Five to watch: Irish offense

Irisheyes.com publisher Tim O'Malley offers Sooners fans five players to watch when Notre Dame has the football Saturday afternoon

Quarterback #11 Tommy Rees: Oklahoma fans will find out a lot about their team's defense Saturday afternoon, because Rees absolutely annihilates bad-to-average defenses and, with one exception (at Michigan, 2011), but struggles to put more than two touchdowns on the board vs. those of quality. Period.

He's fully capable of ripping off 6, 7, even 8 straight completions for a crisp scoring drive, but it rarely happens multiple times in a contest. He's a more confident mid-range passer as a senior and excels pre-snap, generally getting the Irish in the right play in their no-huddle attack (watch how often Rees makes an adjustment at the line of scrimmage Saturday). But his mobility is among the nation's worse and he continues to struggle with the oft-called fade route in the end zone -- the present bane of a Notre Dame fan's existence.

Rees has a chance to guide Notre Dame to a win Saturday in South Bend. If he does, there's a good chance it's a game played in the low 20s.

Wide Receiver #10 DaVaris Daniels: Held in check last week by a heck of a physical cornerback in Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard, Daniels torched Purdue two weeks ago with 167 yards and two touchdowns. He's answered the bell vs. top competition, too, producing a 115-yard effort in the BCS Championship game last January. Daniels isn't the team's most polished receiver -- that's senior #7 T.J. Jones -- but he's the most likely to have a big day because of NFL-level athleticism.

Tight End #85 Troy Niklas: The 6'6" (at least) 270-pound junior played the role of extra offensive tackle last week vs. Michigan State. But Niklas broke out in a Week Two loss in Ann Arbor, catching six balls including a 20-yard catch-and-run touchdown that drew the Irish to within seven points in the second half. (Niklas also scored on a 66-yard catch-and-run vs. Temple.)

His role Saturday will serve as an indicator of how head coach Brian Kelly plans to manage the game: if Niklas remains in-line as a blocker, the Irish are going to try to grind out a victory. If he's often among Rees' pass progressions, Kelly likely believes his team needs to score more than usual to register the mild upset.

Running Back #33 Cam McDaniel: He's not the fastest (that's George Atkinson), or the biggest (Atkinson), or the quickest in space (Amir Carlisle), or the most talented per their press clippings (Florida freshmen Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant), but in the convoluted mess that's become the Notre Dame rushing attack, the 5'9" McDaniel serves as the lone constant: he'll get the ball, and if the game's close, he'll get it a lot.

McDaniels is blessed with excellent balance, toughness (he already has stitches in his head and a broken hand), leg drive, and short-space quickness. But he's unlikely to rip off anything more than 15 yards. And he's not rushing for 100 yards anytime soon vs. a quality defense. But he gets the most out of nearly every carry, and so far that's been the best the backfield has to offer.

Wide Receiver #88 Corey Robinson: The Admiral's son enrolled last January and from the outset has dominated in one regard: if the ball is thrown high, and in his general direction, he's probably coming down with it. Robinson uses his height, wingspan, and ridiculous hands to track the football better than any freshman I've seen at the program since the early 1990s (former record-holder Derrick Mayes). He is, however, still 18 years old and weighs in at just 205 pounds -- he can't play every snap, nor has he yet been involved in a pass play over the middle of the defense.

But at some point, make that multiple points Saturday, Robinson will go one-on-one downfield with Oklahoma's corners and he'll win his fair share -- or draw some yellow laundry in the process.


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