Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma
When: 8 p.m. Saturday | TV: ABC | Radio: 1190 AM, 92.3 FM, 107.3 FM
SOUTH BEND — The foundation for No. 5 Notre Dame’s 7-0 record has been laid by the defense.
The Irish have the nation’s second-best scoring defense, giving up 9.4 points per game, didn’t give up offensive touchdowns in wins over Stanford, Michigan and Michigan State, and are holding teams to 280.7 yards and an average of 106.7 rushing and 174 passing yards. That puts Notre Dame at No. 6 in total defense, No. 15 in rushing defense and No. 14 in passing defense.
But Saturday, the Irish’s defense will face its most difficult challenge of the season when it travels to play No. 8 Oklahoma (5-1).
The Sooners are fifth in the nation in scoring, averaging 44.7 points, have the No. 17 offense, averaging 488.2 yards, and have outscored their last three opponents (Texas Tech, Texas and Kansas) by a combined 156-48.
“Their offense has evolved since the first week against UTEP to where they are today,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “I’m sure they’re calling the same plays. There’s a similar routine in terms of what they’re doing, but there’s a lot more confidence in the group.”
Oklahoma’s offensive confidence stems from its quarterbacks.
Starter Landry Jones has completed 62.7 percent of his passes (133 for 212) and for 1,644 yards with 12 touchdowns and three interceptions. And when he gets the Sooners into the red zone, they have been potent.
Oklahoma has scored on 32 of its 33 red-zone trips, getting touchdowns 25 times and field goals seven times. The Sooners’ efficiency inside the opponents’ 20 comes largely from backup quarterback Blake Bell.
The 6-foot-6, 254-pound sophomore replaces Jones in short-yard situations in a package called “Belldozer.” And he has bulldozed his way to eight rushing touchdowns this season after scoring 13 last year.
As effective as Bell has been, he will be trying to score against an Irish defense that hasn’t given up a rushing touchdown this season and has limited opponents to four touchdowns and six field goals in 19 red-zone trips.
Linebacker Manti Te’o has a simple plan when it comes to stopping Bell.
“You just hit him,” Te’o said. “There is nothing different. At the end of the day, you just bring him to the ground.”
Even if Te’o’s plan works, Notre Dame has more to worry about more than what Oklahoma does with Bell.
The Sooners can also gain a lot of yards on single plays. Oklahoma has had 28 plays of 20 yards or more this season with eight of them going for more than 40 yards.
“I think that it is a good thing that we’ve seen that ability to throw the ball deep like in the Miami game, so we’ve already had a little taste,” safety Zeke Motta said. “We know what to expect a little bit. Come game time, it’s going to be exciting.”