The key matchup in this game is Oklahoma's offense vs. the Notre Dame defense. Who wins and why?
Rich: I have to lean toward Oklahoma at this point in the season. Landry Jones is going to be the key component in how well the Sooners play against the Notre Dame front seven. It can almost be guaranteed that the Irish will get into the backfield with some regularity but the offensive line has progressed becoming a trusted unit for Jones. Sure Landry is known to get rattled when the pressure is constantly on him. But the beauty of this offense is that he is not carrying it alone this season. Damien Williams and the offensive line have picked up much of the slack that was seen against UTEP and Kansas St. However, it is the speed and experience of the receivers that will make the difference. I've said it once and I'll say it again. Notre Dame will need to rely on getting pressure with 4 or 5 defenders while dropping the rest into coverage. When rushing more, Oklahoma will need to make them pay from wherever the blitz is coming from. If the O-Line continues to perform like they have they past three games while opening things up in the running game and giving the QB ample time to make the read, this is a no brainer.
Jordan: If Notre Dame stays in their base 3-4 as I've heard many an Irish fan tell me they will, then I just don't see how Oklahoma can lose that battle. If you're telling me I can have Kenny Stills, Sterling Shepard, and/or Jalen Saunders matched up on a linebacker more often than not, are you kidding me?!? I'll take that in a heartbeat every single day of the week. I definitely think there will be times where ND stuffs this OU offense and I can see the Sooners having to settle for field goals on multiple occasions, but at the end of the day I think OU has just enough to get the job done.
Matt: I believe that it is going to be a give and take throughout the game with Notre Dame's defense getting to Oklahoma's offense at times and the Sooners exposing the Irish at times. I'm not sure that OU has faced a front seven like ND's this season but I'm also quite confident the Irish haven't faced and offense with the speed and balance that Oklahoma has this season. Sooners get the edge here.
The Irish bring possibly the best defense OU has seen this season. What has changed about Oklahoma's offense and Landry Jones since Kansas State that gives you confidence going into Saturday.
Jordan: He's been much more decisive with his reads and much improved at getting rid of the ball quickly. Granted, much of that was done with very little pressure around him which I do not expect to be the case Saturday night. That said, I think Josh Heupel can do a lot of things to help Landry in that sense by calling short, quick passes and getting the running backs involved in the pass game out of the backfield.
Matt: I think that the improvement by Landry Jones is based off a few things. First, he's found a rhythm that he's comfortable in, and seems to be in that "zone." Secondly, the offensive line has gained six games worth of experience and is now working as one cohesive unit instead of a group of talented individuals. Finally, the rushing attack has been but in the hands of Damien Williams and opponents have seen that the Sooners have a legitimate homerun threat every time he touches the ball, so that makes the play-action pass extremely dangerous.
Rich: As I stated above, the coaching staff has done an excellent job in taking much of the pressure of Landry by not throwing the ball quite as much. Instead they have moved to a balanced attack while using the run to set up the pass. Of course, game plan and scheme only get you so far without execution. This is where Jones has stepped up his game. He is working within himself instead of trying to come up with the big play each and every drive and taking what the defense is giving him. From stepping into the pocket as it moves around to finding the check down, Jones is doing it all at the right moments. The Landry train is filling up again and I'm definitely on it.
Where does this game rank in your Top 5 home games under Bob Stoops?
Matt: I'm going to put it at #2 behind the 2000 Nebraska game and just ahead of 2008 Texas Tech. I had the pleasure to be at both of those games and am extremely stoked about attending this one. The atmosphere should be insane and hopefully we'll see the Sooners respond the same way they did in the other two games mentioned. Here's my Top 5 home games under Bob Stoops.
1. Nebraska 2000
2. Notre Dame 2012
3. Texas Tech 2008
4. Alabama 2002
5. Kansas State 2001
Rich: In terms of anticipation, it squarely sits at the top due to the history not only of the schools but also the 1-8 record against Notre Dame. I admit that as the game has edged closer, I have changed my stance on this game from being #3 to giving it the top spot. But, my opinion does not change the fact that hotels in the area have been sold out for months on this specific weekend.
Jordan: Hard to give it a proper ranking until I know the outcome (yeah, I'm that guy). As far as anticipation, I'd easily put it in my Top 3.
Oklahoma's clear advantages and disavantages in this game are?
Rich: Off the field, the audience will be forever in the favor of Oklahoma creating a loud hostile environment for the Irish to walk into. On the field, the redzone offense is the best weapon Oklahoma possesses right now. The change from last season to this season is night and day as the Sooners have converted 96.97% of their trips inside the 20. They very well could be sitting at 100% if Blake Bell does not fumble the snap against Kansas St. Regardless, this is a redzone offense that will be tough to stop. I have to give Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell credit for the play calling that has set the Sooners up for success. I have no doubt they will come in with another solid game plan to come away with another victory.
The only disadvantage I see the Sooners having at this point is the fact that we never know what side of Landry Jones we are going to see. This is a defense that comes physically to what Kansas St. brought to the field. In that game, the Wildcats were able to come up with two turnovers on Jones due to consistent pressure. Notre Dame has taken note and will do everything in their power to get to him with the same success Kansas St. was able to in an attempt to derail this offense.
Jordan: Clear advantages: OU wide receivers vs. ND secondary, OU secondary vs. ND wide receivers, special teams. Clear disadvantages: ND defensive line vs. OU offensive line, Tight end (duh).
Matt: You have to start with special teams here. Oklahoma has a clear advantage in every aspect of special teams. Another advantage for the Sooners is Oklahoma's receivers vs. the Notre Dame secondary and then vice versa, Oklahoma's secondary vs. Notre Dames receivers. I also feel that the quarterback advantage in this game goes to Oklahoma as well. Then there's Trey Millard and the Belldozer, the Irish definitely haven't seen anything like those guys.
Disadvantages for the Sooners would be the ND defensive line vs. Oklahoma offensive line along with the possibility of a linebacker covering Notre Dame's All-American tight end Tyler Eifert.
Big 12 power rankings
Jordan: Kansas State, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, OSU, West Virginia, Texas, TCU, Iowa State, Baylor, Kansas
Matt: Kansas State, Oklahoma, OSU, Texas Tech, West Virginia, Texas, TCU, Iowa State, Baylor, Kansas
Rich: Kansas St., Oklahoma, Texas Tech, TCU, OSU, West Virginia, Texas, Iowa St., Baylor, Kansas