A lot has changed since these two teams met on the field last fall. Both have a new quarterback and both have had to replace key personnel on the defensive side of the football. Helping us to get a better perspective from the other side of the field is Patrick (screen name: pburns2010) from SBN's outstanding site One Foot Down. He's already earned bonus points with us by taking a shot at Texas in one of his answers.
CCM: This game last year featured Notre Dame as having a mobile quarterback and Oklahoma with a pocket passer. Now the roles are reversed with the two signal callers. How much, if any, has having Tommy Rees under center changed the Irish offense?
OFD: It is the single biggest reason why our offense has struggled, in my opinion. Notre Dame practiced all spring expecting Golson to be the QB moving forward. I'm sure there were plenty of option looks that were going to open up the run game, and Golson's arm is light years ahead of Rees's. Once Golson got the boot, everything flipped on its head.
Tommy Rees has improved his biggest weakness from 2011 which was his inability to throw the deep ball, but he is still far less precise than Golson. Rees has the ability and the knowledge to make any check he needs to pre-snap, and at least this season has done extremely well to limit the turnovers. The lack of a running threat from the QB position in Brian Kelly's spread offense, however, is really hurting the run game. Teams are able to stack the box effectively with one fewer defender, putting the pressure back on Tommy Rees to make the throws over the top.
Lucky for us we have Davaris Daniels and TJ Jones on the outside, who are able to bail Rees out regularly.
CCM: Giving up an average of 21 points per game, this is a different Irish defense than 2012. What are the most noticeable differences from last season to this one?
OFD: In a word, tackling. While not Texas-level bad (it's 8:08AM and Texas STILL SUCKS, AMIRITE?!), the secondary's tackling was especially poor in the Michigan and Purdue games, leading to some uncharacteristic big plays against us. The tackling was much better against MSU, but the defense changed a bit, going back to a 2012-style bend but don't break.
I expect that the defense and the defensive staff want to turn up the pressure to help take some of the load off of the offense, and they attempted to do so in the Michigan and Purdue games to see what they were able to take on. I think we see a bit more man coverage/blitzing from the Irish than we did last week, after the staff has had a few extra weeks to coach up the corners and safeties. Hopefully the secondary continues the improvement in the tackling department.
CCM: In the middle of the defensive line is Louis Nix who is a beast of a man to deal with. The Irish were able to dominate the line of scrimmage in last year's game and keep the OU rushing attack from getting going. Will Nix and company be able to duplicate that again on Saturday?
OFD: Yes. No one in the country has been able to deal with Nix, including Barrett Jones at Alabama last season (seriously, go back and watch the game and watch Big Lou eat people). I don't think the Sooners have the power running attack (a la Stanford/Bama) necessary to take advantage of our safeties in run support, so I think ND's front seven will be able to bottle up the rushing attack.
Something I am a bit worried about is if Stoops uses Knight in a change-up package, or takes the reins off of Bell (Belldozer? Bellicopter?) in the running game. Our ILBs are not especially rangy, and the horizontal stretch a mobile QB could put on our defense may break us down a bit.
CCM: When you look at the match-ups of this game, what gives you confidence as a Notre Dame fans and what areas make you extremely nervous?
OFD: Nerves: Quarterback (I was there for 2010 and 2011) and our running game. I think Tommy Rees will need to make a few HUGE throws to win this game, and he'll need to make more than that if our running game continues to struggle. Hopefully one of the 5 RBs we are rotating steps up this game and makes a name for himself.
CCM: Prediction time: Tell us how things will shake out on the field this Saturday afternoon in South Bend.
OFD: First, I'd be lying if I said I had any idea what was going to happen. Both teams haven't really given a good indication of what they're truly capable of. I'll give you a best/worst/most likely scenario, as one of our OFD commenters (from the armed forces) always says "plan for the most likely and worst case scenarios, if you get best case, you won't need to plan"
Best case scenario for the Irish is the ground game opens up and ND controls the clock. They're also able to punch it into the end zone when they get into the red zone. Defensive front makes Bell's life miserable all day long. Final Score ND 31 - OU 17
Worst case scenario for the Irish is the running game is totally stuffed, and OU is moving the ball on the ground. Secondary tackling issues raise their heads for the Irish, giving up big plays. Final score OU 35 - ND 27.
That being said, the most likely scenario is a stop-and-start ND offense putting up occasional points but settling for a few FGs, and OU's run game struggling mightily against the defensive front of the Irish, putting the pressure on Bell. He performs well, but still has a couple questionable throws, resulting in one turnover. ND's bend but don't break defense is in full swing. Extremely close, nailbiting game that gives us BONUS FOOTBALL. Final score ND 26-OU 23 [OT].