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Sooners Need Run Game To Continue Stellar Production Against Notre Dame

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OU running back Brennan Clay scores a touchdown in the first game of the season against Louisiana-Monroe (AP Photo) OU running back Brennan Clay scores a touchdown in the first game of the season against Louisiana-Monroe (AP Photo)
NORMAN, Oklahoma -

Football is a physical game and last season when Notre Dame came to Norman, the Fighting Irish put on a clinic in physicality at the expense of the Sooners.

Last year in its 30-13 win, Notre Dame stuffed the Oklahoma offense, controlling the line of scrimmage and allowing the Sooners just 15 rushing yards. Even without counting the negative rushing yards, the Sooners still only ran for 53 yards on 24 attempts.

The Irish defense was content with sitting back and allowing the Sooners to have anything they wanted underneath in the passing game, knowing OU wouldn't be able to run the ball. Landry Jones finished the game with 356 yards passing, including 15 tosses for 181 yards to Jalen Saunders. However, the Irish defense never broke when it mattered most, holding the Sooners to just a single touchdown despite four trips into the red zone.

Oklahoma players recalled last year's game on Monday, with most of the talk focusing on the physical nature of the Irish defense.

"It was a pretty physical game," OU fullback Trey Millard said. "They're a really physical team. They have some big guys up front and they try to control the line of scrimmage. That's what we will have to try to do."

The Sooners will most certainly have to do a better job in South Bend on Saturday than they did a year ago, but it won't be easy. Notre Dame's front seven was dominant last year and many of the same players return, including nose tackle Louis Nix III and defensive end Stephon Tuitt up front along with Prince Shembo, Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese at linebacker.

The Sooners are returning four of five starters on the offensive line and while tackle Tyrus Thompson didn't start in last season's matchup, he still saw the field. The familiarity the two units have with each other makes the battle in the trenches even more intriguing this time around.

"It's not every day when you have all those guys back," OU center Gabe Ikard said. "It's one of those things where you're familiar with them, you know their strengths, you know how they play, so it makes studying the tape a little easier."

In last year's game, the Sooners had 24 official rushing attempts, although two of those were sacks and a third was a bad snap by Ikard that crushed the momentum of a strong opening drive. OU attempted 52 passes, taking what the Notre Dame defense gave them, but was unable to make plays when it counted, particularly in the fourth quarter after a Blake Bell rushing touchdown tied the score at 13 with just over nine minutes left to play.

So far this year, the Sooners are No. 16 in the country in rushing offense, racking up 271.7 yards per game, a big step up from the last few seasons. OU coach Bob Stoops said Monday that a lot of things have played a factor in the increase in the productivity.

"A lot of the reason is that we're blocking better and identifying who we're blocking in a stronger, better and more consistent way," Stoops said. "We've also been more persistent running the football, so hopefully we'll be able to have some success doing it."

Meanwhile the Irish are 28th against the run, allowing 114.2 yards per game. Overall the Irish defense has taken a step back this season, coming into the game with the No. 41 overall defense after finishing last season with the No. 7 defense in the country. However, that's not to say the Irish don't pose a challenge for the Sooners.

"They're led by two first-team All-American guys so we know how talented they are up front," Ikard said. "We're definitely accepting that challenge and we know how talented they are. It's definitely not going to be easy but we definitely have a good plan when it comes to our run game and we're going to be able to put some guys in some good spots."

Neither team is as good as their 2012 editions that clashed a year ago. However, there are plenty of returning pieces, so Saturday's matchup shouldn't be drastically different from the game in Norman a year. What is different, is the confidence the Sooners have in their ability to generate a better rushing performance.

I like our (offensive) line," co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said. "I think we have developed a tough-minded edge about ourselves. I think it also has to carry over to the perimeter with our receivers and perimeter blockers. They're (Notre Dame) not going to get out of position so they're going to force you to play with great effort and fundamentals and physicality. That's going to be a real challenge for us."

If the Sooners want to leave South Bend with a different outcome, they'll have to control the line of scrimmage and run the football. Oklahoma has proven they have the ability to run the football this season, but they physicality must increase in a big way for the Sooners to achieve the same success against the Fighting Irish.

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