Oklahoma Sooners: Zeke Motta

ND defense preps for toughest task yet

October, 26, 2012
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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."

Sooners schedule preview: Notre Dame 

July, 24, 2012
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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.
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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