Tony Perry.


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With college coaches out and about visiting schools and prospects, a number of players in the 2015 class from the Atlanta area have seen their stock quickly rise. One of those is junior Adonis Thomas (Lawrenceville, Ga./Central Gwinnett).

The 6-foot-4, 212-pound outside linebacker is the No. 207-ranked prospect in the ESPN Junior 300 and has seen his stock skyrocket in December with offers from some heavy hitters nationally.


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Jashon Cornell (St. Paul, Minn./Cretin Derham-Hall), the No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2015, has narrowed his top list. After much deliberation, Cornell has cut the list of schools in the running down to 15.

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Instant Analysis: OU 35, Notre Dame 21

September, 28, 2013
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Oklahoma escaped Notre Dame Stadium with its second-ever victory over the Irish, winning 35-21. Here are a few quick takeaways from this contest:

It was over when: Facing a third-and-3 from his own 46 early in the fourth quarter, Blake Bell hit Sterling Shepard for a 54-yard touchdown pass in which Shepard simply outran Irish linebacker Jarrett Grace. Shepard then caught the two-point conversion pass to give the Sooners a 35-21 lead.

Game ball goes to: Oklahoma's defense gets to share this honor today. The Sooners picked off Tommy Rees three times and brought pressure early and often. Oklahoma was able to convert all three turnovers into touchdowns, including a 24-yard pick-six by Corey Nelson on the game's first drive. Frank Shannon's interception on the next Notre Dame offensive play helped set the Sooners up with a 14-0 lead not even three minutes into the game.

Stat of the game: During a contest in which Notre Dame finally established its ground game and got creative on offense by sprinkling in backup quarterback Andrew Hendrix here and there, the easy answer is turnovers. Notre Dame gave the ball away three times; Oklahoma gave it away zero times. It is sometimes that simple, as we saw last week in an ugly offensive game that the Irish were able to pull out against Michigan State thanks in large part to forcing the game's only turnover, which they turned into a touchdown.

What it means: At 4-0, Oklahoma has to feel good about its chances in the Big 12, especially after seeing Oklahoma State lose to West Virginia earlier Saturday. Notre Dame, meanwhile, will likely have to win out to make a BCS bowl game after falling to 3-2 on the season. The Irish's next test comes next week against Arizona State in Arlington, Texas.

Video: Take your pick: Week 5

September, 27, 2013
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Robert Smith picks the winners of the biggest games in Week 5 of the college football season.

Did you know? Oklahoma at Notre Dame

September, 27, 2013
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As always, thanks to ESPN Stats & Info and sports information departments for these stats:
  • Entering his first start on Sept. 14, Blake Bell had thrown 26 passes and rushed for 24 touchdowns. He had averaged one rushing touchdown every 1.7 carries in goal-to-go situations, which was the best ratio in the FBS among active players with at least 15 such rushes. Against Tulsa, Bell completed 73 percent of his passes for 413 yards and four touchdowns. He set a school record for the most passing yards by an Oklahoma quarterback in his first career start, and posted a 96.7 Total QBR. When looking just at passing plays, Bell had a Total QBR of 99.1, the second-highest QBR on passing plays for an Oklahoma quarterback in the last 10 seasons behind only Sam Bradford, who had a 99.3 against Baylor in 2008.
  • With Bell at quarterback, the Sooners averaged 4.6 points per drive against Tulsa, which was their highest mark over the past five seasons. Their offense also added about 33 expected points toward their 31-point margin of victory, the third-most expected points added for the Sooners offense over the past five years. In one start, Bell has thrown as many touchdowns (four) as Trevor Knight had in his first two starts of the season.
  • Oklahoma’s offense is averaging 7.1 yards per play with Bell as its quarterback, compared to 5.4 yards per play with Knight under center. Bell gave the Sooners a downfield-passing threat. Bell has completed 40 percent of his passes thrown 15 yards or longer, including two touchdowns against Tulsa. That is right on par with the AQ average on such throws (40 percent). In comparison, Knight had completed 1-of-14 passes thrown 15 yards or more with no touchdowns and two interceptions before getting injured in Week 3 against West Virginia.
  • Last week against Michigan State, Tommy Rees completed just three of a career-high 17 passes thrown 15 yards or longer downfield with nine overthrows. Entering that game, Rees had completed 14-of-28 passes of 15 yards or longer and had seven overthrown passes.
  • Oklahoma opponents have completed 4-of-17 passes (23.5 percent) thrown 15 yards or more this season, and the Sooners have allowed the fourth-lowest completion percentage (27 percent) since the start of the 2012 season among AQ schools.
  • Since 2009, Oklahoma lost eight games to teams it had the opportunity to play the following season. Oklahoma won all eight rematches and scored at least 40 points in five of those games.
  • Oklahoma is 1-9 all-time against the Irish. There are only two schools the Sooners have a losing record against who they have played at least 10 times -- Notre Dame (.100 win percentage) and Texas (.425). This is OU’s first trip to South Bend since 1999.
  • Entering the BCS Championship Game last season, the Notre Dame defense allowed just nine total touchdowns -- seven through the air. Through four games this season, they have already allowed 10 touchdowns -- eight of the passing variety.
  • Notre Dame, which finished last season second in the FBS in scoring defense, has had trouble getting off the field on third down this season. On third-and-7 or more, opponents are converting 36.7 percent of the time, which ranks 113th among FBS schools.
  • Notre Dame has won its last 10 home games dating back to 2011. The Irish are 4-1 all-time against the Sooners in South Bend, with Oklahoma's lone win coming in 1956.
  • The Sooners' defense has allowed just 27 total points in three games -- all against FBS teams. The only team to allow fewer than Oklahoma’s 9.0 ppg to FBS opponents this season is Louisville (6.7).
  • With 152 wins at Oklahoma, Bob Stoops is just five behind Barry Switzer for most in program history (157).

Video: Oklahoma at Notre Dame

September, 26, 2013
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ESPN.com's Brandon Chatmon previews Saturday's Big 12 Game of the Week: Oklahoma vs. Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.

Sooners still looking to overcome Irish

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Oklahoma has never shied away from playing college football’s preeminent programs. And against every one of those programs, the Sooners have held their own.

Every program but the one the Sooners will face Saturday.

All-time, Oklahoma owns more wins than losses against Texas since the 1940s; is 45-38-3 against Nebraska; and holds a winning or even mark against the likes of Alabama, Florida State, LSU, Michigan, Ohio State, Oregon, Penn State and Tennessee.

No program, however, has gotten the better of the Sooners like Notre Dame, which is 9-1 in the series.

Not only did the Fighting Irish end Oklahoma’s famed 47-game winning streak in 1957, they were the last to defeat the Sooners before the streak began.

[+] EnlargeBrennan Clay
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesLast season's 30-13 loss was the latest for Oklahoma against Notre Dame in what has been one of the few one-sided rivalries for the Sooners.
And not only did Notre Dame beat Bob Stoops in his first season with the Sooners, the Irish knocked Oklahoma out of the national title conversation for good last season with a 30-13 win in Norman.

Luck of the Irish or something else?

“It’s pretty simple to me,” said legendary Sooners head coach Barry Switzer, who only faced Notre Dame as an offensive coordinator.

“We’ve always caught them at the wrong time.”

Timing has rarely favored the Sooners when it’s come to beating Notre Dame.

Oklahoma faced the Irish four times in the '60s, just between the Bud Wilkinson and Switzer eras. Notre Dame also caught the Sooners twice before the Wilkinson dynasty had fully formed.

Then again, timing hasn’t always been the issue.

Oklahoma was a heavy favorite last season.

And an even heavier favorite in 1957.

The impetus for the series dates back to Wilkinson’s friendship with Notre Dame coach Frank Leahy. Under Leahy, the Irish had won four national championships during the 1940s to solidify their status as college football’s predominant program.

Wilkinson, who took over in 1947, wanted a benchmark for his program. So he scheduled Leahy and the Irish.

In 1952, the budding Sooners played the Irish tough in their first ever meeting, falling 27-21 in South Bend. Oklahoma gave Notre Dame another scare the following year, but lost again 28-21 in Norman.

By then, however, Wilkinson had built the Sooners into a powerhouse on equal footing with the Irish. And that would be the last game Oklahoma would lose to anyone for a long time. In 1956, the Sooners routed Heisman winner Paul Hornung and Notre Dame 40-0 in South Bend on the way to a third national title.

That, however, remains Oklahoma’s lone victory in the series.

The following year, the Sooners ran their winning streak up to 47 games heading into a rematch with the unranked Irish, who had gone 2-8 the previous season.

“We had been winning handily, had a great team,” said Bill Krisher, an All-American guard for the Sooners in 1957. “When you win that many in a row, you can become a little complacent. And we were the team they really wanted to beat, no matter what.”

The Sooners did come out complacent. And in the final minutes, Notre Dame halfback Dick Lynch took a pitch, followed fullback Nick Pietrosante’s block and on fourth-and-goal from the Oklahoma 3-yard line broke a scoreless tie with the game-winning touchdown.

The Irish have been dominating the series ever since.

“They really have been the spoiler for us,” Krisher said. “Those are just the facts.”

The Irish spoiled the Sooners’ season in 1966, as well. In Switzer’s first year as Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator, the Sooners were unbeaten and coming off their first win over Texas in eight years.

But Notre Dame, ranked No. 1, crushed Oklahoma in Norman 38-0 -- a beating the Sooners never recovered from, as they fell into a tailspin the rest of the season.

“We weren’t as talented,” Switzer said. “They were the better team.”

Two years later in South Bend, Notre Dame again dominated the Sooners, who were still in rebuilding mode.

“Most of the time, they’ve had great teams when we’ve played them,” said Ken Mendenhall, an All-American center for the Sooners in the late 1960s. “And when we’ve had great teams, we haven’t played them.”

Indeed, Switzer led the Sooners to national titles in 1974, '75 and '85 but never once faced the Irish as a head coach.

The series was renewed in 1999. But again, Oklahoma was rebuilding in Stoops’ first year. The Sooners actually led in South Bend in the second half, but Notre Dame rallied and won 34-30.

“If they had played two years later, you think Notre Dame would have still won?” Mendenhall said. “Look at Switzer’s great teams. Had Notre Dame been scheduled during those years, OU would have hung half a hundred on them.”

The timing, however, seemed to be right last year. The Sooners, buoyed by a stomping of Texas, soared into their ESPN "College GameDay" showdown in Norman with Notre Dame as better-than-touchdown favorites.

Instead, Notre Dame controlled the line of scrimmage, then once again won the fourth quarter to win the game.

“I thought for sure we’d get that one,” said Krisher, who was in the stands. “But we didn’t. The luck of the Irish beat us again.”

The Sooners have another chance this weekend to conquer the luck of the Irish. And overcome the one program they haven't been able to yet.


On Saturday, Oklahoma will make its first trip to Notre Dame Stadium in 14 years. The Irish won that 1999 contest, 34-30, and have won eight others against the Sooners, as they hold a 9-1 all-time mark in the series. Last season's game turned on several big Notre Dame plays on both sides of the ball, lifting the Irish to a 30-13 road win and an 8-0 record.

What will happen this time around? We turn to Big 12 reporter Brandon Chatmon and Notre Dame reporter Matt Fortuna to preview this weekend's tilt in South Bend, Ind.

Matt: Brandon, Blake Bell earned the noble distinction last year of becoming the first player to rush for a touchdown against Notre Dame. That was eight games into the Irish's season, and this year they have already given up two scores on the ground. Obviously, Bell has a lot more on his plate this time around. And he is making his first career road start, in a stadium where the Irish have won 10 straight games. What can Notre Dame's defense expect to see from Bell on Saturday?

Brandon: The Irish will actually have to account for the possibility they will see No. 10 throw the ball when he's behind center. Notre Dame will have to be prepare for Bell to test its secondary with his arm more than his feet, and he showed he might be a better passer than people think in his first start against Tulsa. Undoubtedly, the windows will shrink against ND but the fact remains that the Irish will have to prepare for Bell, who could test them with his arm and feet, unlike their preparations for Landry Jones, who doesn't put fear into the heart of any defense with his legs. The overriding question in Norman is: how have the Irish changed in the trenches after manhandling OU in Norman last season? Can they do that again?

Matt: The depth of Notre Dame's defensive line took some hits this offseason -- first with the transfer of Eddie Vanderdoes to UCLA, then with the ACL tear suffered by Tony Springmann. Still, the front-line guys remain very dangerous, though the numbers have not exactly depicted that through four games. The Irish's opponents have done a good job of establishing a quick-strike passing game, effectively negating the strengths of the Irish's defensive linemen. A mobile quarterback like Bell will likely present more challenges Saturday, and it us up to the Irish to continue to adjust. The other side is a bit of a mystery as well. Notre Dame has struggled to establish much of a run game so far, but its offensive line has done a tremendous job of keeping Tommy Rees standing up straight through four games, and the offense has again limited the turnovers. Rees and this year's group of running backs just don't pose the kind of threat that Everett Golson and last year's backfield did, so it's hard to imagine the Irish running to set up the deep pass in the same way they were able to last year, when they connected with Chris Brown for a game-changing 50-yard strike in the fourth quarter. They may have more weapons at receiver this year, though. How does Oklahoma's pass coverage match up with TJ Jones, DaVaris Daniels and company?

Brandon: Well, Matt, the Sooners' secondary would like to think it's ready for the challenge against Rees and Notre Dame's receivers. All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin won't be a concern, but the rest of the secondary is somewhat untested. Senior Gabe Lynn is starting at safety, a new position, after spending his first three seasons at nickelback and corner, and he has played well. OU's three new starters, nickelback Julian Wilson, cornerback Zack Sanchez and safety Quentin Hayes, have looked good but haven't yet played a quarterback who will capitalize on their mistakes. That said, the OU secondary, without question, is faster and better in coverage than the 2012 version. Whether it will it hold up mentally in a hostile environment is the unanswered question, so I can't wait to see how it all plays out. Anyway, who do you like this weekend?

Matt: Notre Dame's defense played its best game Saturday, responding to Brian Kelly's mid-week challenge. But I'm just not sure it has completely turned the corner yet. I think the Irish are getting Oklahoma at a more opportune time, as Bell is making just his second start and the Sooners have yet to really be tested. But I have not seen enough so far that makes me believe Notre Dame will be able to handle everything Oklahoma will throw at it offensively. Oklahoma has had one more week to prepare, and I sense a bit of wounded pride coming from the Sooners after the Irish out-muscled them late last year and, eventually, ended up ruining the their BCS-bowl hopes. How do you see this one unfolding?

Brandon: I think everything falls on the shoulders of the quarterbacks. Rees is much more experienced than Bell and I have a feeling that's going to show itself on Saturday as the Irish make Bell uncomfortable in the pocket and force a couple of mental mistakes from the junior during his first road start. OU's defense will hold up and play well, giving the Sooners the chance to remain in the game no matter what happens offensively. But turnovers will be the difference and ND will win the turnover battle and win a close, hard-fought game at home.

ND run game still trying to get going

September, 25, 2013
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Brian Kelly might have inadvertently left Greg Bryant out of the running back rotation when he said Sunday that Notre Dame was rotating four men in the backfield. But the Irish coach said Tuesday that the highly-touted freshmen still factors into the running game moving forward.

"We just got to four. I'd like to get to five," Kelly said. "Greg certainly has a skill set that we just haven't gotten into the game yet. But again, we're trying to get him in on special teams. He's on kickoff right now. We're trying to get him involved in some of the other running teams. But we got to four, we're trying to get to five."

Notre Dame's run-game struggles have been no secret this season, as the Irish have not eclipsed the 100-yard mark as a team since the opener against Temple. Bryant received two of his three carries on the season late in that game, tallying 12 yards. He then rushed once in the first quarter against Purdue for two yards, and received no carries in the Irish's second and fourth games.

The four-star recruit from Delray Beach, Fla., was ESPN's No. 2 running back prospect last season, and he had initially committed to the school he will face this week, Oklahoma.

"It's about scripting five and trying to get five into the game more than anything else," Kelly said of the 5-foot-10, 204-pound Bryant. "We have him scripted into certain plays, it's just really the flow of the game and the circumstances in trying to get him in."

Fellow Florida freshman back Tarean Folston, ESPN's No. 6 player at the position last season, received three straight carries during one drive Saturday against Michigan State, tallying nine yards. He has nine carries on the season for 26 yards, to go with a nine-yard catch.

All five running backs are listed as co-starters on this week's depth chart. Cam McDaniel's 45 carries for 169 yards both lead the team, with much of his work coming in late-game situations with the Irish trying to run the clock out. McDaniel received Notre Dame's final 12 carries Saturday.

George Atkinson III, the front-runner for the No. 1 spot heading into the season, has 24 carries for 121 yards, trailing Amir Carlisle's 33 carries for 157 yards.

Notre Dame is averaging just 114.3 rushing yards per game, 99th in the nation. Its offensive line, however, has surrendered just three sacks on the season.

"There are so many factors to that," Kelly said of the difference in pass- and run-blocking. "They're blocking the five guys that they're supposed to block pretty good. There are times when obviously we need to be better at it. We have to block seven and eight, and we've got to get better at that. But they're doing a great job in pass protection. We need to do a much better job as a unit, as a whole, and that's not just the offensive line, that's everybody, coaches and tight ends included, in blocking the whole play."
NORMAN, Okla. -- Oklahoma believes its defensive front and linebackers have improved after a season full of disappointing production from both groups a year ago.

The Sooners get the chance to prove it on Saturday when they travel to South Bend, Ind., for a rematch with Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish won the battle in the trenches during their 30-13 win over OU in 2012.

"If you go to the University of Oklahoma, you have a sense of pride," defensive lineman Chuka Ndulue said. "Last year, what happened in the fourth quarter, they flat out beat us. It's in the back of our minds, because we're prideful players."

[+] EnlargeChuka Ndulue
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsChuka Ndulue said last year's loss to Notre Dame has stayed with him for a couple of reasons.
After a horrible end to the 2012 season, OU's defense is off to a terrific start this season. The Sooners rank among the top 20 nationally in yards allowed (291.3), rushing yards allowed (100.67), yards per pass attempt (5.06) and third-down conversion percentage (27.3 percent). The defensive line and linebackers have looked faster, more athletic and more aggressive this season, helping OU's defense get off to a quick start.

Yet they haven't been tested like the Irish's offense can test them.

This year's Sooners defense was built with stopping Big 12 spread offenses in mind while remaining versatile enough to adapt to power running attacks if needed. Mike Stoops' vision for his defense will be put to the test by Notre Dame, which can spread defenses with multiple receivers and line up with bigger personnel to employ a power running attack.

So don't be surprised if OU debuts a four-man front for the first time in 2013. The Sooners have relied on a three-man front for the first three games, getting more speed and versatility on the field with linebacker/pass rush specialist Eric Striker. It makes sense for Stoops to bring Ndulue or another Sooners' defensive lineman to get bigger in those situations when Notre Dame decides to try to lean on its power running attack.

"We can get in and out of a three- or four-man front, that's not a problem for us," said Stoops, who spent the offseason talking about his desire for the Sooners' defense to become more versatile in 2013.

No matter what personnel or scheme changes the Sooners utilize, they will need better play from their defensive line and linebackers in the rematch. Better play could start with a different mindset. Asked what he learned from playing the Irish in 2012, Ndulue's answer was revealing.

"Dominate the man in front of you," Ndulue said. "You have to have the mindset that you're going to embarrass them, just be a dawg, be a D-lineman."

OU hopes to have a pack full of dawgs along its defensive front on Saturday, and defensive tackle Jordan Phillips could be in the spotlight. The redshirt sophomore is emerging as a quality defensive lineman and finally fulfilling the promise he showed during his first two years on campus, when teammate Gabe Ikard called him "the next Gerald McCoy". He has been a force in the middle of OU's defense to start the season.

"He's maturing, he knows he can be a very productive and good player," Stoops said. "Taking that next step has become more important to him. He's become a more prideful player who works harder and is becoming more consistent. You can see the light starting to go on, so we certainly hope he continues to work like he has, because he's perfect for what you're trying to do in there."

OU's linebackers entered the season with redemption on their minds after having a minimal impact on the Sooners' defense in 2012. This season, linebackers Corey Nelson (20) and Frank Shannon (19) rank 1-2 in tackles. They'll need to show their versatility and toughness against the Irish, as they'll find themselves in coverage situations on one play, then facing an offensive lineman in the running game on the next.

"I feel like they've showed that [versatility] the first three games," cornerback Aaron Colvin said. "Of course, this will be on a bigger stage, but I feel like they've done a great job all year, and I don't expect anything different this week."

Stats to keep an eye on during OU-ND

September, 23, 2013
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NORMAN, Okla. -- Is Oklahoma a BCS title contender? Or a pretender?

Those questions will start to get answered on Saturday when the Sooners visit South Bend, Ind., to take on Notre Dame.

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsIf Blake Bell can help the Sooners control tempo and execute in the red zone, OU's chance of winning at Notre Dame increases.
Turnovers, third down efficiency and sacks are obvious statistics that point to the eventual winner. But here are five overlooked stats to keep on eye on if the Sooners hope to knock off the Fighting Irish.

Rush attempts: OU will want to establish the running game and be much more balanced than it was during its 30-13 loss to ND in Norman last season. The Sooners passed the ball 52 times and ran 24 times in that defeat.

Why it matters: If OU’s rushing attempts surpass 35, that likely means the Sooners are having success on the ground, particularly on first down. Four- or five-yard gains on first down will increase the chances of second down rushes. One- or two-yard gains will not. If the Sooners can run the ball, their odds of winning increase significantly.

Tackles for loss: The Sooners need to play the majority of the game on Notre Dame’s side of the line of scrimmage. OU had two tackles for loss against the Fighting Irish in 2012 as Notre Dame was never really taken out of its comfort level despite starting a redshirt freshman quarterback in Everett Golson.

Why it matters: Mike Stoops’ defense has been much more aggressive this season with more blitzing and a one-gap scheme along the defensive line. Those moves were made to get more penetration into opponent’s backfield. If OU has five or more tackles for loss on Saturday, that’s a great sign. If not, its defense could be losing the battle in the trenches.

Tackles recorded by Sooners’ linebackers: OU’s leading tacklers after three games are Corey Nelson and Frank Shannon. Last season, the Sooners’ leading tacklers were safeties Tony Jefferson and Javon Harris. Jefferson and cornerback Aaron Colvin combined for 21 tackles in OU’s loss to ND last year, a sign that the defensive line and linebackers were subpar at best.

Why it matters: Nelson and Shannon have played extremely well, along with pass rush specialist Eric Striker. If Nelson and Shannon are making plays sideline-to-sideline and Striker is getting pressure on ND quarterback Tommy Rees, the Sooners defense will have the chance to dominate the game. If OU safeties Gabe Lynn and Quentin Hayes are making the majority of the tackles, that means Nelson and Shannon aren’t stepping up their game against the run or pass.

Red zone efficiency: People often talk about how the Irish came into OU’s house and dominated the Sooners in their last meeting. OU was 1 of 5 in the red zone in that loss, a negative state in a game that was tied 13-13 with just under 12 minutes left in regulation. Clearly, the Sooners weren’t that far away from leaving Memorial Stadium with a win. Worse yet, they were 1 of 3 in goal-to-go situations that evening.

Why it matters: Scoring points and capitalizing on opportunities decide games, particularly games between two quality opponents. The Sooners can’t expect to win if they make consistent trips into the red zone and don’t come away with points like they did in 2012. Blake Bell scored OU’s lone touchdown last season, so the Sooners should be able to come up with ways to use Bell's skill set to make things harder on ND's defense. OU was 4 of 7 in the red zone and 3 of 4 on goal-to-go situations against Tulsa on Sept. 14 -- Bell’s lone start this season -- but they’ll need to be even more efficient against the Irish.

Time of possession: There are several games where time of possession is irrelevant in this era of college football. This game will not be one of them. ND won the time of possession battle in 2012, as the Irish generally controlled the pace of the game.

Why it matters: If OU can control the ball and maintain possession, it'll help take the crowd out of the game, potentially making things a lot easier in Bell’s first collegiate road start. Obviously, if the Sooners can score five touchdowns on drives of two minutes or less to start the game, they’ll take it. But the much more realistic scenario is to try to control the pace of the game by maintaining possession, much like the Irish did a year ago.

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