The nation will be watching when No. 8 Oklahoma hosts No. 5 Notre Dame at 7 p.m. CT Saturday at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Here are storylines to keep an eye on:
1. Can the Sooners run the football?
Notre Dame’s run defense provides a challenge the Sooners have not seen this season. Opponents average 3.4 rushing yards per carry and the Irish have not allowed a rushing touchdown through seven games including wins over Michigan, Michigan State and Stanford, teams known for their ability to run the ball.
OU hopes Damien Williams can be the first opponent to run for a score against Notre Dame. The junior running back is one of the nation’s most explosive backs, evidenced by his 8.1 yard-per-touch average. The Sooners will need one or two big plays from Williams if they hope to win on Saturday.
2. Will the Sooners protect the football?
Turnovers were the difference in OU’s first loss, a 24-19 upset at the hands of Kansas State on Sept. 22. Three Sooners turnovers were critical in the defeat.
The Sooners coaching staff have been stressing the importance of ball security all week as they prepare for the Irish who have forced 17 turnovers and rank No. 11 nationally in turnover margin.
OU quarterback Landry Jones will have to make good decisions and the Sooners ball carriers will have to secure the ball against a physical Irish defense.
3. What impact will the matchup between OU’s defense and Notre Dame’s offense have on the game?
All the talk this week has been about the battle between the Sooners offense and Irish defense; it’s the headline matchup of the game.
And yet, the opposite side of the all for each team has the opportunity to make an impact as big as any. The Sooners defense has forced nine turnovers in its last three games, a driving force behind three blowout victories, and its first-team defense has allowed just one touchdown during that time.
Meanwhile the Irish feature several talented offensive players including tight end Tyler Eifert, who Bob Stoops called the best tight end in the nation this week, and dual-threat quarterback Everett Golson.
Their counterparts have gotten all the attention but don’t be surprised if the Sooners defense or Irish offense makes the game-changing play that secures a victory for their squad.
4. Will special teams be the difference?
If the offenses and defenses battle to a stalemate, OU has to like its chances. Punter Tress Way and kicker Michael Hunnicutt have been solid and the Sooners are coming off a game that saw Roy Finch return a kickoff for a touchdown and Justin Brown return a punt for a touchdown.
The Irish are have made 12 of 16 field goals and average 40.93 yards per punt while averaging 2.83 yards per punt return and 19.2 yards per kick return. Notre Dame’s special teams are not the Irish forte’.
Big games can often turn on the play of special teams, so if that’s the case on Saturday, Sooners fans should be smiling.
5. Will the Sooners' crowd impact the outcome?
OU wants to “Stripe the Stadium” on Saturday with the hope of creating a unique atmosphere on the turf at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Fans are being asked to wear white or red depending on their section and the Sooners hope their fans are as vocal as they were the last time “ESPN Gameday” came to town when Texas Tech visited in 2008.
Several Sooners players and coaches said they hope the fans are loud and rowdy on Saturday night. If they are, it could rattle the Irish and Golson, a redshirt freshman playing in just the second true road game of his career (the Irish have played two neutral site games and one road game in 2012).