With 22 players on the field, it’s rare when you truly get two teams’ best players going head to head. The game within the game Saturday when No. 8 Oklahoma (5-1) and No. 5 Notre Dame (7-0) go at it on Owen Field will be between Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o and OU fullback Trey Millard. It will be the best versus the best in their own personal “Oklahoma Drill.”
“It’s definitely 11 on 11, but I know there are a lot of schemes where I’ll be blocking him,” Millard said. “It’s something you look forward to in practice and get prepared for.”
He should because opportunities like this don’t come along often. Millard may have developed into a very skilled offensive player this season. The guy is averaging 7.8 yards per carry and 15.5 yards per reception. Nonetheless, Millard is still the Sooners’ No. 1 fullback and that job is earned by neutralizing linebackers.
“I love making big blocks and I love springing guys,” Millard said. “If I have the ball in my hands, I love doing that, too. I definitely think if we have some of those longer runs, it definitely gets the whole offense kind of fired up, makes the play-action that much more dangerous, makes the wide receivers that much more dangerous.”
Te’o is better than any linebacker the Sooners have gone against in years. The last linebacker to finish in the top five in the Heisman Trophy balloting was OU’s own Brian Bosworth, who finished fourth in 1986. Te’o, who has four interceptions and a fumble recovery this season, would probably surpass that based on the way he’s played in the first seven games.
“He’s a great player,” OU coach Bob Stoops said of Te’o. “Those guys have had a great year so far for us, too. It’ll be one of the many battles in there.”
Ears ringing for Ikard
Saturday night’s game won’t be the first time Oklahoma center Gabe Ikard has heard the “Notre Dame Victory March” played at full tilt. The Oklahoma City native spent his childhood in Catholic schools and graduated from Bishop McGuinness — home of the Fighting Irish. He even made a recruiting visit to Notre Dame.
“It’s kind of a love-hate thing with Notre Dame. I grew up in a Catholic school my entire life. I was always a Notre Dame fan. Their fight song was our high school fight song,” he said. “It’s kind of like the Yankees. You either love them or you hate them.”
Luckily, for the eighth-ranked Sooners, he picked them.
The Sooners’ season could have fallen off the rails before it started. Injuries forced returning center Ben Habern and guard Tyler Evans out before OU even practiced in pads. Habern simply moved from left guard to center and OU hasn’t really missed a beat with Adam Shead and Bronson Irwin becoming full-time starters at the guard spot.
Ikard gave both someone to lean on.
“Gabe’s been great,” Irwin said. “Gabe’s a really smart guy and he’s very familiar with the system and he knows what’s going on so anytime we’re even a little bit unsure, he can help us out and make sure me and Adam are 100 percent sure what’s going on every play.”