FORT WAYNE – Notre Dame understands the challenge it faces today.
The No. 22 Irish (3-1) are in their second Top 25 showdown of the season as they play host to No. 14 Oklahoma (3-1), a team Notre Dame defeated 30-13 last season in Norman, Okla.
Guys recognize the challenge that’s ahead of them with Oklahoma, coach Brian Kelly told reporters Thursday.
Again, we know our opponent. We know their strengths, and we know the things that we have to improve on. I think our guys are very aware of our weaknesses and what we have to improve on to win this football game. But I will say this, they’re confident.
The Irish will see the best group of receivers it has faced this season. The Sooners average 218.7 passing yards and quarterback Blake Bell is coming off a 413-yard, four-touchdown performance in a 51-20 win over Tulsa on Sept. 14.
Sterling Shepard leads Oklahoma’s receivers with 11 receptions for 146 yards with two touchdowns. Jalen Saunders, who had 15 catches for 181 yards against the Irish last year, has 10 catches for 137 yards and a team-high three touchdowns.
Jaz Reynolds, Durron Neal and Lacoltan Bester have combined for 17 catches for 201 yards.
They are very skilled, very fast, explosive, all that – quick, Irish safety Matthias Farley said. They can shake and make you miss, all of that kind of stuff. It is definitely going to be a good challenge for us.
You just know that they are going to have guys in and out, and they are all going to be able to do the job. You have to make sure that you are in good body position. That you are reading your keys right, because when you are going against a group of guys who are very explosive as a unit, you can’t make a mistake.
Notre Dame will not have room for mistakes on offense.
The Sooners are giving up nine points a game and holding teams to 291.3 yards. Opponents are averaging 100.7 rushing yards and 190.7 passing yards.
The Sooners also changed from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-3-5 scheme this season to deal with the spread offenses they face in the Big 12.
Still an extremely talented group of players, and obviously we’re seeing the same group of talented players across the board. But it is a different scheme from last year, Kelly said. You’re dealing with different edge pressures, where in the three-down defense, you’re protecting the edges, and you have guys that are obviously going to be in space that are extremely athletic and coming off the edge.
Notre Dame broke open last year’s game in the final five minutes with Everett Golson and Theo Riddick both running for touchdowns and Kyle Brindza kicking a 46-yard field goal after an interception by Manti Te’o.
Turnovers are a huge deal, third-down conversions each way, stopping them and us getting them, being able to have good balance run and pass, I thought a year ago, those are big deals, Stoops said.
And the fourth quarter, I think last year they made all the plays down the stretch in the last six minutes of the game and that’s what changed the game. It was 13-13 game with six minutes to go, and they made all the plays at the end.