Notre Dame braces for revenge-minded Sooners
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Oklahoma makes its first trip to Notre Dame Stadium since 1999 and the Sooners have payback in mind after the Irish claimed a 30-13 victory last year in Norman.
The No. 14 Sooners are 3-0 for the third time in four seasons and come in relatively rested after a bye week following their 51-20 victory over Tulsa on Sept. 14. No. 22 Notre Dame (3-1) claimed a hard-fought 17-13 victory over Michigan State last Saturday.
Oklahoma features an offense ranked among the nation's top 25 (490.4 yards per game) and multiple weapons that can spring big plays.
"You've got to be sound and fundamental and contained," Irish coach Brian Kelly said this week. "You can't give up easy runs. I think that's really what it comes down to -- when the quarterback is running the football, you've got to make sure that you're minimizing their ability to get big plays."
Oklahoma's emerging playmaker is quarterback Blake Bell, who stepped in after Trevor Knight injured his knee. The redshirt junior went 27 of 37 for 412 yards and four touchdowns in his debut start against Tulsa.
Bell connected with receiver Sterling Shepard eight times for 123 yards and two scores -- all career bests -- while Jaz Reynolds had 109 yards and a TD. Bell also rushed 10 times for 31 yards.
In the backfield, Brennan Clay has a team-leading 45 carries for 284 yards and two TDs in three games while Roy Finch carried eight times for 76 yards against Tulsa. The Sooners are averaging 271.7 rushing yards per game.
"Their offensive depth at the skill position(s) is as good as I've seen across the country," Kelly said. "Their wide receiving corps in particular, they can roll out as many as six to seven wide receivers. Again, extremely talented wide receiving corps. Depth at the running back, veteran offensive line, top two running backs returning."
Then there's a Sooners defense that allowed just one touchdown in the first two games before giving up 20 points against Tulsa. That's still a 9.0 point-per-game average, good for fifth in the nation.
But Notre Dame also offers plenty of challenges.
Quarterback Tommy Rees has completed 60.7 percent of his passes for 969 yards, seven touchdowns and only two interceptions. TJ Jones (17 catches, 289 yards, one touchdown) and DaVaris Daniels (17 catches, 299 yards, four touchdowns) have been top targets.
The running game remains a work in progress with Amir Carlisle (148 yards) and Cam McDaniel (125 yards) topping the leader board.
Notre Dame's defense has allowed an average of 372 yards per game, in the middle of the pack nationally at No. 56. But Irish defenders say the unit continues to improve.
"For me the biggest progress is feeling comfortable out there," junior linebacker Jarrett Grace said. "I do think that progress is showing itself, but I think it has a ways to go also."