Eleven months have passed since Notre Dame's 20 point fourth quarter stomp out in Norman started making believers in the Irish as National Title contenders. Heading into that game I laid out how teams had been able to beat Bob Stoops in recent years and trends favored the 2012 Irish. A statistical analysis at the time of the ten most recent Sooner losses spit back stats straight from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Football: Win the rushing battle and lead in the turnover department. Harder than it sounded before kickoff last October, but the always ready 2012 Fighting Irish destroyed OU in the run game box score with a silly 200 yard advantage (215 ND Rush Yards to OU's 15). There was only one turnover, but Manti's memorable interception off a deflected pass led to the drive which gave Notre Dame a 23-13 fourth quarter advantage. The research has now been updated - since posting that review OU has fallen twice. One Irish fans will never forget and the other was a Heisman Trophy showcase 41-13 blasting in the Cotton Bowl at the hands of Johnny Manziel. The path to a win against the Crimson & Cream remains the same but 2013 Notre Dame doesn't stack up nearly as well in the formulas for success and predicting a win seems much more difficult.
Lou Holtz previewed this game with me! Here's your choice - listen to some more ragging of the 2013 Irish by the national media or hear what Lou goddam Holtz has to say about this year's team. So honored to host the Irish legend on Down the Line and he was open for critical business. His thoughts on the five man RB rotation, 2013 Irish complacency, tossing the podium over on College Football Live, and how the Irish beat the Sooners is all awaiting you in this amazing 40 minute conversation. Enjoy.
Beating OU On The Ground
Oklahoma has been outrushed in 9 of their past 12 losses. The three outliers were games where opponents kept the rushing totals close as OU only outrushed teams they lost to by an average of 15 yards per game. In their three 2012 losses (Kansas State, Notre Dame, Texas A&M) Oklahoma was bludgeoned on the ground to the tune of a 754-226 disadvantage. To beat Oklahoma, Notre Dame must establish some form of a ground game or they, statistically speaking, have no chance to win. None.
ND: 796 - Opponents: 297 - This was the Notre Dame rushing advantage in the three games leading into the 2012 Oklahoma game. 500 yards more than three high quality opponents: Miami, Stanford, and BYU. It was this stat which single-handedly provided confidence that Notre Dame could pull out a win in a hostile environment against a great team. We all know without box scores that the Irish rushing attack in 2013 has been disappointing, but heading into this year's bout with the Sooners, a similar comparison does not bode well for the Irish:
ND: 265 - Opponents: 323 - Against their Big Ten slate (Michigan, Purdue, Michigan State), Notre Dame was outrushed by 58 yards, or just under 20 yards per game. A stark contrast to the dominance of a year ago. Worth noting the 2013 defense has allowed only 26 more yards (323-297) than Manti's boys during this trio of games? Maybe.
Oklahoma: 815 - Opponents: 302 - Oklahoma has outrushed its 2013 opponents by 513 yards while averaging 272 yards rushing per game. Against Louisiana-Monroe (305) and West Virginia (316), the Sooners had more rushing yards in a game than Notre Dame has totaled in their last three combined (265). Deep breaths Irish cynics, there is some hope in this article.
Oklahoma: 633 - Opponents: 590 - When replacing the rushing numbers of Oklahoma's season opener with Louisiana-Monroe (305-38 OU advantage) with those of a better recent opponent, Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl, the numbers even out a bit but still favor the Sooners. We'll discuss the impact of mobile QBs in just a moment but this seems a more accurate reflection of the Sooners rush totals of late.
Major Advantage In Rushing: Oklahoma
1. Loss Location: The past 12 Sooner losses have included 7 Road games, 3 Home games, and 2 Neutral Site games (Texas 2009, Texas A&M 2012). Three of their past four road losses have been to ranked teams (#11 Missouri 2010, #22 Baylor 2011, #3 Oklahoma State 2011). Notre Dame hosts Oklahoma and sits at #22 in both polls. Advantage: Notre Dame
2. Mobile Quarterbacks: The Sooners last three losses all came against opponents with QBs who could make plays with their feet. Two of them, Johnny Manziel & Collin Klein, joined Manti Te'o as the 2012 Heisman Finalists. The third has yet to lose a regular season game and started in the National Championship in January - Everett Golson. Rushing yards against OU for each: Klein (79), Manziel (229), Golson (64). The last team to beat OU with a drop back passer was Oklahoma State with future 1st Round Pick Brandon Weeden in 2011. Tommy Rees will start for Notre Dame and that's all we have to say about that. Advantage: Oklahoma
3. Turnovers: The past twelve Oklahoma losses feature a 32-13 disadvantage in turnover margin (-19). The 2012 losses saw that number at 4-1 for an average of -1 per defeat. In 2013, the two programs are on similar turnover ground. Both the Irish & Sooners have a turnover margin of +1 with the Irish having played one more game. OU has forced 6 and given back 5. ND has forced 4 and given up 3. The Irish have faced stiffer competition over four games so it feels right to give them a slight advantage, especially since they have two fewer turnovers than a team whose played one fewer game. Note: New Sooners QB Blake Bell hasn't thrown an interception in 59 attempts over the past two seasons. Advantage: Notre Dame
4. BYE Week: A year ago Oklahoma had two Bye Weeks in September alone. Their first loss was after a Week 3 Bye when #15 Kansas State shocked the Sooners in Norman 24-19. They had another bye following that letdown and came back to beat Texas Tech 41-20 two weeks later. In 2011 OU went 1-1 after a Bye Week, defeating Florida State in Week 3 and falling to Baylor in Week 12. In a numbers game, three of Oklahoma's last four regular season losses were after a Bye Week or to Notre Dame. We're reaching a tad here, but Slight Advantage: Notre Dame
I went into this fully expecting to discover all stats pointing to a sure Irish loss. This review has been a pleasant surprise and Brian Kelly continues to put a team on the field that finds ways to win. The Irish are 23-3 over their last 26 regular season games. Oklahoma is 21-5 over the same stretch. The Irish are at home and highly motivated. I can see them pulling this thing out. I don't expect them to win the rushing battle, but if the Irish get the W in the win-loss column they have to be at least +2 in the turnover department. At LEAST. Game Vitals:
Notre Dame (+3.5)
Herring Bone Says: Take Notre Dame & The Over
#22 Notre Dame 33, #12 Oklahoma 31 - Final