So here we are. The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame are seven games into the season and are only hours away from the kickoff of the eighth test of the season. Thus far, Notre Dame has passed every single one of those tests and is sitting at 7-0 and ranked No. 5 in the country.
There are some, and by "some," I mean most of the country, that still doubt this team. The 7-0 record means very little to Joe Fan when most of the wins have come in the so-called, "ugly fashion," against teams that have not performed as well as most had thought, prior to the season.
That's absolutely insane in my eyes -- especially when the season in just about two-thirds finished. I'm not going to sit here and put up an argument to defend the schedule, but I will say that there are no FCS opponents and all but Navy are in a BCS conference.
All of these tests, and here is the toughest test that they have had yet, and probably will have during the regular season.
There are all sorts of numbers for both Notre Dame and Oklahoma that we can dissect and analyze, but frankly, it is going to come down to the best unit from both teams; Oklahoma's offense versus Notre Dame's defense.
The Sooners are being billed as an absolute offensive juggernaut. While I find their offense to be very formidable, I don't believe that Oklahoma has faced a defense as good as Notre Dame's.
The matchup within the matchup will be the Sooner wide receivers against the secondary of Notre Dame. Fast, slick, and dangerous are good ways to describe guys like Kenny Stills & Justin Brown. They're good. Like, really good. When you look across from them three guys in their first year starting (Bennett Jackson, KeiVarae Russell, and Mathias Farley) it is natural to think that the Irish defenders will get schooled.
In the words of Mascot Head Gear Aficionado, Lee Corso... NOT SO FAST MY FRIEND!
Notre Dame's secondary is better than advertised. Bennett Jackson has four interceptions (tied for the team lead with All-Universe linebacker, Manti Te'o) and even though Russell is a true freshman that was recruited to play running back, he has been very good in coverage all season. Zeke Motta punishes everything that comes within five yards, and Mathias Farley has made the loss of Jamoris Slaughter seem like it never happened.
How is all of this possible with so many new guys? Two reasons: 1. An elite pass rush and 2. Excellent leadership.
Prince Shembo, Kapron Louis-Moire, Louis Nix III, and Stephon Tuitt have been lighting up offensive lines and quarterbacks all season. Their ability to get pressure, sacks, and disrupt any attempt at running the ball has allowed the Irish secondary to play its zone coverage, with the help of their linebackers, on a very efficient level.
It's not rocket science. If you can pressure the quarterback and still be able to drop seven or eight guys in coverage, you are going to win a lot of those battles.
Factor that in with the leadership, skill, and absolute drive from Manti Te'o and you have a defense that is the #2 ranked scoring defense, that has allowed the fewest touchdowns in the country- and has yet to give up a rushing touchdown all season (that streak actually goes back to November of last year).
You just can't do all of that and have a secondary be as bad as some are making them out to be.
PREDICTION: The defense gets to Landry Jones early and often and we watch as he drops like a bunch of broccoli. Because of that, the vaunted Sooner passing game will be greatly slowed down and frustration gives way to turnovers. Meanwhile, the Irish offense will continue to do what it has done all season and pound the ball for four quarters on the ground. Brian Kelly will take a few shots and have Golson throw deep. Notre Dame scores when it needs to and wins a HUGE game on the road, 23-20.
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