“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.”