Irish have shot at resume-making win in Oklahoma

Irish have shot at resume-making win in Oklahoma
October 26, 2012, 7:05 pm
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- Ask anybody on Notre Dame, and they'll give you the same line: we're taking it one game at a time, this game is just as big as the rest, etc., etc.

That's the mantra coach Brian Kelly has instilled in the team, keeping any discussions of BCS aspirations as muted as possible. But since Notre Dame won't look at the big picture, here's what it is:

If Notre Dame goes into Norman on Saturday and wins, they'll have a legitimate stake in the national title discussion. Of course, that's much easier said than done.

"It'll just be a great environment, loud crowd, everybody against us," defensive tackle Louis Nix said. "We just gotta prove some people wrong, try to come out with a win."

Notre Dame has only played one true road game this year, a 20-3 win over a Michigan State team that looks much weaker than its No. 10 ranking on Sept. 15. Bob Stoops is 79-4 at Owen Field during his tenure in Norman, a number that sets the odds well against Notre Dame heading into Saturday.

"It's an incredible accomplishment, and obviously, you know, they're a really good football team and they've been a really good football team," linebacker Manti Te'o said. "But we're going to prepare the way we've always been preparing and we're not going to do anything different."

But a recent blueprint does exist for beating Oklahoma in Norman, thanks to No. 3 Kansas State. Collin Klein and K-State beat Oklahoma in Norman 24-19 earlier in the season, partly due to forcing a few Landry Jones mistakes. Irish safety Zeke Motta has seen the film of that game, and noticed something that could work to Notre Dame's advantage.

"Landry Jones has the ability to be a little mobile in the pocket to extend the play if he needs to, he has that athletic ability," Motta prefaced. "But I think looking at the Kansas State game, you see the receivers who are coming off and they're getting jammed up a bit and slowing them down, so taking a little bit of speed off helps."

Taking away those quick passes could allow Notre Dame's pass rush to hit Jones early and knock him out of his comfort zone. Jones has been locked in the last few weeks, largely thanks to only being hit a combined three times in OU's last three games. K-State got to Jones five times, with two sacks and a forced fumble.

"He's gotten into a good rhythm," Notre Dame 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."

If Notre Dame can replicate the pressure K-State put on Jones, they should be able to avoid a shootout. Chances are, if Notre Dame is to win, it's going to be on the backs of their defense.

"You're not going to win those games," Kelly said of high-scoring contests against OU. "So it's going to start on the defensive side of the ball for us and to keep the points down, and then obviously find a way to get some scores. And it's going to be hard on both ends. I think we're going to see two teams that are going to be really pushing hard to get points on the board on both sides."

Keeping Oklahoma's points down has a major advantage for Notre Dame's offense, too. If OU jumps out to a big lead early, Notre Dame may be forced to try to pass their way back into the game -- and that's with a quarterback -- Everett Golson -- who will start just his second career road game.

But if Notre Dame is able to get the ball to Theo Riddick, Cierre Wood and George Atkinson on the ground, the Irish could find a way to set the tempo for the game.

A lot needs to go right for Notre Dame to pull off a win on Saturday, but Notre Dame has already done those things in previous games this year. And a win in Norman would be a signature win for Notre Dame's national title hopes, no matter how much the team downplays that notion.

"At this point every game is a signature game," Te'o said. "Every game is important. We approach every game that way, and I think we've come a long way and I think at this point in time in the season every game is a signature game."