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Game Day: No. 5 Notre Dame vs. No. 8 Oklahoma

Oct 27, 2012, 11:53 AM EDT

Everett Golson Getty Images

It’s finally here. Now the long wait until tonight at 8:00 p.m. EST begins.

Before the Irish and the Sooners take the field (of course, we’ll be here for the live blog), let’s run through a few last minute questions I’m still pondering.

It sounds like Notre Dame will be without George Atkinson. The news started swirling across the internet last night that Atkinson, Notre Dame’s best big play threat, didn’t make the trip because of a nasty case of the flu.

Both he and his brother Josh were last-minute scratches on Coach Kelly’s radio show Thursday night, which added credence to the rumor, and ESPN.com’s Matt Fortuna confirmed via a source that Atkinson didn’t make the team’s flight.

What does Atkinson’s absence mean tonight? Probably nothing from a production point of view on the ground. In Notre Dame’s biggest games, Atkinson has seen the least amount of action. But for those hoping the Irish special teams were going to get out of their funk, well — this certainly doesn’t help.

How will the Irish defense handle Oklahoma’s tempo offense? Notre Dame will face their biggest offensive test of the year this evening against Landry Jones and the Sooners offense. With an impressive running game, an NFL-level passer, and a few nice skill players on the edge, the personnel Oklahoma has isn’t vintage Stoops, but it’s certainly good enough to beat the Irish.

But Notre Dame’s biggest challenge will be matching up with the Sooners’ tempo offense. How the Irish stop Oklahoma when they try to pick up the pace and go no-huddle will be an interesting subplot.

The Irish will need great games from Stephon Tuitt, Louis Nix, and Kapron Lewis-Moore. But just as important, they’ll need Sheldon Day, Tony Springmann, and Kona Schwenke to fill in the gaps seamlessly.

The best way to stop tempo? Get off the field. Notre Dame is getting three-and-outs on an amazing 40-percent of opponent’s drives this season, good for sixth in the country.

How will the Irish defense stack up against the Belldozer? There might not be a cooler / more annoying nickname in college football this year, with Sooners’ back-up quarterback, Blake Bell, a 6-foot-6, 260-pound wrecking ball running Oklahoma’s short-yardage offense.

Bell has yet to throw for a touchdown in his two seasons of spot duty, but he’s run for a staggering 21 touchdowns over the past two seasons, with eight already this year, including four in the 63-21 beating of Texas. With Bell in the game, the Sooners have themselves an oversized Tim Tebow, who runs patiently behind the Sooners’ offensive line in jumbo formations that stress a defense.

Notre Dame will fight power with power, and Bell will be running into the strength of the Notre Dame defense. I expect the Sooners’ to use Bell, but also mix in a jump pass or play-action attempt, hoping to catch the Irish stacked for the run.

Notre Dame might not have one, but the Sooners have a fullback. And junior Trey Millard, a 6-foot-2, 255-pounder, is a good one. Millard’s a versatile guy, running the ball 14 times for 109 yards on the season and also making 13 catches. He’s a guy that’s smooth out of the backfield and also does a great job as a lead blocker.

He’s a valuable piece of the Oklahoma offense, and worth keeping an eye on.

Can Everett Golson make some plays down the field? And can he get Tyler Eifert involved? The recipe seems similar to the one Notre Dame needed against Michigan State. Notre Dame needs to make some plays down the field with their wide receivers, and utilize All-American tight end Tyler Eifert.

Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops will likely try to take the run game away from the Irish, forcing Golson to beat the Sooners with his arm. Against the Spartans, Notre Dame’s wide receivers rose to the challenge, winning their share of one-on-one battles, including John Goodman’s long touchdown grab to kick off the scoring.

The Sooners have a talented secondary, but they aren’t world beaters. The Irish will need to work the field vertically in their passing game, taking shots down the field consistently, and they’ll need to hit on them when they are there, something Golson hasn’t been able to do just yet this year. Golson will also need to find a rhythm with Eifert, with hopes that their touchdown pass against Stanford is a sign of things to come.

The Irish defense can’t let the Sooners get over the top. Make no mistake, Oklahoma won’t drop the deep touchdown passes if the Sooners get behind Notre Dame’s secondary. The Irish got away with a few mental mistakes against Miami when Phillip Dorsett bailed them out with some drops. And Zeke Motta and company won’t have Riley Nelson to thank if they forget a wide out is running behind them.

For Notre Dame’s secondary, this is their biggest test of the year. The young group has held up well so far this season, but they’ll need to play better — and smarter — to do their part in the Irish upset.

Could Vegas actually be right? This gambling line continues to move in the favor of the Sooners, up to as many as 12 points in favor of Oklahoma after opening at 8.5. That means most expect Oklahoma to win, and win comfortably.

On paper, it makes sense. The Irish haven’t looked particularly dominant in winning, and they have an offense that has struggled to do anything against decent teams. But can Notre Dame prove that this year is different? Can Brian Kelly’s team win a game, what tho’ the odds?

It should make for an exciting Saturday evening.

  1. nudeman - Oct 27, 2012 at 11:59 AM

    Why all the worry about getting Tyler Eifert involved? Agree … he’s the best TE in the country. And yes, I understand the benefit of getting the TE involved. But personally, I’d rather see them get someone like Chris Brown, Davonte Neal or Davaris involved.

    Would it kill us to make a big downfield play now and then?

    • bernhtp - Oct 27, 2012 at 12:29 PM

      Eifert gets up and catches balls – away from defenders – that other receivers don’t. We haven’t seen Brown or Neal do anything, and Daniels last touch was with the ball bouncing off of his face into the hands of a BYU DB. Make OU double Eifert and then others will open options – run and pass – open up.

      I am in Norman. Ugh.

    • ibleedirish - Oct 27, 2012 at 5:15 PM

      I’m never sure why you get so much flak on this board, you are dead on most of the time. Forcing the ball to Eifert in double coverage? We’ve seen that show before. Its not a huge mental leap to realize the more we get the ball to Daniels/Jones/Neal/Brown (can we please stop wasting plays with Goodman/Smith/Koyack on the field?), the more opportunities Eifert will have. Forcing it to Eifert makes for a one-dimensional offense that is easy to defend. Lets move on from that.

      It has been confusing to me that with Eifert doubled, and a blitzing corner or linebacker that there haven’t been more obvious openings in the passing game.

  2. NotreDan - Oct 27, 2012 at 12:17 PM

    My gut tells me our Irish will just find a way to win. Not predicting a score, but predicting a win.

  3. jmfinsd - Oct 27, 2012 at 1:34 PM

    ESPN poll:

    Which national title contender is most likely to lose on Saturday?
    4% No. 1 Alabama (vs No. 11 Mississippi State)
    12% No. 2 Florida (vs No. 10 Georgia)
    10% No. 3 Kansas St (vs No. 14 Texas Tech)
    74% No. 5 Notre Dame (at No. 8 Oklahoma)
    This just prepares me for “Over-Rated” claims by everyone even if ND loses a close game to the #8 team.

    There are things to complicate the prediction of a winner – .
    OU scores alot – ND has shut down teams that scored alot in their previous games
    OU has a stout rushing attack – look at NDs defensive rushing stats
    OU defense will cause Golson problems – not if NDs O-line opens up the running game as expected
    etc., etc., etc.

    2 questions for me: (1) Can ND win field position game (can we get a Turk sighting)? and (2) Can ND secondary prevent big plays on those few occasions when front 7 can’t disrupt Jones? What’s troubling me is that I don’t know the answers. I guess that why they play the game. I just don’t see OU offense putting up 30+ points like soooo many are predicting. You should read the Sooner board. There’s a difference between confidence in your team and disrespect for the opposition.

    Close game. 5-8 point margin. Just don’t know who wins, but hoping Irish.

    GO IRISH!! BEAT OU!!

    • papadec - Oct 27, 2012 at 2:28 PM

      It seems to me that every year there is an “upset weekend”. This weekend may very well be this year’s. I can see, or dream, that ND, Georgia, Tex Tech, and (dare I say?) Miss St could come up big, along with UWash & Wash St just to mention a few others. Feel free to throw Kansas & Tenn into those upset possibilities. GO IRISH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. jmfinsd - Oct 27, 2012 at 1:38 PM

    With GAIII at home, do we get to see Davonte Neal return kickoffs?

    • bernhtp - Oct 27, 2012 at 2:11 PM

      Cam McDaniel is the next in line at both positions.

      • nudeman - Oct 27, 2012 at 3:22 PM

        Yeah, I don’t think Neal is looked at as a RB. Not sure the guy is even 185 lbs.
        Slot guy

      • halfwhitey - Oct 27, 2012 at 3:35 PM

        Cam McDaniel about 3 hours ago on twitter:

        BLESSING = opportunity + proper preparation.

  5. ndnphx - Oct 27, 2012 at 1:50 PM

    I think our offense goes as far tonight as the O-Line will take it. We’ve got enough playmakers, if they just get a little room to operate…

  6. crturner84 - Oct 27, 2012 at 2:31 PM

    ND got this. I really don’t think BK has even shown half the playbook he has with Golson. Go Irish!

  7. 1notredamefan - Oct 27, 2012 at 3:31 PM

    [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MQG2UnUhxcY&w=560&h=315%5D

    • papadec - Oct 27, 2012 at 4:06 PM

      My goosebumps have goosebumps! Thanks 1notre.

  8. paulhargis53 - Oct 27, 2012 at 4:07 PM

    Oklahoma wins this in a blowout,48-23.

    Nah, you guys are right and the rest of the world is wrong. Uff.

    • jmfinsd - Oct 27, 2012 at 4:37 PM

      We’re optimistic fans. And we know a little about our team. Like our team, we don’t take what the rest of the world is saying as gospel. How many of the “rest of the world” thought we’d be 7-0? We may be overly optimistic, but we’re not crazy, like predicting OU will score 48 on this ND Defense. No Way. Not gonna happen.

    • irish4006 - Oct 27, 2012 at 7:54 PM

      Well, even the most optimistic fan didn’t have a 12-0 projection, consensus was 10-2 would be a very good season and something that was possible. I felt that we matched up well against UM, MSU, Stanford and were probably slightly better than them; 3 games that the so called “rest of the world” thought ND would lose. Give us some credit, we know our team. OU is the toughest game on our schedule and they are playing really well. I think they are legitimate favorites, but (a big one), if we can run the ball today, we have a very very good chance. My prediction, if ND rushes for more than 160, we will win this game.

    • irish4006 - Oct 27, 2012 at 11:29 PM

      Are you still around hargiboy?

  9. dudeacow - Oct 27, 2012 at 7:09 PM

    In my dream ND won 35-17, so we’ll see how that plays out.
    Oh, and one other thing-
    MCDANIEL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Okay, I’m good.

  10. dickasman - Oct 27, 2012 at 7:50 PM

    Golson has to grow up here, meaning he has to make some completions in one on one situations

    • irish4006 - Oct 27, 2012 at 7:56 PM

      +1

      He has the arm to do it, he just needs to trust his receiver/TE to make the play.

  11. badgerbuck - Oct 27, 2012 at 8:02 PM

    As I said all week 41-17 Oklahoma

  12. badgerbuck - Oct 27, 2012 at 8:16 PM

    They are just killing that Irish d on the first drive they may get over1000 yards tonight

    • floridairish - Oct 28, 2012 at 9:57 AM

      Hope you slept okay. I did!

  13. irishking - Oct 27, 2012 at 9:40 PM

    ND looked pretty good during the 1st half and leads 10-6. If OU intends to win this ball game, it better put higher octane in its passing attack.

    Golson needs to develop a field of vision. He simply fails to see wide open receivers.

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