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SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame is in uncharted territory as of Saturday. The Fighting Irish (7-0) will not only be making their first trip to play Oklahoma (8 p.m. EDT on ABC) in 13 years, but they'll also be facing an offense like they haven't seen this season.
“If you look at Oklahoma in the last few weeks, just putting up so many points, you're not going to win those games,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “So it's going to start on the defensive side of the ball for us and to keep the points down.”
Yeah, that is what Texas had in mind too. Right up until the eighth-ranked Sooners dropped 63 points on them two weeks ago.
“If you look at their team, quarterback driven (Landry) Jones is a very accomplished player,” Kelly said. “He has great weapons around him. The wide receiver crew is as deep as anybody that we've gone against (and they) certainly (have a) very good running game, physical.”
Well, that about covers it.
The problem in defending Oklahoma is that you don't what to focus on more. Is it the run game (34th in the nation) or the passing attack (26th)? No matter what the Sooners try to do offensively, it seems to work.
“There's a confidence level,” Kelly said. “You can see it in the receivers, the quarterback, and Landry has been very effective and efficient with the football (and) made big plays. They're balancing their running game in there.”
Something will have to give because as potent as the Oklahoma production has been (fifth in the nation at nearly 45 points per game), that is also how good the Fighting Irish defense has played (second at fewer than 10 points allowed each game).
Kelly believes the Sooner defense is every bit as good as their offense, so fans expecting a high-scoring shoot-'em-out affair will probably be disappointed.
“I think it starts with finding a way to get some scores,” Kelly said of his team's chances for success. “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.”
Notre Dame has built its perfect record – and a fierce reputation – on the stellar play of its defensive front, while its young secondary has played admirably, if not always spectacularly. The safeties and cornerbacks haven't been burnt a lot by receivers, but it's happened from time to time, which Oklahoma is sure to try to exploit.
“Miami also is a team that can get the ball over your head,” Kelly said, “and we saw they were able to do that on a couple of occasions. (Miami) didn't execute. So we're quite aware of (Oklahoma's) ability to get vertical, and we take great pride in our ability to minimize those big plays. We're going to have to do that again on Saturday if we expect to win. If they can throw the ball over our head, it puts us in a very difficult situation defensively.”