|Notre Dame will look to create pressure against Oklahoma QB Landry Jones on Saturday like it did in last week's win over BYU. (US Presswire)|
Kickoff: Saturday, 8 p.m. ET (ABC)
Spread: Oklahoma by 10
Watchability: High. The Sooners have set a standard under coach Bob Stoops that Irish coach Brian Kelly is trying to emulate in his efforts to resurrect the Notre Dame program. During Stoops' tenure, Oklahoma is 14-1 against ranked teams in Norman and 3-0 against top 10 opponents. It's been more than five years since Notre Dame has been involved in a top 10 matchup. Though both teams remain in contention for a spot in the BCS National Title Game, the losing team on Saturday has little chance of playing in Miami on Jan. 7.
Shining stars: Notre Dame -- LB Manti Te'o. The Butkus and Lombardi Award nominee has forced six turnovers (four INTs and two fumble recoveries) through seven games – only one player in FBS has created more. Earlier this week, Sooners All-American C Gabe Ikard marveled at Te'o's field presence while watching film on the Irish. With Te'o's speed and instincts, Ikard said it seems like the Irish middle linebacker never gets blocked. If Te'o can create a short field for the Notre Dame offense by forcing turnovers, the Irish's chances of winning will substantially increase. Oklahoma -- QB Landry Jones . Notre Dame ranks eighth in FBS in pass efficiency defense, but has yet to face a quarterback the caliber of Jones. Stoops' decision to move electrifying wide receiver Kenny Stills to the outside and Jalen Saunders to the slot has opened up the offense. Jones has been precise with his reads and hasn't forced throws over his past three contests. During the stretch the senior quarterback has eight TDs and one INT, while averaging 293.3 passing yards per game. Irish DLs Stephon Tuitt and Kapron Lewis-Moore will look to force errant throws from Jones by creating relentless pressure.
Who could steal the show: Notre Dame -- QB Everett Golson. The redshirt freshman quarterback has passed the requisite concussion tests and has been cleared by team doctors to play vs. the Sooners. Golson will start on Saturday night, Kelly said. In film review this week, expect Golson to focus intently on cut-ups of Kansas State QB Collin Klein from the Wildcats upset over Oklahoma. Klein didn't have a superlative performance against the Sooners, but remained patient, threw on the run effectively and took off when needed. The Heisman leader rushed for 79 yards and a touchdown in the early-season win. Golson has many of the same attributes with his ability to keep plays alive with his legs. Oklahoma -- RB Damien Williams. The Sooners offense has been unstoppable since Williams broke into the starting lineup three weeks ago. Since the defeat to the Wildcats, Oklahoma has outscored opponents 156-48. Two of the three teams were ranked in this week's BCS Top 25. Williams has home-run capability and can shift into a high gear once he gets in the open-field, as his 95-yard touchdown against Texas illustrated. In a 41-3 win over Miami (Fla.) on Oct. 6, the Irish used a Cover-2 shell to prevent the Hurricanes from capitalizing on deep shots downfield. If Notre Dame does the same on Saturday night, Williams could have space to run.
You going? Ranking the road trip: The atmosphere could be electric in Norman for the first matchup between the storied programs since 1999. Oklahoma has only won once in nine career meetings vs. Notre Dame. The Sooner faithful would love to hand the Irish their first defeat of the season.
Magic number for Notre Dame: 0. The Irish haven't allowed a rushing touchdown since a win last November against Boston College. Oklahoma 254-pound quarterback Blake Bell scored four touchdowns against the Longhorns in a power formation the Sooners refer to as the “Belldozer set.” Bell also lost a critical fumble near the goal line in a loss to Kansas State. On Oct. 13, Notre Dame escaped with a win over Stanford on a goal-line stand in overtime. Oklahoma ranks first in FBS in red zone offense; Notre Dame is second on defense in red zone situations.
Magic number for Oklahoma: 3. The Sooners committed three back-breaking turnovers in the loss to Kansas State, including a Jones fumble in their own end that was returned for a 1-yard touchdown. Notre Dame is tied for 11th in FBS in turnover margin, while the Sooners are 43rd.
The game comes down to: Explosive plays. The Sooners have an astounding 31 explosive gains (19 runs of 10 or more yards, 12 passes of 20 or more) in their last three games. In the loss to Kansas State, Jones only had three completions of at least 20 yards. The Irish, meanwhile, had six runs of 15 yards or more in last week's win over BYU. Notre Dame has nearly rushed for 800 yards combined in its last three games. The Irish must keep the ball away from the Sooners with their three-headed ground attack of RBs Cierre Wood , Theo Riddick and George Atkinson III.
Prediction: Oklahoma 27, Notre Dame 20
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