Notre Dame hasnt faced a quarterback this year as good as Landry Jones, who's thrown for 1,644 yards and 12 over Oklahomas six games. But there exists an avenue for beating Jones, one that a few teams have followed over the last four seasons -- including Texas Tech and Kansas State, which became the third and fourth teams to win in Norman during the Bob Stoops era.
Oklahoma has cruised in its last three games, beating Texas Tech, Texas and Kansas by a combined 108 points. In each of those games, OU got out to an early lead and was able to comfortably run its offense against a good defense (Texas Tech) and two fairly bad ones (Texas and KU).
But against Kansas State, Jones and the OU offense didnt get off to a quick start, and had to play from behind for a good chunk of a game the Sooners wound up losing. The same slow-start issues popped up in OUs first game of the season, a 24-7 win over UTEP in which Jones only threw for 222 yards.
NFL scouts have taken notice of Jones performance in those two games, and in turn, one thinks the OU quarterback is nothing more than a mid-round pick.
If he gets hit a couple times, hes done, the scout told NFL.com earlier this month. (via Pro Football Talk). Lots of skill, absolutely -- great size, good arm, accurate, tons of production the last three years. But hes killing himself. ... He shows he can do everything we want him to do, he just hasnt shown he can do it consistently in pressure situations.
Hes great if his team gets a lead early and mixes it up on offense. If they get behind, and hes got to lead them back with a defense pinning their ears back, he struggles.
So theres the blueprint for Notre Dame to stop Jones. Put pressure on him, and try to punch Oklahoma in the mouth early. If Stephon Tuitt gets loose early and Notre Dames running game can grind out points in the first quarter, that could set the tone for the rest of the game. But if Jones is able to get comfortable in the first 15 or 20 minutes, it could be hard to break him out of that groove.
Oklahomas offense isnt all about Jones, though -- the Sooners have a pair of running backs averaging over six yards per carry, and Kenny Stills and Penn State transfer Justin Brown have been more than reliable pass-catchers for Jones.
It's the balance on offense. It's not just Landry Jones. If it's just Landry Jones, then they're not where they are, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. It's their ability to run the football equally as well as throwing the football. It's one of the most balanced offenses in the country in terms of they can play physical, they can throw the ball, and of course Landry Jones has got those weapons that allow him to be so successful. The offense is certainly about Landry Jones, but more importantly it's the balance that they have.
Whether Notre Dame can disrupt that balance early could decide which way Saturdays game goes.