Notre Dame Football: Jalen Saunders

Notre Dame prediction: Week 5 vs. OU

September, 27, 2013
9/27/13
3:35
PM ET
I'm 4-for-4. You probably don't want me to go 5-for-5.

When Oklahoma has the ball: Blake Bell is making his first career road start. He has given everyone he has faced trouble with his ability to run the football, but Brian Kelly stressed this week that Bell will beat you with your arm as well. He is 6-foot-6, 252 pounds, and he is coming off a 413-yard, four-touchdown outing two weeks ago in his first career start, albeit against Tulsa. Notre Dame gave up a lot of yardage last year in Norman, Okla., but the Irish were able to keep the ball in front of them, bunkering down when push came to shove in the red zone. They cannot afford to miss tackles the way they have early this season, and they cannot let the Sooners' receivers -- namely, Jalen Saunders, he of 15 catches and 181 yards in last year's meeting -- get behind them.

When Notre Dame has the ball: The Sooners have the nation's No. 5 scoring defense (9 ppg). Of course, they have played just three games against three bad opponents. Notre Dame won last year's game by 17, but it is easy to forget that this was a 13-13 contest with six minutes remaining. The Irish had done a brilliant job of controlling the line of scrimmage before catching the Oklahoma defense off-guard with a big play -- a 50-yard, play-action strike to then-freshman Chris Brown that set up the go-ahead score. That's easier to do with Everett Golson than it is with Tommy Rees. And it's easier to execute when you have a strong running game. Cierre Wood's 62-yard first-quarter touchdown helped open that up for the Irish early. They should continue to try to establish a ground attack early, but they have had lots of trouble getting it going through four games.

Intangible: Everyone was sleeping on the Irish during last year's contest. That is no longer the case. Oklahoma got pushed around in a venue the Sooners don't pushed around much in, and they are coming off a bye entering this contest.

Prediction: Oklahoma 24, Notre Dame 17. These slow starts will eventually catch up to the Irish, and the Sooners are too talented to not make them pay.

Players to watch: Oklahoma

July, 12, 2013
7/12/13
2:00
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Notre Dame's win at Oklahoma last season was a defining moment that announced the program's arrival back among college football's elite. Both teams feature plenty of new faces in key places this season, as the Sooners will look to reciprocate the road upset on Sept. 28 in South Bend, Ind.

To read previous entries from this series, click here.

Offense: Jalen Saunders, WR. Notre Dame fans will remember Saunders for his historic performance in last year's contest, as the then-junior caught a school-record eight first-quarter passes en route to a school-record 15 grabs for 181 yards. The Fresno State transfer led the Sooners in receiving yards per game (92.1) last season, his first in Norman. Saunders finished with 62 catches in nine games, tallying 829 yards and three scores. He also returned a punt 81 yards for a touchdown in the regular-season finale win over rival Oklahoma State. In 2011, his final year with the Bulldogs, Saunders hauled in 50 catches for 1,065 yards and 12 touchdowns and added two more scores on the ground, earning first-team All-WAC honors.

Defense: Aaron Colvin, CB. Colvin is on the watch list for the Bednarik Award after recording four interceptions for the Sooners last season. He was third on the team with 61 tackles, and he added two sacks to go with 11 pass break-ups and 15 passes defended. He had 10 tackles and 0.5 tackles for loss in last season's contest against the Irish. A potential first-round NFL draft pick, Colvin is back for one more season, this after earning first-team All-Big 12 honors. The 6-foot-1, 181-pounder also started at safety as a sophomore in 2011, tying for the team-lead with 84 tackles.

Notre Dame concedes very little on defense

November, 23, 2012
11/23/12
4:00
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Matthew EmmonsWith one more win, Manti Te'o (right) and Notre Dame will play for the right to be No. 1.

(USC hosts Notre Dame on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.)

If the Notre Dame Fighting Irish can win on the road against the USC Trojans. History could, again, repeat itself.

Four different head coaches have been responsible for Notre Dame's eight national championships in the AP poll era (since 1936). All four captured their first national title in their third season at Notre Dame, and head coach Brian Kelly is in his third season at the helm in South Bend.

Notre Dame is one win from playing for the BCS Title thanks in larger part to its defense. The Irish have conceded a touchdown on 6.7 percent of their opponents’ possessions, the lowest percentage in FBS this season.

Notre Dame’s red zone defense also is the best in the nation, allowing a touchdown on 24.1 percent of their opponents’ drives inside the 20-yard line. (Opponents have seven touchdowns and five turnovers in 29 red zone possessions.) That’s the lowest percentage for any FBS team in the last eight seasons.

The defense is led by senior linebacker Manti Te'o. With two more tackles, Te'o will join Bob Crable as the second Notre Dame player with three 100-tackle seasons. Te’o also leads the Irish with six interceptions after not having any in his first three seasons.

Notre Dame's defense will be tested one more time, this time by one of the best wide receivers in the country. USC’s Marqise Lee has more receiving yards (821) in his last four games than 52 FBS teams during that time span. Lee has gained more yards after the catch (837) than any player from any BCS-AQ school, and leads FBS with eight 100-yard receiving games. However, only one player this season has 100 yards receiving against Notre Dame, Jalen Saunders from Oklahoma.

However, Lee will not have Matt Barkley throwing to him – the senior quarterback will not play because of a sprained shoulder. Since 2002, USC’s only loss to Notre Dame came in 2010 when Barkley (then a sophomore) had a sprained ankle and did not play.

Without Barkley, USC may turn to its running game. The Trojans are averaging 160 rushing yards per game, and has gained 10 yards or more on almost 17 percent of their rush attempts. Curtis McNeal has 324 yards in USC’s last two games, but he’ll face a Notre Dame defense that has allowed just three running backs to rush for 80 or more yards this season.

Did you know? Notre Dame at USC

November, 23, 2012
11/23/12
10:00
AM ET
As always, hats off to the folks from ESPN Stats & Information, along with both schools' sports information departments, for these tidbits.
  • Notre Dame has allowed a touchdown on 6.7 percent of its opponents’ possessions, the lowest percentage in the nation. Red zone defense has been key for the Irish, allowing a touchdown on 24.1 percent of their opponents’ red zone drives, the lowest percentage for any FBS team in the past eight seasons. Overall, Notre Dame's opponents have seven touchdowns and five turnovers in 29 red zone possessions.
  • USC has scored a touchdown on 64.6 percent of its red-zone possessions, 39th in the nation. The Trojans have scored a touchdown on 29.2 percent of their goal-to-go rushes, tied for 86th nationally. Notre Dame has allowed one touchdown and minus-31 rushing yards on 18 goal-to-go rushes. Every other team in the nation has allowed at least three such touchdowns.
  • Notre Dame is the only team that has not allowed a touchdown drive longer than 75 yards. Every other FBS team has allowed at least two.
  • The Irish have allowed 14 plays of 25 yards or more, tied for second-fewest nationally. They have allowed one 25-yard touchdown, tied with Florida and Alabama for the fewest in the country.
  • Everett Golson has completed 70.8 percent of his passes thrown 10 yards or longer in his past two games after completing 44 percent of those throws in his first eight games. Four different receivers have at least two catches on a throw of that distance over the past two weeks. T.J. Jones has six catches on seven targets.
  • Marqise Lee has more receiving yards (821) in his last four games than 52 FBS teams during that time span. Lee has gained more yards after the catch (837) this season than any player from a BCS school and leads the nation with eight 100-yard receiving games. Notre Dame’s opponents are averaging 68.4 yards after the catch per game and have allowed just one player to gain 100 yards in a game this season (Jalen Saunders, Oklahoma). Lee has five more catches and 264 more receiving yards than the Irish's entire receiving corps. Lee has gained at least 100 yards receiving in eight of his 11 games, including five straight dating back to a victory over Colorado. Notre Dame has not a 100-yard receiving game from a receiver this season.
  • Robert Woods entered the season on the Biletnikoff Watch List after leading USC with 111 catches and 1,292 receiving yards last season. But Lee has emerged as USC’s clear No. 1 receiver, gaining more yards after the catch (837) than Woods has total yards (721). Woods is not getting downfield with the same consistency as last season, as he has 12 catches and four touchdowns on 31 pass attempts thrown 15 yards or longer downfield. Last season, he had 20 such catches and seven touchdowns on 42 pass attempts of that distance.
  • USC is averaging 160.5 rushing yards per game and has gained 10 or more yards on 16.6 percent of its rush attempts. Curtis McNeal has filled in nicely for an injured Silas Redd, gaining 324 yards in USC’s past two games. He will face a Notre Dame defense that has allowed just three running backs to rush for 80 or more yards this season.

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