Oklahoma Sooners: Brian Kelly

The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: Notre Dame’s recruiting efforts for 2015 suffered a major setback when ESPN 300 quarterback Blake Barnett decommitted. So where do the Irish turn now at the quarterback spot? Plus, could Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas’ loss be Arkansas’ gain?

ND run game still trying to get going

September, 25, 2013
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."

Fifth-ranked Notre Dame sent a message to the rest of college football with a 30-13 win over No. 8 Oklahoma at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on Saturday night. Here's a closer look at what happened and what it means for both teams.

How the game was won: In the trenches. Notre Dame shut down OU’s run game while rushing for 215 yards of its own. The Fighting Irish offensive and defensive lines manhandled the Sooners as Notre Dame improved to 8-0.

The game was over when: Irish kicker Kyle Brindza hit a 46-yard field goal to give Notre Dame a 23-13 lead with 3:22 remaining. The Irish tacked on a late touchdown to win by 17 points.

Turning point: After OU tied the game at 13 midway through the fourth quarter, the Irish stormed back on their next possession, sparked by a 50-yard reception from Chris Brown. It was a remarkable response to the Sooners. Everett Golson’s 1-yard touchdown run capped the drive and secured the win.

Stat of the game: 0.6. That’s the yards-per-carry average for Oklahoma. The Irish run defense was highly regarded when they arrived in Norman. And they didn’t disappoint, holding OU to 15 yards on 24 carries.

Player of the game: Manti Te’o. The Notre Dame linebacker was all over the field for the Irish. He sealed the victory with his fourth-quarter interception and finished the game with 11 tackles, one sack and one interception. He played like a Heisman candidate, leaving his mark on the game with his aggression and hustle.

Unsung hero of the game: Golson. The redshirt freshman quarterback showed exceptional maturity and savvy. He made plays when they were there, tossed the ball out of bounds when they weren't. He finished 13-of-25 for 177 yards with zero turnovers and added 11 rushes for 64 yards and one touchdown. He didn't play like a first-year player.

What Notre Dame learned: Brian Kelly’s rebuilding job appears to be nearing completion. Programs are built on wins like this. With a road win against the Sooners, Kelly’s team made its case earn a spot in the BCS title game. And, at the very least, Irish fans must be thrilled with the progress of Kelly’s program during his third season in South Bend.

What Oklahoma learned: Winning home games against top-25 opponents isn’t as easy as it seemed under Bob Stoops. After heading into the season undefeated against top-25 teams at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium under Stoops, the Sooners suffered their second loss to a Top-25 opponent this year. No. 3 Kansas State knocked off the Sooners on Sept. 22.

What it means: The Irish are for real. Notre Dame is making a strong case to rise to No. 2 in the BCS standings. With wins over Stanford, Michigan, Michigan State and OU, the Irish have a solid résumé and can make a case for a spot in the BCS title game.

ND defense preps for toughest task yet

October, 26, 2012
Landry JonesAP Photo/Aaron M. SprecherNotre Dame has yet to face anybody like Landry Jones this season.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The closest thing Notre Dame has seen to someone like Landry Jones this season is debatable. The closest thing Jones has seen to Notre Dame?

Allow the fifth-year Oklahoma quarterback to explain the early-season loss to Kansas State.

"It still kind of hurts," Jones said. "You don't ever want a game to slip away from you and you don't ever want to lose that early in the season. Yes, Kansas State is a good team, for sure -- no doubt about that. But it still hurts.

"You still think about it, and you can go, 'What if?' all you want, but that game is behind us now. Yes, it still does hurt, but you have to move on from it, and we are playing ball now."

Notre Dame is hoping to pressure Jones into looking more like the man who turned it over twice in a Sept. 22 home loss to the Wildcats than the one who has responded by throwing for a total of 880 yards in three straight wins.

Jones was hurried twice and sacked twice in his team's lone defeat, and he had a fumble returned for a score. He has not been officially hurried since, absorbing just two sacks and throwing for seven touchdowns with just one pick.

"He's gotten into a good rhythm," Irish coach Brian Kelly said. "He hasn't been disrupted very much. And I think, like most good quarterbacks, if you can get into a good rhythm and you're not disrupted, you're going to be pretty effective. You can see that's been the case."

The Irish secondary has lost two first-teamers for the season and is starting just one player who's been on defense his whole career, but the unit has put together the nation's No. 14 passing defense through its 7-0 start. However, six of Notre Dame's opponents rank outside the top 60 in passing, with Miami the lone outlier at No. 23. (Oklahoma is 26th).

The Hurricanes dropped a pair of would-be touchdown passes on their opening drive versus the Irish and never really threatened after, scoring just three points.

"It's exciting for us, and we know that they're a team that likes to throw the ball, especially try and get the ball over the defensive backs' heads," senior safety Zeke Motta said of Oklahoma. "But I think it's going to be a good challenge for us, and we've seen something similar to that in Miami, so at least we have a little taste and we know kind of what to expect. So it's all in our preparation this week and we're really excited about it."

Jones is not a threat to run, but he is quick to get rid of the ball.

"Pocket presence, his ability to put the ball where he needs to, his accuracy," Motta said, rattling off what he noticed from film. "He's probably the best quarterback we're going to face to date."

Which puts the onus on the nation's No. 2 scoring defense to slow down a machine that averaged 52 points over its past three games.

"I am a lot different now," Jones said of his past three games. "I have been playing a lot better. Obviously, after games like Texas Tech, Texas and last week against Kansas, you are going to have a lot higher confidence, and I think everyone on this team is going to have higher confidence because of the way we have been playing."

Ground game carrying Irish offense

October, 25, 2012
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Brian Kelly came to Notre Dame three years ago with a spread attack predicated upon strong quarterback play. Naturally, it's his rushing game that has the Irish knocking on the door of the national title picture going into Saturday's game at Oklahoma.

"I think as we went through the spring it became pretty apparent to me that the success of our offense was going to be predicated on what we could do up front and running the football," Kelly said. "I think it started to emerge in all of our coaches' minds that it was going to be a runfirst kind of offense and still spread the field, still be able to attack."

Notre Dame more than held its own on the ground the past two weeks in victories over Stanford and BYU, the nation's fourth- and eighth-best rushing defenses, respectively. The Irish carried the ball 44 and 43 times for 150 and 270 yards in those games, and now they are hoping that formula serves them well in their toughest test to date.

"Obviously when you run the ball it's a lot easier on the offense," Theo Riddick said. "You can do a lot of play-action, there's a lot of things you can do when you run the ball well. So obviously that's the key in terms of our success right now and we just want to continue it."

[+] EnlargeGeorge Atkinson III, Theo Riddick
Robin Alam/Icon SMIGeorge Atkinson III (4) celebrates with Theo Riddick after scoring Notre Dame's winning TD against BYU.
A 55-yard run late in the third quarter highlighted Riddick's career-best 143-yard performance Saturday. Kelly said afterward that, despite a 14-7 deficit and an offense struggling to move the ball through the air, his players knew the blueprint would eventually carry them to the win.

The Irish attempted only three passes in the second half against BYU. Against Miami two weeks earlier, Notre Dame turned a 13-3 halftime lead into a 31-point advantage 15 minutes later on the backs of a ground game that ran the ball on 19 of the team's 21 third-quarter plays, amassing 197 yards during that period alone.

Recruited as a running back, moved to slot receiver for the better part of two years and now in a hybrid role for his senior campaign, Riddick leads the Irish in carries (95) and rushing yards (451) this season, while his 20 catches rank second on the team.

"I think it's rare because he was flipped from being a running back to a wide receiver and had to be brought back to where his natural position is," Kelly said of the successful transition. "I don't think it's unusual, because his body type was really more suited for the position. We were in a different place in our program where we needed somebody to get out on the perimeter and give us that play. So his body type is such that he could be a physical player. I think now that he's at that running back position, he is in the right place."

Notre Dame had two 100-yard rushers Saturday for the second time this season, with Cierre Wood breaking the century mark against BYU and Miami and George Atkinson III joining him against the Hurricanes. The versatility presented with a returning 1,000-yard back (Wood), a former slot man (Riddick) and a home run threat (Atkinson) helps keep defenses honest.

That dynamic may never be more important than Saturday night, when the Irish hope to pull the upset and get to 8-0.

"They have a great front four, they stop the run very well," Riddick said of the 5-1 Sooners. "They have real good, big D-tackles, so we have our hands full. But coming into a game it's always 50-50. That's how we look at it. Not to be redundant by any means, but we're looking forward toward this challenge."
For the first time in 46 years, Notre Dame is coming to Oklahoma. The two proud programs will meet for the 10th time in Norman on Oct. 27. Even though the game is still months away, SoonerNation checked in with ESPN.com Notre Dame blogger Matt Fortuna to talk about what figures to be one of OU’s biggest non-conference home games of the Bob Stoops era.

Jake Trotter: Notre Dame plays so many high-profile games. So how big is this game in Norman for the Irish and their fans?

Matt Fortuna: Jake, at this stage of the summer I would say this one is right up at the top with the annual USC game. (Irish fans would like nothing more than to knock a potentially undefeated Trojans team out of the title race in the regular-season finale.) Notre Dame and Oklahoma are two of the 10 winningest programs in college football history. Great traditions, great uniforms and great history between each other. The fact they haven't played each other in so long adds to the intrigue, but the history shouldn't be lost. Those far older than us will recall that the Irish snapped the Sooners' 57-game winning streak in 1957, a streak that began following another loss to Notre Dame, in the 1953 opener. Oklahoma has never beaten Notre Dame at home, but the Sooners' 40-0 win in 1956 marks the biggest home defeat in Irish history.

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame head coach Brian Kelly
AP Photo/Bill FundaroBrian Kelly is 16-10 in two seasons coaching Notre Dame.
Trotter: Other than annual tilts with rivals USC and Michigan, OU will be Notre Dame's biggest road game since when?

Fortuna: I was in the stands for it, but the first one that comes to mind would be the 2007 game at Penn State. Notre Dame crushed its former independent rival a year earlier in South Bend, the schools' first meeting since Penn State joined the Big Ten. The 2007 game, following the Irish's blowout loss to Georgia Tech a week earlier, had a lot riding on it at the time. Jimmy Clausen, then in just his second week of college football, was making his first career start, and the now-infamous Beaver Stadium "White House" made its debut across the entire stadium. The game itself? A bit of a snoozer, so here's hoping the Irish's trip to Norman lives up to the hype.

Trotter: Who will be quarterbacking the Irish on Oct. 27?

Fortuna: Thanks for easing into this one. I have marked Andrew Hendrix as the starter since Brian Kelly said it would be an open competition at the beginning of the spring, but Everett Golson's strong spring game -- coupled with the other three's turnovers -- makes me think more and more that he could be the guy come Week 1. Tommy Rees' experience gives him a shot, but his lack of mobility, last year's turnovers and this spring's arrest will probably make it an uphill battle for him.

Trotter: What has to happen for Notre Dame to have a chance of knocking off the Sooners?

Fortuna: As always, it comes down to limiting the mistakes on the offensive end. And, once again, that comes back to quarterback play. The Irish probably should have won 10 or 11 games last season but shot themselves in the foot so often by giving the ball away. If they can limit the turnovers and get some of their running backs and slot receivers into open space, they will give themselves a chance at pulling the upset. (They also better hope Charlie Weis doesn't share any secrets with the Sooners during their matchup the preceding week.)

Trotter: Where can OU most exploit Notre Dame?

Fortuna: Simply, the secondary. Jamoris Slaughter and Zeke Motta are good safeties, but Notre Dame is breaking in two cornerbacks with no starting experience this season. Could Slaughter play some emergency corner? Sure, but that's less likely now that Austin Collinsworth, the Irish's third safety, is probably out for the year with a shoulder injury. If Notre Dame's talented front seven can't generate enough pressure on Landry Jones, and if Jones plays the way we all think he is capable of playing, that could spell trouble for the Irish.


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