Tahlequah Daily Press

September 27, 2013

No. 22 Irish have owned series with No. 14 Sooners

By TOM COYNE
Associated Press

— SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops says revenge won't be a factor when his 14th-ranked Sooners face No. 22 Notre Dame on Saturday.

Apparently, though, not all his players got the memo. At least a few Sooners say payback for a 30-13 loss last season, when the Irish scored 17 points in the final 6 minutes to turn a close game into a blowout to help Notre Dame get to the BCS title game, will be on their minds when the teams meet.

"I think revenge kind of goes into it," fullback Trey Millard.

"It's kind of just more so showing them that we can play just as good as them," linebacker Corey Nelson said.

It might sound odd to hear the Sooners (3-0), who have had more success in recent years than the Irish (3-1), are the ones talking about having something to prove. Keep in mind, though, Notre Dame has dominated the Sooners, winning nine of the 10 games between two of college football's most successful programs. The Irish have won under almost every circumstance.

The Sooners have lost when both teams finished 5-5 (1961), when the two finished with a combined 18-1-2 record in 1953, when Oklahoma was good at 8-3 and Notre Dame was mediocre at 5-5 (1962) — even when the Sooners had won consecutive national championships and were on an NCAA-record 47-game winning streak (1957).

The only time the Sooners won was during its 1956 national championship season, when Oklahoma traveled to South Bend and beat an Irish team that finished 2-8 by a score of 40-0 in what remains the most lopsided home loss in Notre Dame Stadium history.

Stoops said history will have no bearing on Saturday's game.

"I can't do anything for everybody else. I'd kind of like to win for our team and for us," Stoops said.

The victory last season at Oklahoma did more than make doubters believe in Notre Dame. It gave the Irish confidence.

"On offense, defense and special teams I think that was our best game," cornerback Bennett Jackson said. "It was a huge kick for us."

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said the Irish believe they can do it again.

"They know that they can beat Oklahoma, but they know they're going to have to play mistake free," Kelly said.



Here are five things to watch in the Oklahoma-Notre Dame game on Saturday:

SECOND CHOICES: Tommy Rees, starting for Notre Dame at quarterback because Everett Golson was suspended from school, is completing 56 percent of his passes, has a 138.1 efficiency rating and has passed for at least 300 yards in Notre Dame's first three games. But he struggled with accuracy against Michigan State. Blake Bell, beaten out for the starter's job by Trevor Knight, completed 27 of 37 passes for 413 yards and four touchdowns against Tulsa in his first start. Both teams are hoping for big games from their quarterbacks.



BACKFIELD BY COMMITTEE: Kelly said the Irish have been able to run in spurts, but not consistently enough. After using four running backs last Saturday against Michigan State, Kelly said the Irish could add freshman Greg Bryant to the mix. "We're not where we want to be in terms of running the ball effectively throughout the game," Kelly said. Oklahoma defensive end Charles Tapper said the Sooners want to stop the run first. "If we stop the run then they're going to have to pass the ball. We just have to get a lot of pressure and hope to get sacks," he said.



NICKELS AND DIMES: The Sooners passed for 364 yards last year against a Notre Dame defense that didn't have enough depth to use fifth or sixth defensive backs. They have the depth now and hope it will help against a speedy Oklahoma receiving corps. "I think it can be a huge difference. They have a bunch of skilled guys. Having faster players on the field at that time is definitely going to be a benefit to us," Jackson said.



DEFENSIVE SHIFT: Oklahoma switched to a 3-3-5 defensive alignment this season to better compete against the spread offenses in the Big 12. But Stoops said there was a "good chance" the Sooners would revert to a four-man front against the Irish. "I'm very excited and pleased with our D-line play to this point. I think these guys have done a great job of making plays, being disruptive," Stoops said. "We're giving them more opportunities to be disruptive, so it'll be an important part of this game for sure."



STADIUM ADVANTAGE: Notre Dame's win at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium last season was just Oklahoma's fifth home loss under Stoops. Kelly doesn't have nearly as impressive record with a 16-5 record at Notre Dame Stadium. But the Irish have won 10 straight at home. A victory Saturday would give the Irish their longest streak since winning 19 straight under Lou Holtz from 1987-90.





No. 14 Oklahoma (3-0) at No. 22 Notre Dame (3-1), 3:30 p.m. (NBC)

Line: Oklahoma 3 1/2.

Series record: Notre Dame leads 9-1.

WHAT'S AT STAKE

Another loss would put Notre Dame's hopes of reaching a second straight title game to rest and put reaching the BCS in peril. Oklahoma can avenge last season's 30-13 loss in Norman to the Irish.



KEY MATCHUP

Oklahoma offensive line vs. Notre Dame defensive line. The Irish front, anchored by NG Louis Nix, played a key role in holding the Sooners to 15 yards rushing last season, the seventh lowest total in Sooners' history. The biggest change on the Oklahoma line is that Tyrus Thompson is the starting left tackle instead of Lane Johnson, the fourth overall pick by Philadelphia in the NFL draft last spring. For the Irish, DE Sheldon Day has replaced Kapron Lewis-Moore.



PLAYERS TO WATCH

Oklahoma: QB Blake Bell last season scored the first rushing touchdown of the season against Notre Dame in the eighth game for the Fighting Irish. The Sooners are hoping to get more production from him Saturday. He passed for 413 yards and four touchdowns in a 51-20 win over Tulsa last game, his first career start.

Notre Dame: QB Tommy Rees. Notre Dame opponents thus far this season have been putting more defenders near the line of scrimmage, focusing on stopping the run and challenging the Irish to beat them with the pass. The Irish have averaged 89.7 yards rushing the past three games, but Rees has passed for more than 300 yards in two of those games.



FACTS & FIGURES

Notre Dame is 28-4-1 all-time against current members of the Big 12. The last loss came to Texas in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 1, 1970 — Notre Dame's first bowl appearance in 45 years and second in school history. ... The Sooners are 16-4 coming off bye weeks under coach Bob Stoops. ... Oklahoma has won eight straight regular-season games since losing to Notre Dame. ... The Kelly Cares Foundation, Kelly's charity, is encouraging fans to wear green to the game on Saturday. Kelly says the Irish will not be wearing green jerseys, which the Irish have done in years past in big games.