Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Beating Notre Dame Is As Easy As A-B-C!

Dan Novakov is the former chair of the SMU Athletic Forum and Notre Dame alumni.

I was visiting with Dan and Tim Norris, my fellow Sooner and 2013 Doak Walker Award committee chairperson, last month at SMU about last years Oklahoma Notre Dame football game.

I told Dan about my trip to the concession stand just after Notre Dame had scored in the fourth quarter to pull ahead 20-13. It was a cold and blustery night and as I exited the stands I encountered a rather large, burly Notre Dame fan in a t-shirt and shorts belting out the Notre Dame Fight Song in the middle of the concourse to the stunned amazement of red-clad Sooner fans.

Dan laughed and recounted his encounter with Coach Stoops this summer. He introduced himself and said he was a Notre Dame alumni. Coach Stoops immediately said "Four plays!" and stormed off.

Dan was laughing retelling the story because in reality any game comes down to a handful of plays that determine the outcome. However, Coach Stoops was right and Dan knew as much as anyone that last years game in Norman simply came down to four plays.

Which leads us to the upcoming battle next Saturday in South Bend.

Oklahoma will travel to northern Indiana for its first road game of the young 2013 season that will have much to do with not only determining the outcome of the remainder of the season for the Sooners but whether they seriously challenge for the programs eighth national championship.

But first, before we venture ahead one week, let's revisit those four plays that had Irish fans singing in the Owen Stadium concourses and caused the ball coach to snap them off at my friend Novakov last summer.

2012 Revisited

The Sooners and Fighting Irish played a game for the ages in Norman last October before 86,031, the largest attended sporting event crowd in Oklahoma state history.

The game did not let the record crowd down.

Notre Dame used some key breaks late to pull away from a 13-13 tie at the start of the fourth quarter to win a game 30-13 that was much closer than the final score.

The Fighting Irish played a hard-nosed, bend but don't break defense that effectively limited the high-octane Sooners offense to a dink-and-dunk passing game strategy and only 15 yards rushing.

Thanks to a tremendous front seven led by defensive tackle Louis Nix III and All America linebacker Manti Te'o, Notre Dame throttled the Oklahoma offense and limited it to a season low points total.

The four plays Coach Stoops noted occurred early and late in the game and were the difference makers:

1. First Quarter: Notre Dame senior running back Cierre Wood broke off a 62-yard run right up the gut to score the Irish's first score.

2. Fourth Quarter: After being briefly knocked out of the game by a viscious hit from Tony Jefferson, Notre Dame Quarterback Everett Golson trotted on the field and hit Chris Brown with a 50-yard pass to set-up a touchdown that would break open a 13-13 tie and give the Fighting Irish a lead it would not relinquish.

3. Shortly afterwards, Te'o intercepted a deflected Landry Jones pass that the entire Sooner Nation thought was pass interference that led to a Notre Dame field goal.

4. Faced with a do or die 4th down deep in his own territory, Bob Stoops elected to go for it and was stopped which resulted in a cheap Notre Dame touchdown at the end of the game for the final score.

Four plays that determined the outcome of the game.

Just like Coach Stoops said.

Fast-forward to next Saturday.

And so what does this Saturday's matchup have in store for Sooner fans?

Hopefully, a better outcome!

Beating Notre Dame Is As Easy As A-B-C!

So, here is the ABC road map to victory Saturday. Let's hope Josh Heupel is listening!

A--Air it Out

Last year Oklahoma threw 52 passes against Notre Dame.

So you might think, didn't they air it out?

If you like the dink-and-dunk variety.

Oh sure Jalen Saunders had 8 catches in the first quarter en route to an Oklahoma record 15 catches in the game for 181 yards.

But they were all short passes in front of Notre Dame defenders playing in their base cover two defense who wrapped up the OU receivers immediately to limit the yards after catch.

Yes, the Sooners marched the ball down the field but when it came red zone crunch time, the Fighting Irish defense stiffened and limited the Sooners to 13 points.

The scouting report on the Fighting Irish said their front seven was stout and they were. The same scouting report said the secondary was a mix-match of former receivers and could be tested deep.

However, Josh Heupel must have missed that e.mail because of the 52 aforementioned passes Heupel only called 3 deep balls.

Three total.

The entire ballgame.

And one of them was at the end of the game when the Sooners were desperate.

So what gave last year?

Heupel must have felt the Fighting Irish front seven was so stout that Landry Jones simply would not have enough time to wait for those deeper patterns to develop.

Even though Jones was only sacked two times the entire game, Notre Dame sat in their base defense and Heupel never threatened the weakest link of the Fighting Irish defense: the secondary.

So what is in store this year?

Hopefully, Heupel will learn from his mistake last year and open up the down the field passing playbook.

Eight defensive starters return from last year including massive linemen Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt, who appears healed after an early season groin injury.

However, this year they have been joined by an underperforming linebacker crew sans Manti Te'o that has forced Brian Kelly's defense to blitz more to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

The Fighting Irish linebacker crew had been so bad that Brian Kelly made a game-time decision and inserted three new starters before last Saturday's 17-13 win over Michigan State. The lineup change appeared to inspire the Fighting Irish who played more enthusiastically in the win over the Spartans.

However, if the linebacking play does not maintain this renewed sense of spirit, it spells doom for the Notre Dame faithful. Because if the linebacking crew lacks the speed and moxy to stuff the Sooners running game and are forced into a blitz package for pressure, the Sooners might run and pass all day all over the vaunted Notre Dame defense making this game a track meet on the deep, lush grass of Notre Dame field.

Go deep with big receivers Jaz Reynolds and underutilized Trey Metoyer against the Notre Dame cover two coverage to loosen up the secondary and keep them honest.

Flood zones underneath with crossing patterns featuring our scat-back receivers Jalen Saunders, Durron Neal and Sterling Sheperd.

Float H-back Trey Millard down the seams one-on-one with the Notre Dame linebackers and soften the cover two.

Play pitch and catch with Brennan Clay and Roy Finch out of the backfield.

Listen, learn, pass and win, Josh.

B--Blake Bell

Blake Bell is not Landry Jones.

He is also not Trevor Knight.

Which is all good for the Sooners and bad for the Fighting Irish.

Notre Dame has not seen a quarterback with the size, arm and speed they will see Saturday.

Blake Bell showed a calm, cool command of the playbook against Tulsa.

He showed an uncanny touch on the deep balls and precision strikes underneath that surgically struck the Golden Hurricane defense that was playing run all game.

Expect nothing less against Notre Dame.

Bell's running ability further adds problems for the Notre Dame defense.

Yes, OU has a deep running back corps and Notre Dame is very stout against the run limiting Purdue to a school-tying record low 1 rushing first down and holding Michigan State to 13 points last Saturday.

But Notre Dame lacks the linebacking athletic speed to deal with a big, mobile quarterback with a gun for an arm in the presence of Blake Bell. Let Nix and Truitt clog the middle and push the edges of the pocket. Bell will need to adjust, step up and take off when he sees it open up. The Fighting Irish don't have Manti Te'o there this year to plug the gaps.

For the sake of the entire Sooner Nation, let's hope Josh Heupel gives Blake Bell plenty of options with his arm and feet to open up the stout Irish defense.

C--Convert Third Downs

Ask any football coach the key to winning offense and they'll automatically note converting third downs.

How did OU do last October against the Fighting Irish?

4 of 14.

And that won't get it done Saturday afternoon either.

Josh Heupel has to implement a game plan that features Blake Bell's running ability with his passing accuracy that tests the Fighting Irish deep to soften up the underneath routes that will flourish with repetition.

Mix in a few spread option reads and inside running game featuring bulworths Damien Williams, Brennan Clay and rising freshman stud Keith Ford and voila'!

The Sooners should have the bulk up front and enough quickness and talent on offense to move the ball consistently on this revamped Fighting Irish defense.

And they will need to control the ball to keep the plodding Notre Dame offense from controlling the clock. They ran off over 7 minutes in a fourth quarter drive against Purdue that effectively iced the game.

Don't think they can't do the same against the young, Oklahoma front seven just as they did last year in Norman against a much more experienced Sooner defense.


Neither team is top 10 ranked this year but the stakes are still high.

Both teams are still fighting for the illusive BCS bowl berth.

The Sooners still have their eye on playing for their 8th National Championship.

The road doesn't get any tougher Saturday in South Bend against an opponent that Oklahoma is 1-9 against all-time including the 7-0 heartbreaker in 1957 that ended Oklahoma's 47-game win streak.

Last year after the Notre Dame game, Coach Stoops made no excuses and said the Fighting Irish were the better team but was still sore in the summer over four plays that cost his Sooners.

Here's hoping that when the Touchdown Jesus bell has rung Saturday it's the BellDozer doing the ringing about his game-winning plays and somewhere in the Notre Dame Stadium concourse a Sooner fan is heard belting "Boomer Sooner" throughout the heartland!


Thursday, September 12, 2013

This Just Might Be Your Father's Sooners!

OU vs. Tulsa GameDay Analysis

I Grew Up Watching Glenn Dobbs' University of Tulsa NCAA Record-Breaking Aerial Circus Featuring Jerry Rhome & Howard Twilley in The 60's.

Those Great Teams Morphed Into Less-Stellar Teams Featuring Stellar Individual Talent Such As Drew Pearson, Dave Rader, Steve Largent and Steve August in the 70's.

Unfortunately For Tulsa Fans, None of Those Aforementioned Guys Are Playing Oklahoma Saturday!

The Sooners Are Too Talented, Experienced, Deep & Physical This Year For The Golden Hurricanes!

Regardless of Whomever Plays QB, OU Has Rushed For 600-Yards The Past Two Weeks. They Might Just Match That Total Tomorrow As The Oklahoma Running Game Is Reminding Sooner Fans of The Days of Owens, Pruitt & Washington.

And This Oklahoma Defense Has Only Given Up 7 Points & The Aggressive, Ball-Hawking, Take-No-Prisoners Style Is Reminding OU Fans Of The Days of Selmon, Shoate, Elrod, Hughes & Moore!

Sooners Score Early, Late & Often However They Want.

Stoops Clears The Benches.

Barry Switzer Will Be On His Cabana Wearing His "Hang Half A Hundred" T-Shirt Smiling!