NORMAN — Blake Bell has carried the ball 15 times inside opponents' 10-yard lines this season; eight of those rushes became Oklahoma touchdowns.
Notre Dame opponents have attempted nine runs inside the Irish 10; those runs have netted 4 yards and no touchdowns.
In fact, Notre Dame remains major college football's only team that hasn't allowed any rushing scores, period.
Saturday, No. 8 Oklahoma hosts the fifth-ranked, undefeated Irish on Owen Field, with the loser virtually eliminated from BCS title contention.
But an intriguing subplot may unfold if Oklahoma's infamous “Belldozer” package is called upon near the Notre Dame goal line.
What happens, the paradox goes, when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?
“If it's first-and-goal from the 5, we're gonna have a hard time keeping them out of the end zone,” said Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly.
“It's a great short-yardage offense,” Kelly continued. “He's big; he's physical.
“I told our defensive coaches ... ‘If he's on the field, we're gonna have to do something really extraordinary, because he's a tough guy to stop.'”
The “Belldozer” package — where Bell replaces starting quarterback Landry Jones, takes a shotgun snap and forges ahead in short-yardage or goal line situations — has been a roaring success since being unveiled midway through last season.
Bell has rushed for 21 touchdowns over the Belldozer's 13-game life span. Twice, he's scored four touchdowns in a single game; the last time — the Sooners' 63-21 rout of Texas on Oct. 13 — all four touchdowns came before halftime.
As the Fighting Irish have continued winning games, rising in the polls and — possibly — resurrecting Notre Dame's football glory, defense has been their calling card.
Two weeks ago, trailing the Irish by a touchdown in overtime, Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor carried the ball on four straight plays inside the Irish 5-yard line. The last two attempts were from the 1, and Notre Dame stuffed him, keeping its record spotless.
“They're a great defense up front,” said Trey Millard, Oklahoma's senior fullback. “We know that they're gonna be physical; we know our run game is a huge part of our offense; and we know we have to execute in that area to be successful against them.”
Millard wouldn't label Notre Dame as the Belldozer's greatest challenge to date — “I think it could be; I guess I can tell you after the game,” he said — but senior offensive tackle Lane Johnson called the Irish's interior defensive linemen “by far the best” OU has seen this season.
“They're probably the biggest, strongest front we've played all year,” Johnson said. “It's gonna test our running ability, but it's something we're ready for.”
Middle linebacker Manti Te'o gets most of the publicity — and it's well-deserved; the senior has recorded 69 tackles, four interceptions and two fumble recoveries — but Notre Dame's uncompromising run defense is more than just him.
Sophomore defensive end Stephon Tuitt (6-foot-6, 303 pounds) and junior nose guard Louis Nix III (6-3, 326) anchor an Irish defensive line that Sooner assistant coach James Patton labeled as full of future pros.
“A 15-round slugfest,” Patton, who coaches interior offensive linemen, called Saturday's top-10 clash.
“It'll be a physical game. Our guys know it. Notre Dame wants it to be that way, too; that's the way they play.”
Big-picture consequences will stem from Saturday's final score — the victor stays alive in the national-title race, while the loser is all but eliminated — but in addition, each team has important, proud aspects of their success at stake if the “Belldozer” makes an appearance with the end zone in sight.
“I'm sure Notre Dame will have a wrinkle (for defending the Belldozer), and we anticipate that,” Patton said. “It all just comes down to execution, winning your one-on-one battles. It's just fundamental football.
“They haven't given up a (rushing) touchdown ... I'm sure they take pride in it. We'll accept that challenge. We'll go at it and our guys will be ready to compete.”