NORMAN – This is how dominant No. 8 Oklahoma has been leading up to Saturday night’s showdown against No. 5 Notre Dame: At times during a 52-7 blowout against Kansas, even defensive coordinator Mike Stoops thought it was sort of dull.
His first-team defense didn’t allow a point for a second straight week, despite a performance that he declared was not “overly sharp.”
“Overall, it was a pretty businesslike four quarters for us. They didn’t come in and do a whole lot, and you know, we just played,” Stoops said.
“It kind of got a little boring. We just played our base defense most of the night and just played ball.”
The Sooners (5-1, 3-1 Big 12) have been clicking not only on defense but in all three phases of the game since a home loss against Kansas State a month ago.
The starting offense has scored on 15 of its last 20 drives, including 12 touchdowns. And on Saturday night, the special teams units produced the first game in the program’s storied history with touchdowns on both a kickoff and a punt return.
“I think we are in a good spot,” quarterback Landry Jones said after a three-touchdown outing. “The key now is to not get complacent, not think we have it all figured out and continue to work, continue to sharpen, continue to do the things that we’re supposed to be doing.
“I think we’ve got a shot at this thing.”
Jones and the rest of his Oklahoma teammates never gave up hope for a national championship after a 24-19 loss to Kansas State on Sept. 22 in their first marquee game of the season. Beating Notre Dame would bolster their case to make it into the title game as a one-loss team, if enough of the undefeated teams ahead of them lose.
“I think we should embrace it. It’s your time to shine, time to show everyone not just individually but as a unit, as a group and as a team where we stand,” safety Tony Jefferson said. “We’ve got a lot to prove. ... We’re fighting back, and I think we’re fighting back real well.”
Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel seems to be putting the pieces together better after an off night against K-State. He has leaned more heavily on fullback Trey Millard as an X-factor instead of using the team’s inexperienced tight ends, and he seamlessly added receiver Jalen Saunders to the mix after he was declared eligible by the NCAA two weeks ago.
“We’ve got a lot of weapons, got a lot of guys that can make those big plays. It’s nice. We’re starting to click, that’s for sure,” Jones said. “We’re starting get our momentum and find who we are as an offense and what kind of offense we want to be.
“If we keep playing this way, we’re going to have a lot more success on the field.”
This week figures to be a much stiffer test. Only Alabama is allowing fewer points per game than Notre Dame’s 9.4, and the Fighting Irish are also yielding the sixth-fewest yards in the nation.
“Certainly, we understand who is coming into town, what’s happened in the past, but certainly what type of football team they are right now,” Heupel said. “It’s a huge test for us offensively. They are playing as well as anybody in the country defensively.”
Coach Bob Stoops called it perhaps the program’s most anticipated game since the No. 2 Sooners hosted top-ranked Nebraska in 2000. That victory was the last time Oklahoma fans stormed Owen Field, and it was a huge step on the way to Stoops’ only national championship.
“I think they’re excited. You’ve got to play great defense to win. I think our guys feel good about the challenge,” Mike Stoops said.
“We know they have a great defense as well. The team that plays the best defense is going to have the best chance to win. That’s just how we feel, and every time we step on the field we want to have the best defense. Our guys are starting to take a lot of pride and effort in those words. It’s going to be fun.”
Jefferson, the team’s leading tackler, said the Sooners have bought in and are ready for the test.
“Next week we get to see who’s the best defense. We’ve got 60 minutes to prove that,” Jefferson said. “We look forward to the challenge. I know our offense will be ready, as well as the defense.”