Oklahoma linebackers aren't as visible in Mike Stoops' new system, and Tom Wort, Corey Nelson and Frank Shannon have adjusted well to it over the past three weeks. Notre Dame, though, relies heavily on its middle linebacker, senior Heisman candidate Manti Te'o, who has recorded 69 tackles, four interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Te'o is always the best player on the field for either team.
Advantage: Notre Dame
The Sooner defensive backfield has been stellar. Safety Tony Jefferson and Javon Harris have been big-time playmakers, and cornerback Aaron Colvin might be the best player on the entire Oklahoma team after his recent stretch. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said safeties should love playing at Oklahoma because they're “free to play.” Notre Dame junior corner Bennett Jackson has intercepted four passes and made 30 tackles.
The Sooners are playing excellent special teams for the most part. Justin Brown and Roy Finch returned a punt and a kick, respectively, for touchdowns last week against Kansas, and kicker Michael Hunnicutt has been reliable. The Irish have been — for the most part — atrocious on special teams; they're getting 2.3 yards per punt return, 19.2 yards per kick return and have missed four field goals. Kelly called his special teams units “thin,” saying they need to get help in future recruiting classes. That won't help anything Saturday.
Brian Kelly and his staff have made Notre Dame football relevant again. The Irish's close wins over good teams is a sign of excellent coaching. But Bob Stoops' team — disappointing in the season opener at UTEP and a loss to Kansas State — has looked like an entirely different one during this three-game win streak. His Sooners rarely lose at home, and usually beat ranked teams in Norman handily. Kelly is a great coach and certainly capable of rallying his team to an upset, but Stoops and his assistants get the edge here.