After their first three games, the No. 14 Oklahoma Sooners are fifth in the nation in points allowed, first in the Big 12 in rushing defense, and second in scoring defense.
Hitting the road for the first time this season, all those stellar numbers will be on the line on Saturday night as the Sooners meet the No. 22 ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium.
Oklahoma started the season by blanking Louisiana-Monroe, and have only let up a combined 27 points to West Virginia and Tulsa since. Senior defensive back Gabe Lynn has two interceptions returned for 37 yards, while linebackers Corey Nelson and Frank Shannon lead the team with 39 total tackles.
All three will have to step up to break the Irish’s hold over Oklahoma. Notre Dame outrushed Oklahoma 215 to 15, and cruised to a 30-13 victory en route to the national title game last year. The Irish are also 9-1 in the all-time series, with eight consecutive victories, while the Sooners haven’t made the trip to South Bend in 14 years.
Junior quarterback Blake Bell and senior running back Brennan Clay anchor the Sooners offense. Clay’s production has taken a huge leap this season, with 262 yards and two touchdowns on 45 attempts, well ahead of his pace in 2012.
Meanwhile, Bell has taken the starting job from freshman Trevor Knight and run with it. In his first full start last week against Tulsa, Bell went 27-for-37 for 413 yards and four touchdowns.
Irish head coach Brian Kelly is concerned with Bell’s play in the pocket, as well as on the run.
"The biggest challenge is him having runs and passes built into same play," Kelly said according to the Chicago Tribune. "That's being overlooked. He can throw the ball very well. We see him as more of a passing threat. He can run it, but he's a passing threat."
Thus far, Stephen Tuitt leads the Irish with two sacks, and Sheldon Day and Bennett Jackson each have one sack. That core will be integral in containing Bell throughout the afternoon. Helping Bell in the passing game are receivers Sterling Shepard, Jalen Saunders, and Jaz Reynolds, each with over 100 yards receiving this season, and totaling five of the Sooners eight passing touchdowns.
The Sooners appear to have a more balanced attack, but the Irish rush may be too much to handle. Running backs Cam McDaniel, Amir Carlisle, George Atkinson III continue to lead by committee, totaling all but 40 of Notre Dame’s 453 rushing yards in four games.
The Irish have bounced back from their second week loss to MIchigan with a victory at Purdue, and last week’s 17-13 toppling of Michigan State. Coming up huge in the fourth quarter, McDaniel ran for 40 yards and his second touchdown of the season, while quarterback Tommy Rees passed for 142 yards and another score.
Rees snapped his three-game 300-yard passing streak, going 14-for-34, but settled down late against the Spartans.
The game starts at 3:30 p.m. ET and will be broadcast by NBC, or watch live online at NBC Live Extra here.
Betting Odds: Oklahoma favored by 3.5 points
Over/Under: 50 points
Prediction: Oklahoma 30, Notre Dame 17