In case you didn’t know: This one is personal for OU fans


It’s fair to say that Oklahoma isn’t looking at this weekend’s game with Notre Dame as just another Saturday on the calendar.

“Probably the most anticipated game here since 2000, when Nebraska came in here ranked No. 1 in the country and we were No. 2,” Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops said. “It was a pretty incredible day.”

That’s what Notre Dame has waiting for them this weekend at Owen Field, where the No. 8 Sooners will welcome the No. 5 Irish, a game that means quite a bit to Oklahoma fans. How much? Well, I’ll admit I was more than a little surprised when reading this article by the Oklahoman’s Barry Tramel, who explained why Oklahoma fans hate Notre Dame.

Blame it on the 1957 Fighting Irish. Terry Brennan’s squad finished the season with three losses, but walked into Norman and blanked No. 2 Oklahoma 7-0, shocking the Sooners after getting pasted by OU 40-0 the year before and ending the Sooners’ 47-game winning streak. From that moment on… well, it hasn’t been pretty.

Do yourself a favor and read the entire article. But here are a few choice snippets from Tramel’s piece on the OU-ND series, a match-up the Irish own with an 8-1 record.

Jack Laffoon says he never voted for Ronald Reagan, not because of politics, but because Reagan portrayed Notre Dame star George Gipp in “Knute Rockne, All American.”

“I still remember my mother crying on that dark fall afternoon in 1957,” said Laffoon, then a Tulsa grade schooler and now a retired Air Force man living in Corinth, Texas. “A bunch of papist hooligans had stolen the game from the mighty Sooners.”

And here’s another choice cut, this one comparing Oklahoma’s loss to Notre Dame in 1957 to the attack on Pearl Harbor.

In fact, between Oct. 13, 1951, and Oct. 11, 1958, OU lost three games. All to Notre Dame.

Call it a hate-hate relationship Sooner fans have with the Golden Domers.

“Hate is a little too strong, but let’s go with I am intensely interested in the Sooners cleaning their clock,” said Richard Luttrell of Richardson, Texas. “I’m a little too young to remember Nov. 16, 1957, but that date was tattooed in my brain by my parents just like Dec. 7, 1941 — another day of infamy.”

Even though he’s ashamed to admit it, this fan hates Notre Dame so badly he even hates Lindsey Nelson.

Irwin still can recite his access to the Sooners in the pre-Internet days of the 1970s.

One or two televised games per season. Fifteen to 30 seconds of highlights each Saturday during the Prudential College Scoreboard Show with Dave Diles. Three lines of type and a box score in the Sunday paper.

“Do you remember what the Notre Dame fans had?” Irwin asked. “A one-hour … replay hosted by Lindsey Nelson every Sunday morning! Aaaarrrrrrrgh!!!!”

Irwin said he’s embarrassed that the jealousy, “born of youth,” continues to color his perception even though he now has virtually unlimited access to Sooner football.

“I still hope the Irish lose every week,” he said.

As you might expect, the players, 18-23-year-old kids like quarterback Landry Jones, might not have the same disdain for a football program that the Sooners haven’t played since he was ten-years old. But that doesn’t mean he’s not excited for the prime-time match-up, where ESPN’s College GameDay will set up shop this weekend.

“We’re excited for this one,” Jones said after beating Kansas on Saturday 52-7. “I’m not going to say we had Notre Dame marked on our calendar, but we’ve been looking forward to it, for sure. It’s a huge game for this program.”

Jones, the lynchpin of the Sooners offense, and one of the most talented quarterbacks in the country, might be best served coming into Saturday with this attitude.

Because if he knew he were playing to avenge Jack Laffoon‘s mother’s tears, that might heap quite a bit of pressure on a college kid.

“The tears were not for the loss of a game alone,” Laffoon said. “The tears were also for the perceived loss of respect our homeplace had suffered.

“The streak brought respect to a state devastated by the Dust Bowl and besmirched by Steinbeck’s portrayal of Okies … for 47 games, we were the kings of the world.

“That was gone, wiped out, never to return and never to be repeated. I had no choice but to instantly despise them and all of their ilk.”

First Tom Joad, and then the Fighting Irish. As we roll forward to Saturday evening’s monumental game, consider this a two-fold reminder. First, Notre Dame fans aren’t the only people who take college football too seriously.

But probably more important: Oklahoma fans really don’t like Notre Dame.

Evaluating VanGorder’s scheme against the option

ANNAPOLIS, MD - SEPTEMBER 19:  Keenan Reynolds #19 of the Navy Midshipmen rushes for his fifth touchdown in the fourth quarter against the East Carolina Pirates during their 45-21 win on September 19, 2015 in Annapolis, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Notre Dame’s ability to slow down Georgia Tech’s vaunted option attack served as one of the high points to the Irish’s early season success. After spending a considerable amount of offseason energy towards attacking the option and learning more, watching the Irish hold the Yellow Jackets in check was a huge victory for Brian VanGorder, Bob Elliott and the rest of Notre Dame’s staff.

But it was only half the battle.

This weekend, Keenan Reynolds and Navy’s veteran offense come to town looking to wreak some havoc on a defense that’s struggled to slow it down. And after getting a look at some of the new tricks the Irish had in store for Paul Johnson, Ken Niumatalolo and his offensive coaches have likely started plotting their counterpunches days in advance.

How did Notre Dame’s defense slow down Georgia Tech? Brian Kelly credited an aggressive game plan and continually changing looks. So while some were quick to wonder whether Notre Dame’s scheme changes were the biggest piece of the puzzle, it’s interesting to see how the Irish’s strategic decisions looked from the perspective of an option expert.

Over at “The Birddog” blog, Michael James utilizes his spread option expertise and takes a look at how the Irish defended Georgia Tech. His conclusion:

Did the Irish finally figure out the magic formula that will kill this gimmick high school offense for good?

Not exactly.

The Irish played a fairly standard 4-3 for a large chunk of the game. James thought Notre Dame’s move to a 3-5-3 was unique, though certainly not the first time anybody’s used that alignment.

But what stood out wasn’t necessarily the Xs and Os, but rather how much better Notre Dame’s personnel reacted to what they were facing.

Again, from the Birddog Blog:

The real story here, and what stood out to me when watching Notre Dame play Georgia Tech, was how much faster the Irish played compared to past years. I don’t mean that they are more athletic, although this is considered to be the best Notre Dame team in years. I mean that they reacted far more quickly to what they saw compared to what they’ve done in the past.

Usually, when a team plays a spread option offense, one of the biggest challenges that defensive coordinators talk about is replicating the offense’s speed and precision. It’s common to hear them say that it takes a series or two to adjust. That was most certainly not the case here.

James referenced our Media Day observations and seemed impressed by the decision to bring in walk-on Rob Regan to captain what’s now known as the SWAG team. And while VanGorder’s reputation as a mad scientist had many Irish fans wondering if the veteran coordinator cooked something up that hadn’t been seen, it was more a trait usually associated with Kelly that seems to have made the biggest difference.

“It wasn’t that the game plan was so amazing (although it was admittedly more complex and aggressive than we’ve seen out of other Notre Dame teams),” James wrote. “It was plain ol’ coachin’ ’em up.

“Notre Dame’s players were individually more prepared for what they’d see. Notre Dame is already extremely talented, but talented and prepared? You can’t adjust for that. That’s more challenging for Navy than any game plan.”

Irish prepared to take on the best Navy team in years


Brian Kelly opens every Tuesday press conference with compliments for an opponent. But this week, it was easy to see that his kind words for Navy were hardly lip service.

Ken Niumatalolo will bring his most veteran—and probably his most talented—group of Midshipmen into Notre Dame Stadium, looking to hand the Irish their first loss in the series since Kelly’s debut season in South Bend.

“Ken Niumatalolo has done an incredible job in developing his program and currently carrying an eight-game winning streak,” Kelly said. “I voted for them in USA Today Top 25 as a top-25 team. I think they’ve earned that. But their defense as well has developed. It’s played the kind of defense that I think a top 25 team plays.”

With nine months of option preparation, Notre Dame needs to feel confident about their efforts against Georgia Tech. Then again, the Midshipmen saw that game plan and likely have a few tricks in store.

As much as the Irish have focused their efforts on stopping Keenan Reynolds and the triple-option, Navy’s much-improved defense is still looking for a way to slow down a team that’s averaged a shade over 48 points a game against them the last four seasons.

Niumatalolo talked about that when asked about slowing down Will Fuller and Notre Dame’s skill players, an offense that’s averaged over 48 points a game during this four-game win streak.

“We’ve got to try our best to keep [Fuller] in front of us, that’s easier said than done,” Niumatalolo said. “We’ve got to play as close as we can without their guys running past us. I’ve been here a long time and we’re still trying to figure out how to do that.”


Navy heads to South Bend unbeaten, defeating former Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco‘s team just two Saturdays ago. And while Diaco raised a few eyebrows when he said Navy would be the team’s toughest test of the year (they already played a ranked Missouri team), the head of the UConn program couldn’t have been more effusive in his praise.

“I have been competing against Navy for some time and this is the best Navy team I have seen for, let’s say the last half-dozen years,” UConn coach Bob Diaco told the New Haven Register. “I could click on footage from three years ago and see a lion’s share of players who are playing right now in the game as freshmen and sophomores. They have a veteran group, a strong group, a talented group and they look like the stiffest competition among our first four opponents.”

As usual, there will be those who look at this game as the breather between Clemson and USC. That won’t be anybody inside The Gug. So as the Irish try to get back to their winning ways in front of a home crowd, a complete team effort is needed.

“I’ll take a win by one,” Kelly said Tuesday. “That would be fine with me.”