A Notre Dame fan gives his thoughts on the Irish, the match-ups and the final score.
You can checkout my side of the Q&A over at One Foot Down
It's always fun to across the field and get the perspective on a football game from out opponents, especially when the opponent is Notre Dame and the game is as epic as this one is. We had the good fortune to introduce the CCM community to One Foot Down on our podcast Thursday night when Eric Murtaugh joined us. Now, we're taking it another step further as Jon (who writes as burger23) from OFD joins us to give his thoughts on the Irish, the match-ups and the final score.
CCM: You have to start with defense when talking about Notre Dame football. The Irish haven't allowed a rushing touchdown all season. What has been their secret to success?
OFD: The key to the Irish's success this season has been the play of the front seven. Notre Dame's defensive line has done a great job of stuffing running lanes and getting pressure on the quarterback even when only rushing three or four players. Manti Te'o gets all of the attention, but the other linebackers have also played very well. Prince Shembo (a DE/OLB hybrid) has been one of the Irish's best pass rushers. Danny Spond (an OLB/S hybrid) has been a revelation this year in coverage. And the combo of seniors Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox at the other MLB position has provided solid play all year.
It's good that the linemen and linebackers are having good seasons because the secondary has been riddled with injuries. Notre Dame is playing two converted wide receivers and a true freshman in the secondary after projected starters Austin Collinsworth and Lo Wood went down with injuries in the preseason and senior Jamoris Slaughter was lost for the year in the Purdue game. There seems to be this prevailing idea that the Irish secondary is a raging dumpster fire this year, but that hasn't been the case. Yes, this isn't a great group, but Notre Dame is 13th in country in pass defense. You can adjust for the level of competition if you'd like, but they must be doing something right. This is still the weak point in the defense and the Irish will need a strong pass rush if they want to avoid getting picked apart all night by Landry Jones.
CCM: Does it worry you at all that, if given the chance, the "Beldozer" package may end that streak of no rushing touchdowns?
OFD: Well, yeah. Brian Kelly even said in his press conference this week that if Oklahoma gets 1st and Goal inside the five yard line, Bell will probably Beldoze his way into the end zone. The best way to stop this from happening is to just keep Oklahoma out of 1st and Goal situations inside the five yard line. Pretty simple, right?
CCM: Offensively, the Irish seem to do just enough to get by. Is that a fair assessment?
OFD: Yes, and that's just the type of team we have this year. When you're starting a redshirt freshman at quarterback, the only "home run" threats in the passing game are freshmen, and your best receiver is a tight end, you're not going to hang forty on the scoreboard too often. It's disappointing the Irish can't put together a better offense, but the potential is there to be pretty scary in a year or two when players like quarterback Everett Golson and receivers DeVaris Daniels, Chris Brown, and Devonte Neal are playing at full speed. But right now the Irish have to almost play Tressel Ball and slog out wins. You can tell Brian Kelly doesn't really like playing this style of offense, but he's taken the attitude that a 14-10 win counts the same as a 35-10 win. It's a bit of a scary place to be in as an Irish fan because any team that manages to hang more than 20 points on the Irish probably has a good chance at winning, but this team has to live and die through defense and the running game until the passing game matures.
CCM: The Notre Dame rushing attack is solid but the passing attack is struggling and ranked 100th in the nation. Are there legitimate concerns there or is the passing attack the victim of a successful ground game?
OFD: It is concerning, but I like I said before, this is just the type of team we are. As I alluded to above, the main culprit of the 100th ranked passing offense is youth. Golson spent last season running the scout team and is only six games into his college career. He has good legs and a great arm, but he has issues reading defenses. He'll occasionally make a tremendous throw and then have a receiver streak down the field wide open without looking his way.
Compounding things is the youth the Irish have at receiver as well. Tyler Eifert is the big name, but he's a tight end. Notre Dame has some solid veterans in Robby Toma and TJ Jones, but neither is a receiver that will strike fear into the hearts of opposing defenses. Redshirt freshman DeVaris Daniels and true freshmen Chris Brown and Devonte Neal are the future of the Irish air attack, but they're too young to make significant contributions. Only Daniels sees the field regularly and he only has 14 catches on the year. As I stated before, this offense could be special, but not for another year or two.
CCM: Brian Kelly has been able to bring Notre Dame back to the forefront of college football in just three seasons. What has made him successful where his immediate predecessors have failed?
OFD: I think the best part about Kelly is that he came to Notre Dame with a plan and he's stuck to that plan. The 2009 Notre Dame team (Charlie Weis's last year) couldn't run the ball a lick and the defense was an embarrassment. Kelly came in preaching defense first (a change from his days at Cincinnati) and said he wanted to win in the trenches on both sides of the ball. Unlike Weis, who would abandon his plans at the first hint of trouble, Kelly stuck with it even when things weren't going well in his first two seasons. He started recruiting players he thought fit his style of offense and defense instead of going after the guys with the most stars on Rivals. There's been some ups and downs since he arrived, but Irish fans are starting to see what a consistent message every year can do for a team. This season isn't over yet and who knows what will happen next season when Te'o and Eifert graduate, but things are pointing up for Notre Dame for the first time in a while.
CCM: Score prediction time. Tell us what the scoreboard is going to say at the end of the fourth quarter.
OFD: I'm actually going to echo a lot of what Eric Murtaugh said on One Foot Down in his preview.
This is a big game and a win for Notre Dame would do wonders for this program, but it's really not a huge game if you look at the big picture of this season. Lose this game and the Irish will finish the season at 10-2 at the worst barring an upset from Pitt, Wake Forest, or Boston College, which would blow away the preseason predictions of anyone outside of the most optimistic of Irish fans. The goal for Notre Dame is to get back to the BCS and a loss won't kill our chances.
I can easily talk myself into a Notre Dame victory. Notre Dame's defense is probably the best the Sooners have seen outside of Kansas State, a team they lost to. Oklahoma's defense is built to stop the high-flying spread offenses of the Big XII, not Notre Dame's power attack. The Sooners' linebackers are on the small side (but fast and athletic, I know) and Notre Dame has beaten up smaller teams on the ground this year. The Irish defense has the potential to make Landry Jones's life miserable Friday night.
I could go on, but at the end of the day, I penciled this game in as a loss before the season started and I don't see any reason to think differently now. Expectations have changed after a 7-0 start and shiny #5 ranking, but this Irish team is still a year away from competing with a team like Oklahoma. Their offense is too good, our secondary is too young, and our offense is too stodgy.
The Sooners win by a score of 27-13. You can call it exposing if you'd like and start making overrated claims, but there aren't many Irish fans that wouldn't have taken 7-1 going into November with the lone loss being to Oklahoma in Norman before the season started in a heartbeat.