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Can Irish force Sooners offense to be one-dimensional?

Sep 25, 2013, 4:34 PM EDT

Irish Sooners

Coming off a game where quarterback Blake Bell completed over 70 percent of his passes, threw for over 400 yards and four touchdowns, it might feel counterintuitive to say that Notre Dame’s best chance to beat the Sooners will come from forcing Oklahoma to pass more. But after controlling the line of scrimmage last year with a dominant performance up front, the Irish would be wise to try and do the same thing a season later.

Trying and doing are two different things. Bob Stoops has recommitted to running the football and the early season returns are impressive. While Notre Dame enters Saturday with the 100th ranked rushing attack, the Sooners are running for a robust 270 yards per game, averaging 5.4 yards per carry. Yet they understand that they’re in for a challenge far greater than what they’ve seen in their first three games.

“It’s no disrespect to anybody that we’ve played up to this point because they are good and you have to prepare every week … but this will be the best defensive line that we’ve faced by far and possibly the best we’ll see all year,” OU offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh told the Oklahoman. “You look at their defensive line across the board and there’s not a weak guy, and that doesn’t happen very often in college football.”

Part of Stoops offseason plans revolved around fixing the offensive line. Gone are Bruce Kittle and James Patton, the two coaches most responsible for the offensive line. Bedenbaugh was brought in from West Virginia to rebuild the Sooners front. He also had experience working with Mike Stoops at Arizona, where he served as co-offensive coordinator, offensive line coach and ground game coordinator during his time in Tuscon.

After not having a carry longer than seven yards last season against the Irish, the Sooners are hoping to take their big play run game with them to South Bend. As Tim Prister of Irish Illustrated pointed out today, “big chunk” runs (as Brian Kelly calls them) have been a specialty for Oklahoma’s talented backfield.

Although the sample size is small and against a struggling Louisiana-Monroe, a star-depleted West Virginia, and a taken-a-step-back Tulsa, Oklahoma is biting off huge chunks of real estate this season.

The Sooners have an incredible 27 runs of 10 yards or more through three games. Seven of those double-digit runs have been by freshman quarterback Trevor Knight, who no longer is in the starting lineup. But there are plenty of others who can carry the load, including Bell with four of his own double-digit-yardage runs.

Brennan Clay, Damien Williams, Roy Finch and Keith Ford all have contributed to the explosive ground game that ranks 16th nationally (271.7 yards per game). Against West Virginia alone, Clay had runs of 33, 34, 26 and 32 yards. Finch had a 21-yarder against ULM and a 48-yarder against Tulsa. Williams, who missed the Tulsa game for disciplinary reasons, had four double-digit-yardage runs against West Virginia. Ford had a 23-yarder against Tulsa.

(An aside: It’s interesting that one of the most dangerous running quarterbacks of the past few years is now starting in Blake Bell, but Trevor Knight is the quarterback that’s had the most success on the ground.)

The Sooners know they’ve got their hands full up front, especially at the point of attack where Louis Nix will need to be active on Saturday. His match-up with Oklahoma center Gabe Ikard, a preseason All-American in his own right, should be one of the biggest X factors of the game.

“He’s the best in the country, especially at controlling the line of scrimmage, making plays and being active for his size,” Ikard told the Oklahoman, when talking about Notre Dame’s nose tackle. “I’m very excited to be able to play against someone like him.”

The battle won’t just be between those two, but a veteran offensive line taking on an Irish front that played better last weekend and expects Sheldon Day back on Saturday. If the Irish can control the line of scrimmage, then they’ll need to continue to tackle better in space, rallying to the football and preventing the Sooners’ personnel from getting loose in space.

“We have to minimize the big-chunk plays,” Kelly said on Tuesday. “That’s one of our goals each and every week, minimizing those big-chunk plays. We were able to do that last year. We’re going to do it this year if we want to win the football game.”


For more from Irish Illustrated, check out the entire article below: 

Chunks could be chink in Notre Dame’s armor
No. 14-ranked Oklahoma has ability to take large gashes out of Notre Dame’s defense.
  1. dickasman - Sep 25, 2013 at 4:41 PM

    Maybe but prolly not. More like will OU stop OU much like MSU stopped MSU? Just my opinion. I’m a sexpert not football expert.

  2. 808raiderinparadise - Sep 25, 2013 at 5:03 PM

    Don’t see ND’s D-line as much of the threat it was supposed to be.

    Tuitt gained wayyyyyyy toooo much weight and lost edge rush speed, more of a bulldozer pass rusher now.

    Nix has been good, but not as great as I expected.

    I think the poor LBer pass coverage has limited the type of pressures the d-line can produce.

    All things considered there are great talents on the D, but need to see the execution.

    ND has played all converted QB’s, dynamic guys and have struggled.

  3. NotreDan - Sep 25, 2013 at 5:28 PM

    I think Nix will handle the middle. I think a bigger question, or better strategy, would be to find out how to get early pressure on the QB, and then be able to load the box.

    • dickasman - Sep 25, 2013 at 5:54 PM

      Speaking of “loading the box”, that’s my call to chime in here. Thanks for the great intro Daniel son, appreciate ya. Anywho, What about our QB? Will he or won’t he have any turnovers? How many? Will we be able to shove McDaniel down their throats? Will we be successful in doing so? Will Rees overthrow or underthrow open receivers? Will we get the ball to Niklas more? Will we see Zaire???

    • dickasman - Sep 25, 2013 at 5:55 PM

      Dan just one little thing. I’d prefer “filling the box” next time please. More Zexier, know what I mean and I think you do. Thank you.

  4. scottatnd - Sep 25, 2013 at 5:39 PM

    Very simple Dan. We rush 6 and drop 8 into coverage.

    • dickasman - Sep 25, 2013 at 5:56 PM

      As oppose to dropping a deuce?

    • don74 - Sep 25, 2013 at 6:33 PM

      think our 14 can stop their 11?

      • nudeman - Sep 25, 2013 at 7:09 PM

        actually no, I don’t

      • dickasman - Sep 25, 2013 at 10:13 PM

        Lol oh where art thou alwayspositive?

      • alwayspositive11 - Sep 25, 2013 at 11:00 PM

        I’m here. Just taking it all in. By the way, that means I’m taking in all the thoughts about this week’s game. I just thought I’d cut you off at the pass before you throw in a raunchy comeback, dick. Stay gentlemanly.

  5. seadomer - Sep 25, 2013 at 5:42 PM

    Don’t worry.
    1. Not a night game.
    2. Players not wearing green
    3. I’ll eat some red meat and ice-cream for lunch.

    • dickasman - Sep 25, 2013 at 5:49 PM

      4. Fart…diarrhea!!!

      • dickasman - Sep 25, 2013 at 5:58 PM

        5. Burp, sex, fat line, red bull vodka, call to dealer

  6. Seamus - Sep 25, 2013 at 6:41 PM

    dickasman – you left out:
    6. get zooted
    7. pass out
    8. fester in own filth
    9. regain consciousness after game
    10. watch highlights
    11. babble incoherently about how great or terrible the game was based on highlights shown.

    • dickasman - Sep 25, 2013 at 10:14 PM

      Hahahahaha, hott! I thought that was given

  7. cpfirish - Sep 26, 2013 at 10:48 AM

    No way that we stop OU’s offense. If anything they will shut our offense down!! At this point I think Zaire needs to start playing. Who cares if he makes a few mistakes. At least we will be able to score points with him.! C’mon Kelly get it together and get off Tommy’s nuts!

    • viktory2013 - Sep 26, 2013 at 6:20 PM

      CPF Irish; Absolutely! Couldn’t agree more. I saw him play in the Coliseum against SC in 2010 and can tell you he’s exactly the same now; no improvement whatsoever. And the team played exactly the same back then…dull, uninspired. The team I saw last year under Golson on was polar opposite. Crazy, tough, fearless. At least Zaire would bring some enthusiasm to the offense. And for those Rees apologists claiming a “blustery” day as an excuse for 20 in completions, saw Joe Theismann pass for 526 yards at the same venue in an absolute deluge, and Joe Montana come back from a 34-12 deficit in an ice storm. Rees has no business quarterbacking a major program. He belongs at Chico St. or Idaho

  8. alsatiannd - Sep 26, 2013 at 1:08 PM

    The last three years with Te’o, our underneath coverage was exceptional. Teams learned awful fast that underneath screens were not an option since Te’o ate them for breakfast. The only big screen against us that I can remember was Pitt last year. (I blacked out during the Alabama game, so not sure about that one).

    This year underneath is a major weakness and teams know it. Oklahoma blew up Tulsa with underneath plays for big yards: ridiculous quick releases for 5-10 yard passes that turned into 20+ yard gains. Sure, just Tulsa, but I think our linebackers are going to be chasing the play all day long. Not a good feeling going into this one.

  9. Hakuna Budi - Sep 26, 2013 at 4:30 PM

    I know this is off topic, but is there any way to ban dickasman from commenting on here? This gives NBC and Keith Arnold a bad name. It’s driving other potential readers and commentors away from this site. His trolling is so out of line and is simply offensive to my alma mater. Keith, come on, you have to have some abilities here. This guy is so out of control, this isn’t YoutTube comments, please (and I hear YouTube is even going to start allowing the blocking of trolls). Seriously. This is getting out of control.

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