If you haven't heard, it has been a rough week for your WarLord & Emperor. No Anti-Preview this week, but I do bring you a question and answer post with a great Oklahoma Sooner and college football blogger, Allen Kenney from Blatant Homerism.
In some ways, this game has the same type of "feel" to it as last year. Obviously, it's not as big of a matchup as the 2012 contest, but the Sooners are expected to win by many people for the same reasons as last year (too explosive on offense and ND's sputtering offense). To put it another way, confidence is high that Oklahoma will walk away from this game as a convincing winner. Do you share in this confidence or has your life as a blogger forced caution upon you? Please explain.
Perspective is a funny thing. I don't get the feeling that most view this as a done deal, and I definitely don't get that feeling from OU fans.
A year removed from last year's game, the things that still stick with me are not only the talent that Brian Kelly has assembled on ND's roster but also his players' execution. Kelly and his staff put together a great game plan last year, particularly on offense, and the Irish implemented it to perfection.
I honestly thought that was a game the Sooners would win by a comfortable margin. When the script gets flipped that dramatically, it makes you gun-shy the next time around.
Give me a couple of names that Irish fans should be keeping an eye on and tell me why they will have a great game against the Irish.
I'd start with Charles Tapper and Jordan Phillips. They've stood out so far this year on the defensive line, which fell far below expectations last season. Phillips has been a rock on the interior for the Sooners and may be the most important player on the entire team going forward. Tapper has really impressed me this year with his explosiveness on the edge. He's so raw in terms of development that the improvement he's making just from game to game is pretty striking.
I've also been really impressed with the newcomers at corner opposite Aaron Colvin. Mike Stoops has called upon Zack Sanchez, Stanvon Taylor and Cortez Johnson all at some point this year, and each has flashed a ton of ability. They've provided depth in a secondary that found itself depleted by the loss of three veteran starters from last year.
On offense, keep an eye on running back Roy Finch. After splitting carries in his first two seasons in Norman, Finch found himself in the doghouse with Bob Stoops in '12. His contributions barely registered last year, but he has added an element of explosiveness coming out of the backfield through these first three games. He's averaging more than 7 yards per carry so far and is really dangerous in the screen game.
Coaches have long memories. Coaches also have extremely huge egos. Bob Stoops is no exception to that rule. Regardless of any coachspeak from him, does this game hit him on an emotional level given the 1999 loss, the 2012 loss, and (just throwing this in for reasons) the Midwest Catholic thing?
Stoops can be hard to read when it comes to that kind of thing. He'd never let on if the losses that you mentioned were gnawing at him.
However, if you listen to the players this week, they're showing signs that the team as a whole has put a little extra emphasis on this game. I'd assume that mentality would start at the top.
What are some of the things that you expect Oklahoma to try and do against Notre Dame offensively and defensively? I said "try" so now you can tell me if you think the Sooners can and will execute that type of gameplan.
Offensively, Oklahoma made an effort in the offseason to rework its running game. (I think the motivation to do so really started with how badly it failed the Sooners during the ND game.) So far this year, we've seen a heavier use of the zone read and diamond formation. I expect Josh Heupel to continue that Saturday while mixing in some runs from Blake Bell to keep the Fighting Irish from falling back into cloud coverage. Keep an eye out for package plays dictated by ND's personnel and coverage schemes. Also, look for OU to try to exploit the linebackers in coverage. That's one area where ND really seems to be missing Manti Te'o.
On defense, the big questions revolve around ND's ground attack. OU has rebuilt its D in the offseason in an effort to better combat no-huddle, spread offenses. Mike Stoops has had the defense alternating between a 3-3-5 and a 3-4 all year. Those personnel packages tend to leave the D on the smaller side and susceptible to downhill running offenses. It makes me wonder if OU might employ either a four-man line or "heavier" 3-4 grouping (putting an extra defensive lineman on the field while shifting one of the defensive ends to outside linebacker) against the Irish.
Can OU do either? Hate to punt here, but I have no clue. The reality is that we're learned very little about the Sooners through their first three games. In addition to the changes at quarterback, the schedule has consisted of three teams that could be generously called "mediocre." Bottom line: The trip to ND represents an enormous measuring stick for OU.
You can follow Allen Kenney on Twitter at @BlatantHomerism