You know it's a big game when you are a program with as storied a history as that of the Oklahoma Sooners and people are referring to Saturday's game as one of the biggest non-conference games in school history. Which is very much the case with this Saturday's epic clash, as it's being dubbed, against Notre Dame.
Few could have predicted the upcoming Top 10 showdown, however for very different reasons. Even the most ardent Irish fans wouldn't have predicted a 7-0 start, while Oklahoma fans were expecting just that. Regardless of the circumstances, the two teams will come together on Owen Field Saturday night in what has easily been the most anticipated game in Norman, Oklahoma since the 2000 meeting with then No. 1 ranked Nebraska.
Coming into the game, the headline match-up is certainly the vaunted Notre Dame defense versus a well-balanced and versatile Oklahoma offense. However, this Oklahoma defense could have their hands full with the athletic Everett Golson who will return to his starting quarterback position for the Irish after sitting out last week's game against BYU.
Golson is the type of quarterback who has given Oklahoma fits in the past. He's the kind of player who can make something out of nothing and just when you think you've nailed him behind the line of scrimmage, he finds a way to wiggle out of it and make positive yards. Limiting Golson's ability to make plays outside the pocket and forcing him to try and beat you with his arm, as opposed to his legs, will be the primary focus of this Oklahoma defense.
Now, back to our main feature of the evening. The Sooners are lead on offense by fifth year senior Landry Jones who recently set the school record for most wins by a quarterback. Despite an, at times, somewhat contentious relationship with the Oklahoma fan base, Jones' play has improved considerably following the Sooners lone loss on the season to Kansas State. Since playing poorly against the Wildcats, Jones has made a noticeable effort to be more efficient with his passes rather than forcing things that aren't there.
This will be key Saturday night as mistakes that lead to costly turnovers were the primary reason for Oklahoma's only loss on the season and could play a huge role in the game Saturday night. This Notre Dame defense is one of the top in the country and they have a bevy of difference makers littered throughout their front seven. It will be a challenge for the Sooners to run the ball consistently against the Irish, so expect the burden of moving the ball to fall squarely on the shoulders of Jones and the Oklahoma wide receivers.
Fortunately, the Sooners have no shortage of options in that department most notably by junior Kenny Stills who leads the team in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdown receptions. Jones' other options are Penn State transfer Justin Brown, (who has made more of an impact than anyone could have predicted), another transfer (from Fresno State) player in Jalen Saunders, and true freshman Sterling Shepard. They will be responsible for attacking what is widely regarded to be the weak link of this Notre Dame defense and that is their secondary.
This advantage could be even further magnified should, as many expect, Notre Dame to remain in their base defense which would force their linebackers to attempt to cover Oklahoma's wide receivers. This particular match-up should favor the Sooners significantly and if they can exploit it, as most experts anticipate they will attempt to do, could very well prove to be the difference in the game.
SCORE PREDICTION: OKLAHOMA 30 NOTRE DAME 21
If Oklahoma can avoid turning the ball over, it's difficult to envision a scenario where Notre Dame scores more than 20 or so points. The Irish offense has struggled to score consistently this season and in a big game, on the road, against an Oklahoma defense that is clicking on all levels at the moment, it's unlikely that trend comes to an end Saturday night. Oklahoma should have just enough to win a hard fought game on their home field in what could prove to be a historical night for two of the country's most renowned college football programs.
Co-Editor, Crimson and Cream Machine