MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

September 24, 2013

Film from last year shows where OU went wrong

By John Shinn
CNHI News Service

— Watching a game from 11 months ago isn’t typically high on the game-week preparation list. What teams have done this season is the usual viewing choice.

Oklahoma’s coaches only made their team watch a little bit of last season’s 30-13 loss to Notre Dame. But it was the last 15 minutes of that game that was must-see viewing. It doesn’t take a football genius to see it was the fourth quarter where the Fighting Irish imposed its will on the Sooners.

“They really kinda dominated us in the fourth quarter last year,” OU cornerback Aaron Colvin said.

Dominate is good way to describe a scenario where the Sooners were outscored 17-0 over the final six minutes, turning a tight game into a very convincing Notre Dame victory.

It was one of three OU losses last season, but it truly was an eye-opener in terms of where it was a football team. It wasn’t tough enough to truly compete with college football’s best.

The 14th-ranked Sooners (3-0) get another shot at No. 22 Notre Dame (3-1) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind.

OU has resisted all urges to call this a statement game. After all there’s 88 percent of Big 12 Conference schedule that will come after it. It’s just the next game on the calendar.

However, this game will serve as a benchmark for all the changes the Sooners have made in the offseason.

The alterations have mainly been at the line of scrimmage. The Sooners were outmuscled on both sides of it last October at Owen Field. They only rushed for 15 yards and gave 215 on the ground.

OU coach Bob Stoops said Monday at his weekly press conference the outcome of the Notre Dame game alone didn’t force the Sooners revitalizing its run game.

“In that game, we did throw it well. We did take advantage of what they were doing and move the ball throwing it,” he said. “But again, as much as anything, that game’s what, 10-6, going into the fourth quarter and ends up 13-13, and then they made every play after that, whether it be the interception, the long pass, whatever. Anyway, we’ll need to run it better.”

They’ll need to because throwing short passes only gets an offense so far against quality opponents. If you want to score touchdowns in the red zone, it requires the toughness to impose your will.

Offensively, OU couldn’t do it last season. It got in the red zone four times, scoring one touchdown and kicking two field goals. Notre Dame did impose its will. Both of those fourth-quarter touchdown were red zone scores.

“The most important thing from last year was who controlled the line of scrimmage and that was obviously them,” OU center Gabe Ikard said. “We didn’t rush the ball well at all. They started to wear us out. It’s one of those things where that’s our focus now is establishing and controlling the line of scrimmage.”

Some of the personnel from last year’s game have changed. Both teams have different quarterbacks. Notre Dame no longer has Mantei Te’o at middle linebacker.

But the difference between winning and losing will likely come down to which team wins in the trenches Saturday. The Sooners believe they are better on sides of the ball in that area this season.

They’ll know for sure Saturday.