The Irish have streaked through the season winning games by slim margins. Oklahoma will present an entirely new set of challenges for the defense while I have crowned them the Kansas St. of 2012. However, that does not mean they should be overlooked.
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have become the 2012 version of the 2011 Kansas St. Wildcats as both have been able to squeak out multiple close wins. When it comes down to it, the Irish have won four games by seven points or less with one of those coming in overtime. Much of the reason Notre Dame has been able to pull out a close victory comes down to the fact that they possess a physical front seven.
Through seven games, the Irish have given up 3.41 yards per carry on 219 attempts. On average they are allowing 106.71 rushing yards per game ranking them 15th nationally. However, the real threat from the front seven comes from the fact that they are not only able to pressure the QB, they are often able to get home and come up with sack. At this point in the season, Notre Dame has recorded 19 sacks for an average of just under three per game.
While many Fighting Irish faithful will sell this as the reason that ND comes away with a win in Norman, OK against the surging Oklahoma Sooners, there is something many will not account for...Landry Jones.
Jones is a fifth year senior and four year starter at the QB. This means that there is not much in terms of coverages that he has not seen multiple times. While Jones has been known to get rattled when the pressure gets to him, that is characteristic of any quarterback. While many expect Notre Dame to get to Jones with the stout front seven they possess, there may be on thing being overlooked here...the ability of the Oklahoma receivers.
While Landry is not posting Heisman caliber numbers, he has stepped up his game in the past several weeks due impart to taking the angle away from the defensive ends by stepping into the pocket and finding his check down/hot route. While blitz packages are going to be an integral part of this game for both defenses, the secondary of ND could be left out to dry.
Oklahoma boasts one of the deepest receiving units in the nation with multiple uses for each. For the Fighting Irish to be as successful defensively as they want to be against this balanced offense of the Sooners, the best idea may be to rush four or five defenders. This allows ND to drop up to seven in coverage to account for Kenny Stills, Justin Brown, Jalen Saunders, and Sterling Shepard along with Damien Williams or Trey Millard coming out of the backfield. This will be the counter balance assuming the offensive line for OU continues their progress and is better than they were against the Texas Longhorns.
With the experience and know how that Brown possesses, he is able to recognize where the blitz is coming from and simply sit down in the area vacated by the defender giving Jones an easy target. This season, Brown has 23 catches for 290 yards and two touchdowns to complement Stills' 38 receptions for 476 yards for 4 touchdowns. Stills is a guy that often demands a double team which opens things up for these younger guys to step up.
The Big XII is known for their ability to toss the ball all over the field. In the past two seasons. Notre Dame has not seen an offense that runs parallel to what Oklahoma will throw at them this season. If one this is certain it is that the Irish will get into the backfield. However, it will be in Landry Jones' if the Sooners are able to make them pay for not dropping into coverage.
Here's to hoping we see the Jones' of the past three weeks!