Oklahoma Sooners: Tommy Rees

Instant Analysis: OU 35, Notre Dame 21

September, 28, 2013
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.

Did you know? Oklahoma at Notre Dame

September, 27, 2013
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).

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.
Oklahoma faces one of its biggest tests when Notre Dame travels to Norman to take on the Sooners at 7 p.m. CT Saturday at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. SoonerNation reviewed the Irish in their 17-14 win over BYU on Oct. 20 to get a better feel for the test they present. Here are three challenges of facing the Irish which Sooners fans should keep an eye on this weekend:

[+] EnlargeManti Te'o
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesNotre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o is being touted as a Heisman contender.
Dealing with Te’o

Manti Te'o is going to make plays for the Irish on Saturday, it’s just that simple. The key for the Sooners is to limit the overall impact of the Heisman candidate.

Sooners schedule preview: Notre Dame 

July, 24, 2012
October 27, 2012: vs. Notre Dame
2011 record: 8-5 | OU’s all-time against Notre Dame: 1-8

Top returners: QB Tommy Rees, Cierre Wood, TE Tyler Eifert, OG Chris Watt, OT Zack Martin, C Braxston Cave, DT Louis Nix, DE Kapron Lewis-Moore, LB Dan Fox, LB Manti Te’o, LB Prince Shembo, S Zeke Motta

Key losses: RB Jonas Gray, WR Michael Floyd, OG Trevor Robinson, K David Ruffer, DE Ethan Johnson, OLB Darius Fleming, CB Robert Blanton, CB Gary Gray, S Harrison Smith

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Cierre Wood* (1,102 yards)
Passing: Tommy Rees* (2,871 yards)
Receiving: Michael Floyd (1,147 yards)
Tackles: Manti Te’o* (128)
Sacks: Aaron Lynch (5.5)
Interceptions: Robert Blanton, Gary Gray (2)

Three things to watch:

1. Who will be quarterback of the Irish by Oct. 27? Andrew Hendrix seems to be the favorite, but Everett Golson had the best spring game. Then there’s Tommy Rees, who quarterbacked the Irish last season, though struggled and was later arrested in the spring. Notre Dame has weapons offensively, but if the QB position remains a mess, it won’t matter.

2. The Irish should be solid up front defensively, but they are breaking in two new cornerbacks, and have no returning player with more than just one interception. Factor in that third safety Austin Collinsworth is probably out for the season with a shoulder injury, and Notre Dame’s defensive backfield is thin.

3. Notre Dame plays one of the toughest schedules year in, year out, so the Irish won’t be intimidated by Owen Field. For whatever reason, Notre Dame has also had OU’s number over the years, compiling an 8-1 record in the series. The Irish were the last team to beat OU before its 47-game winning streak in the ‘50s, then ended the streak in Norman. Notre Dame also handed Bob Stoops his first loss as OU’s coach. The Sooners have demons to eradicate, and if history is any suggestion, it might not be easy.

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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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