Irish fans can only hope that every single player on the Oklahoma Sooners football team is tuning into ESPN's plethora of college football related entities and digesting all the discussions of how overrated Notre Dame is and detailing ways the Irish are sure to struggle in every facet on Saturday. As any disciple of the Worldwide Leader in Sports knows – a defense can only be "elite" if it play in the SEC. Surely #6 LSU holding Idaho (1-7), FCS Towson (3-4) & Auburn (1-6) to 46 points during the same stretch Notre Dame held Michigan (5-2), Michigan State (4-4) & Miami (4-4) to 12 points makes the Tigers the more dominant unit & the Les Miles's good ol' boys would assuredly destroy the Irish if given the chance. As Good Day New York's infamous Greg Kelly would say, "It's science." Focusing in on Saturday's monster match-up – what has been the formula for beating Oklahoma over the past four seasons? Programs that have emerged victorious from a battle with the Sooners have some similar trends. This study will look back at the Sooner's past 10 losses and point to what has been key to beating "Big Game" Bob Stoops.
Boomer Sooner's most recent 10 losses occured between October 3, 2009 – Miami 21-20 – and September 22, 2012 –Kansas State 24-19. In between have been lopsided blowouts – Oklahoma State's 44-10 victory just 10 months ago – and last second heartbreakers – Heisman Winner Robert Griffin III's 34 yard TD pass with :08 seconds remaining in 2011 for a 45-38 win. Many have been upsets, all have been upsetting for the Sooner's faithful. Bob Stoops has re-built a superpower in Norman and placed his program the BCS & National Title conversation at the beginning and end of nearly every season since taking over. Problematic for their spoiled fan-base is a Sooners team prone to letdowns under Stoops. Vegas opening the betting at OU (-9) does little to tell those in Crimson & White that the Sooners shouldn't protect their house in spite of an undefeated, Top 5 ranked opponent coming to town. Below is what has contributed to those frustrating losses over the past 3 years.
The BIGGEST key to defeating Oklahoma is to win the rushing battle. Oklahoma has been outrushed in 7 of the 10 losses and the other three defeats found the Sooners nearly even on the stat sheet with the victor. In the three games where the Sooners outrushed a team that beat them, it was only by a combined 44 yards or a measly 15 yards/game. Over all 10 losses, Oklahoma has been outrushed, wait for it, 1,661 yards to 914. Opponents have tallied 747 yards more than Oklahoma during this sample size, an advantage of nearly 75 yards/game. The most recent two losses by Oklahoma have been even worse. Kansas State ('12) & Oklahoma State ('11) dominated the Sooners on the ground to a combined 491-196 advantage. The Sooners sit unremarkably at 46th nationally in run defense in spite of an easy non-conference slate & last week's 52-7 pants-pulling of Charlie Weis, Dayne Crist & the Kansas Jayhawks. In the Irish's favor, Cierre Wood & Theo Riddick headline a group averaging almost 200 yards/game on the ground and Te'o leads a defense allowing just 106. Compounding that those fun numbers is this:
Notre Dame has outrushed it's last three opponents 796-297. A 500 yard advantage in only three games. Advantage: Notre Dame
1. Loss Location: Oklahoma last 10 losses have included: 7 ROAD games, 2 HOME games & 1 Neutral Site game (Texas 09'). Both HOME losses have come in the past 12 months (Texas Tech '11, Kansas State '12). Advantage: Oklahoma
2. Opponent Rankings: Oklahoma's losses have included four unranked foes, six in the Top 25, four in the Top 15 & two in the Top 10. Over this period, the Sooners have only defeated one team in the Top 5 and an asterisk is fair because it was #5 Florida State in Week 2, 2011. That Seminole team finished 9-4 with an ugly, sloppy 18-14 win over Notre Dame in the Champs Sports Bowl. Advantage: Notre Dame
3. Scoring: Oklahoma has only averaged 20 Points/Game during the 10 losses. Opponents have averaged 31.1 Points/Game in Oklahoma losses. Oklahoma has scored over 30 points just twice during losses. Opponents have scored over 30 in 6 of the 10 losses. Oklahoma has been held under 21 points in 7 of the losses. The two home losses were by only 3 & 4 points respectively. Notre Dame has not allowed a team to score 20 points since last November's showdown with #1 pick Andrew Luck. Advantage: Undecided
Turnovers – The second most telling statistic of OU defeats – Oklahoma's two losses in the past calendar year showed a team struggling to protect the ball. Kansas State & Oklahoma State combined to win the turnover battle against OU 8 to 1. Add in 2011's loss to Baylor and that number is 11-1 disadvantage for the Sooners in the past three losses. Notre Dame is 11th nationally in turnover margin and Oklahoma sits at 43rd. Going into the 10 game window and we see the turnover remains indicative in foretelling OU losses. The Sooners have lost the turnover battle in 8 of 10 losses (the two outliers featured an OU advantage of 2/1). OU turned it over five times in 3 of those games and at least three times in six. The Sooners have a miserable 30-12 disadvantage in this department over these games. Notre Dame is taking the ball from opponents 2.4 times/game. Advantage: Notre Dame
Brian Kelly stood in front of the media and hammered his squad's ever believeable mantra home – "We are a team that finds a way to win. We do what is necessary to get out of the game victorious. It's who we are." Saturday night in Norman, the Irish can start finding a way to win by dominating the ground game and winning the turnover battle – a demand that may sound old-fashioned because it works and favors the Irish's strengths. Both offenses will be facing the best defense they'll see all year and points may come at a premium. In a season filled with throwback battles of strength for Notre Dame, this game may actually prove to fit the mentality of these Fighting Irish better than their opponent once again.
More to come on the podcasts & posts later this week. Go.Irish.