Oklahoma Sooners: Tyler Eifert

The nation will be watching when No. 8 Oklahoma hosts No. 5 Notre Dame at 7 p.m. CT Saturday at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Here are storylines to keep an eye on:

1. Can the Sooners run the football?
Notre Dame’s run defense provides a challenge the Sooners have not seen this season. Opponents average 3.4 rushing yards per carry and the Irish have not allowed a rushing touchdown through seven games including wins over Michigan, Michigan State and Stanford, teams known for their ability to run the ball.
SoonerNation's Jake Trotter and ESPN.com Notre Dame football writer Matt Fortuna answer questions about No. 8 Oklahoma's matchup with No. 5 Notre Dame this weekend:

1. Who is under greater pressure to win?

Jake Trotter: There's a ton of pressure on Notre Dame to win. Outside of the Brady Quinn years, the Irish haven’t really been a factor in the national title picture in almost 25 years. This is their chance. But there might be even more pressure on the Sooners. The game is at home, and Oklahoma has a reasonably legitimate shot at getting to the national title if it can get past this game. The fan base is getting antsy. Another 10-2 or 9-3 season will only augment that.

Matt Fortuna: Weird as it may sound, I think Notre Dame is playing with house money at this point. The Irish have seven wins already -- which no one saw happening -- and have games left against Pitt, Boston College and Wake Forest. Ergo, they are likely at least a 10-win, BCS-bowl-bound team right now. Steal one in Norman, and now we're looking at an 11-0 Notre Dame team going into its regular-season finale at USC.

2. Can OU run the ball on Notre Dame?

Trotter: The Sooners have been running the ball well since inserting junior college transfer Damien Williams into the starting lineup. If they’re able to run the ball on Notre Dame, too, the game is basically over. More likely it’ll be tough sledding against a front seven loaded with future pros. But if Williams and fullback Trey Millard can keep the Irish honest as threats to run, that should take enough pressure off quarterback Landry Jones and the passing game.

Fortuna: If the Sooners can run the ball, the Irish can kiss their upset hopes goodbye. But Notre Dame has been outstanding against the run and has not allowed a rushing touchdown all season (nine straight games dating back to last season). Oklahoma needs to establish a ground threat early to open things up for Landry Jones and the passing game, which is where the Sooners have the biggest advantage.

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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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