Improved pass rush could key Irish vs. OU

Improved pass rush could key Irish vs. OU
September 25, 2013, 1:15 pm
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Stephon Tuitt played his best game of the season Saturday against Michigan State, and it was one of the more positive takeaways for Notre Dame heading into this weekend's matchup against Oklahoma.

"He's rounding into the kind of shape we all want him to be in," coach Brian Kelly said. "We're getting that push."

It's a push that was largely absent from Notre Dame's defensive arsenal in its first three games.

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Tuitt recorded a sack against Michigan State and has two on the year, half of Notre Dame's total. More important was the timing of Tuitt's sack -- it came on a drive midway through the fourth quarter, and came right after the Spartans picked up a first down. With Notre Dame clinging to a four-point lead, it was a massive momentum builder -- Michigan State didn't record a first down again its three final possessions.

The Irish also had three quarterback hurries against Michigan State -- Tuitt had one, while Prince Shembo and Jarron Jones chipped in with the other two.

"We're starting to see those guys really start to round into that kind of presence that we saw last year," Kelly said. "It's getting better."

The pass rush will have to be better against Oklahoma, seeing as it could swing momentum in Notre Dame's favor early into Saturday's matchup.

Sooners quarterback Blake Bell will start just his second career game, and it'll be his first on the road. He was sacked once and wasn't otherwise hurried or hit against Tulsa, a game in which he completed 27 of 37 passes for 413 yards and four touchdowns. 

At 6-foot-6, 252 pounds, Bell isn't an easy guy to drop -- and that's not even factoring his mobility. But he's untested as a starter, and rattling him early could make him uncomfortable, perhaps forcing some poor decisions.

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Notre Dame grabbed momentum last year in Norman with Cierre Wood's gashing 62-yard touchdown run, sending an early statement. Notre Dame can send a similar message on Saturday by pressuring Bell and knocking him out of his comfort zone before he can get settled.