Notre Dame's best chance at what would be a colossal Vegas upset (the Irish are now 11-point 'dogs) is to win as they have throughout 2012 -- relying on their dominant defense, one augmented by a clutch, timely running game.
"It's going to start on the defensive side of the ball for us and to keep the points down, and then obviously find a way to get some scores," said Irish head coach Brian Kelly, adding, "and it's going to be hard on both ends. I think we're going to see two teams that are going to be really pushing hard to get points on the board on both sides."
That's the best-case scenario for the Irish who have grown accustomed to winning games in the fourth quarter, either responding to a threat (Purdue), salting it away on the ground (Michigan State, Michigan, BYU), or making one more play than a 60-minute peer (Stanford).
Those teams are ranked #48, #107, #53, #87, and #66, respectively, in scoring offense this season.
Oklahoma? Fifth at 44.67 points per game.
For the Irish to prevail, that "give" will have to come from the Oklahoma offensive front, one about to face the best defensive front seven its seen since (at least) the 2010 Big 12 Championship game vs. Nebraska, a 23-20 Sooners comeback win.
"They're gonna line up in their four-man front, three-man front," said Sooners center/guard coach James Patton. "They go in and out of that with the same personnel, so it's not anything different. Those four guys they have on the D-line are great players. I mean they'll all play pro football I'm sure."
Indeed, the South Bend fearsome foursome of Kapron Lewis-Moore, Louis Nix, Stephon Tuitt, and Prince Shembo are likely the best the program has seen since its last national title contender under Lou Holtz in 1993.
But that formidable front will be under fire unless the Irish can continue to possess the football with a churning ground game. Its a tactic used by the Sooners' lone conquerer this fall, the now No. 3-ranked Kansas State Wildcats.
"Collin Klein is an outstanding quarterback, dual-threat quarterback, extremely effective in throwing the football, and he's just a very patient runner," said Kelly of offensive weaponry not yet present on his Irish. "But I think Kansas State played very good defense. And I think it starts with if you look at Oklahoma in the last few weeks, just putting up so many points, you're not going to win those games."
Oklahoma has scored 156 over its last three outings. Notre Dame's defense has yielded 59 this season.
Something has to give.
Ring his Bell?Irish senior linebacker and Heisman candidate Manti Te'o has handled a few hundred extra media requests with aplomb this season. His now weekly Wednesday afternoon press conference, however, included at least one terse response, notable its all-too-relevant subject for Saturday night's contest.
Asked what he's seen on film from Oklahoma backup quarterback Blake Bell, he of the 21 career touchdowns on 75 carries (not a misprint), Te'o offered, "You just hit him. It's nothing different. At the end of the day, you bring him to the ground. It isn't anything different."
Pressed for how his defense has prepared for "Bell" this week, the never boastful but obviously annoyed Te'o first asked, then reiterated:
"Blake Bell? There's nothing different. He runs the same as anybody else. Obviously he's bigger than normal running backs. But like I said, its football. It's nothing different."
At 6'6" 255 pounds, the "Bell-Dozer" is a proven commodity in Oklahoma's short-yardage and red zone offense (32 scores in 33 opportunities; 25 TD). He'll encounter an Irish rush defense that hasn't yielded a score on the ground since last November, and not one of consequence since Michigan's Denard Robinson picked up a fumble for a two-yard touchdown in September 2011.
As noted previously…something has to give.