Irish win third; face tough Sooners today
Notre Dame came up with just enough offense and defense last week, especially in the second half, to hang on for a 17-13 win over Michigan State, ending the Spartans win streak at three and extending the Irish win streak over MSU to three straight.
As I stated following the Temple game, it wasn't pretty but it was a win.
The game was a double-edge sword for ND fans. The offense took a step backwards while the defense showed some improvement, but it is far from the dominating type Irish fans expected. Simply put, the Irish can't run the football while the passing game, and QB Tommy Rees, looked bad at times.
Defensively the Irish did show some improvement but the pass defense is still very questionable and the run defense was up and down the entire game. But give the "D" credit. It had enough when they needed it to preserve the victory.
Here are some stats to show the futility of the offense. The offense is ranked 99th in rushing out of 123 FBS teams; 32nd in passing yards; 71st in total offense; and 77th in scoring offense.
The 224 yards the Irish managed rushing against the No. 1 ranked defensive team in MSU is the fewest yards produced by an Irish team in a game since Charlie Weis' second to last season as head coach.
On the defensive side the rankings are: 28th in rushing defense, 40th in pass-efficiency defense, 41st in total defense, 45th in scoring defense, 114th in sacks, and 110th in tackles for loss.
So there is hope but there is concern as ND hosts unbeaten Oklahoma (3-0) today. The Sooners enter the game ranked 14th in the AP poll and 12th in the coaches poll. ND remained 22 in the AP and dropped to 22 in the coaches rankings.
Oklahoma has beaten Lousiana-Monroe, 34-0; West Virginia, 16-7; and Tulsa, 51-20, so far this season.
The Sooners are led on offense by RBs Brennan Clay and Damien Williams. The starting QB was Trevor Knight until he was replaced last week during the Tulsa game by Blake Bell, who threw for over 400 yards. He is considered a better runner than passer. The top receivers are Sterling Shepard and Jalen Saunders.
ND leads the series, 9-1, and has won the last seven meetings including last year, 30-13.
The game will be televised by NBC-TV with a 3:40 p.m. kickoff.
IRISH NOTES: Some stats from last week: Rees was 14 of 34 for 142 yards, his lowest production so far this year. His throws on the deep routes by ND receivers were very poor. Rushing was led by Cam McDaniel, who had 44 yards on 16 carries; George Atkinson had 23 on six carries; Freshman Tarean Folston 12 on four; and Amir Carlisle just nine on three. Receiving was led by freshman Corey Robinson with two for 17; DaVaris Daniels with six on three; TJ Jones 15 on two and a score; and Atkinson two for 17. On defensive side Carlo Calabrese and Jarrett Grace each had eight tackles and Bennett Jackson seven ... The Sooners are ranked in the top 25 in both total offense and total defense. But the ranking is suspect based on the Sooners' three opponents. West Virginia is the highest ranked opponent of the three played to date by the Sooners ... ND is ranked 112th when in the red zone. With little or no signs of a running game, the Irish usually set up with an empty backfield and throw to the end zone when in the red zone hoping a receiver can out jump his defender ... Grace started his first game on defense last week as Kelly is trying combinations to improve that side of the ball. The 6-3, 248-pounder seemed to help the defense pull closer together ... One thing that I think is lacking with this team so far is that there is no real "team leader" on offense or defense. Last year LB Manti Te'o filled the bill on defense and we all know the result. Last week Rees, for the first time, showed some leadership on the sidelines in a huddle with the offense and it was highlighted by NBC ... Dan Fox looks to return to his natural weakside LB position and share it with Calabrese ... Today the Irish defense will really be tested. The Sooners have the best running attack the Irish have faced since the BCS title game against Alabama. Oklahoma is ranked 16th nationally in rushing offense ... Kelly has now played 11 freshmen this season, which is up one from last week's Purdue game ... ND was just six of 17 in third down conversions last week ... Freshman QB Malik Zaire has officially returned to the team after being cleared by doctors after a bout of mononucleosis. He and Andrew Hendrix are now options for Kelly when they need a QB to run the football in certain situations giving the opposing team something to think about ... Defensive end Sheldon Day, who missed last week's game due to an ankle injury, returned to practice and will play today ... Today's game has been designated as "green out" game in which fans are asked to wear green, and that 40,000 green pom-poms will be handed out to fans attending the game. Kelly said the team will not be wearing green jerseys ... In South Bend this weekend is former Irish coach Terry Brennan and members of the 1957 team that ended Oklahoma's NCAA-record 47-game winning streak. The team will be honored at a luncheon Friday, at the pep rally Friday night, and at the game Saturday ... Oklahoma has won eight consecutive regular-season games since last year's loss to ND. The Sooners are only one of two teams in the AP top 25 that have yet to give up a passing touchdown ... Oklahoma and ND are ranked one and two for fewest losing seasons in FBS history, with 12 and 13 respectively ... In the last 36 games in which the Sooners have led at halftime they have gone on to win. Meanwhile, Kelly is 25-3 at ND when his team leads at the half and 157-13 in his career ... In my preseason picks I had Oklahoma winning today. After last week I see no reason to change that. If the Irish can find a running game today they could challenge and make it another close one. The Sooners are favored by three and a half. What worries me is not only the Sooners running attack, but QB Bell's ability to run.