Five questions: Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma
1. Who is under more pressure to win?
Jake Trotter: There's a ton of pressure on Notre Dame to win. Outside of the Brady Quinn years, the Irish haven’t really been a factor in the national title picture in almost 25 years. This is their chance. But there might be even more pressure on the Sooners. The game is at home, and Oklahoma has a reasonably legitimate shot at getting to the national title if it can get past this game. The fan base is getting antsy. Another 10-2 or 9-3 season will only augment that.
Matt Fortuna: Weird as it may sound, I think Notre Dame is playing with house money at this point. The Irish have seven wins already -- which no one saw happening -- and have games left against Pitt, Boston College and Wake Forest. Ergo, they are likely a 10-win, BCS-bowl bound team at the worst right now. Steal one in Norman, and now we're looking at an 11-0 Notre Dame team going into its regular-season finale at USC.
2. Can OU run the ball on Notre Dame?
Trotter: The Sooners have been running the ball well since inserting junior college transfer Damien Williams into the starting lineup. If they’re able to run the ball on Notre Dame, too, the game is basically over. More likely it’ll be tough sledding against a front seven loaded with future pros. But if Williams and fullback Trey Millard can keep the Irish honest as threats to run, that should take enough pressure off quarterback Landry Jones and the passing game.
Fortuna: If the Sooners can, the Irish can kiss their upset hopes goodbye. But Notre Dame has been outstanding against the run and has not allowed a rushing touchdown all season (nine straight games dating back to last season). Oklahoma needs to establish a ground threat early to open things up for Landry Jones and the passing game, which is where the Sooners have the biggest advantage.
3. Can Notre Dame move the ball on OU?
Trotter: It’s going to be tough. The Irish have proven to be rather average offensively, despite having maybe the best tight end in college football in Tyler Eifert. The problem, is, they can’t get him the ball. Quarterback Everett Golson gives Notre Dame another dimension because of his ability to run. Maybe that will lead to some big plays for the Irish. But Oklahoma’s defense has been tough all year, and excellent at limiting big plays in the passing game. The Irish will probably have to win his game in the “teens,” and that is going to put a lot of pressure on the Notre Dame defense.
Fortuna: The Irish have a very good running game that has essentially carried them in back to back wins over Stanford and BYU. Both of those run defenses are better than Oklahoma's so I think getting into a rhythm and possibly opening up some plays through the air is important. Most importantly, however, the Irish cannot turn the ball over, something the elusive Golson has a penchant for doing when taking off.
4. The most important player on the field will be ...
Trotter: Without question, it will be the Oklahoma quarterback. If the “good” Jones continues to show up, and he takes care of the ball like he has the last three games, the Sooners will be in great shape. But if it’s the same Jones that showed up in the loss to Kansas State, Oklahoma could be in real trouble. He seems to have turned a corner since that Kansas State game and has been playing his best ball since 2010. But this will be his toughest test of the season.
Fortuna: Landry Jones, plain and simple. If he plays like has in his last three games, it's hard to imagine anything but a comfortable Oklahoma win. If the Irish can pressure him and force some errant throws -- and especially some turnovers -- this one can get really interesting really fast.
5. Will Notre Dame be affected by the OU crowd?
Trotter: Because they are Notre Dame, the Irish have played in big games in front of hostile crowds many times before. The night game at Michigan last year comes to mind. But this should be Oklahoma’s most boisterous crowd at least since the “jump around” game against No. 2 Texas Tech in 2008. And with the Irish going with a young quarterback in Golson, the crowd noise figures to play a big factor when Notre Dame has the ball.
Fortuna: I don't think so. For what it's worth, Golson's best games have been away from home. He was an efficient game-manager in a Week 3 tilt at Michigan State, which at the time was ranked 10th in the nation. The Irish are used to getting everyone's best shot -- and rowdiest crowds -- so I don't think they will be overcome by the atmosphere.
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