NORMAN, Okla. — This weekend, Notre Dame will put its No. 5 ranking on the line against an Oklahoma team chomping at the bit to give the Irish their first loss of the season.
In anticipation of the game, Jason Kersey, an OU beat writer for The Oklahoman, talked to The Elkhart Truth about the excitement surrounding the match up, Oklahoma’s meshing offensive line and how the Sooners have the right pieces to win on Saturday night.
Q: This game is meeting all sorts of hype, between stolen slogans and bitter memories of 1957. On top of all that, College GameDay is coming to Norman for the first time since 2008. What’s the atmosphere like out there?
Jason Kersey: (Oklahoma coach) Bob Stoops called it the most anticipated game since 2000, when No. 1 Nebraska came to town, OU won and eventually took the national title. I think it’s definitely the most anticipated home game since then.
Oklahoma fans have a very unique blend of respect and disdain for Notre Dame, and there are lots of explanations for it: OU’s 1-8 all-time record vs. Notre Dame, “Play Like a Champion,” the snapped 47-game win streak, etc. But with many fans, there’s also some resentment for national media attention Notre Dame receives that those Sooner supporters think goes overboard (for the record, I don’t necessarily agree with those sentiments.)
But there is definitely tons of excitement surrounding this game, and it should be a great atmosphere for college football Saturday.
Q: If Notre Dame wants to beat Oklahoma, the Irish will likely try to replicate Kansas State’s winning formula. What did KState do to beat the Sooners in Week 3 and do you see Notre Dame executing a similar strategy?
JK: Kansas State found success with the pressure it put on Landry Jones, which forced him into some errant throws and turnovers — most notably, of course, the fumble into the endzone that became a K-State touchdown.
Notre Dame’s defensive front is even better than that, so if they can force Landry into some mistakes that lead to short fields and points, that gives the Irish their best chance to win in my opinion.
Q: It looks like Oklahoma has come a long way since clinging to a 3-point lead over UTEP in the fourth quarter in Week 1. How have the Sooners grown this season and what areas of their game are still coming together?
JK: OU lost two senior offensive linemen — Ben Habern and Tyler Evans, who had combined for 59 career starts — for the season just before fall camp started, so the line was patched together and still jelling through the early part of the season. That unit is really thin, but the starters are playing at a high level right now. The Notre Dame defense will be a really good test for the Sooner line.
Landry Jones was also still adjusting to a new group of receivers — Kenny Stills was the only wideout back with a career catch at Oklahoma. But true freshman Sterling Shepard, senior Penn State transfer Justin Brown and junior Fresno State transfer Jalen Saunders have stepped in and shown the ability to be impact players as they’ve gotten more comfortable in the offense, and Stills has been fantastic and versatile, playing both in the slot and outside.
Q: Quarterback Landry Jones may be posed to pick a young Notre Dame secondary apart on Saturday, but word is that Jones tends to buckle under pressure. If the Irish front seven can harass Oklahoma’s offensive line, how do you see Jones performing?
JK: Landry has an NFL arm and really strong skill set, but he has tended to lose his poise in the pocket under pressure. That said, he’s been much, much better over OU’s three-game tear since the K-State loss.
He hasn’t seen a defensive front quite like this one, though, so it will be a big test to see just how much better he really is under pressure. You’re right; if he is well protected, he is perfectly capable of a huge game Saturday now that he’s comfortable with all the newcomer receivers.
Q: Oklahoma is an 9.5-point favorite and rarely loses at home. For the Sooners to avoid the upset and reenter the national title conversation, what do they need to do against Notre Dame?
JK: I think if Oklahoma comes out with a shock-and-awe offensive attack — a couple home-run plays early to see if the Notre Dame defense, which hasn’t seen an offense like this one, can be caught sleeping — the Sooners might be able to get a decent lead in the first quarter.
If Notre Dame gets down early in that stadium, with that amped-up crowd and with how dominant OU has been lately in all facets of the game, I don’t see how the Irish will be able to hang with Oklahoma on Saturday.
If Notre Dame is going to win, I think it has to be a low-scoring game with the Irish getting takeaways and controlling the clock on offense. My pick is Oklahoma 27, Notre Dame 13.