The Oklahoma Sooners welcome the Notre Dame Fighting Irish to Norman this Saturday in a showdown of top 10 teams looking to make a push towards the BCS title game. Oklahoma is playing without any room for error because a second loss would end their national title chances. The key for the heavy home favorite will be the play of their quarterback, Landry Jones.
Jones came into the season with high expectations, much like every other year he’s been the Sooners quarterback. But his early season performance was underwhelming and culminated in a terrible game against the Kansas State Wildcats, which resulted in the Sooners’ first, and only, loss of the season.
Jones was constantly pressured during the game, being hurried twice and sacked twice with a pair of turnovers. He threw an interception, had a fumble returned for a touchdown and had just one touchdown pass, his lowest of the season, in a game that he looked flustered throughout.
After the game, Jones came under a lot of scrutiny. Since then, however, he’s seemingly returned to form, throwing for 880 yards with seven touchdowns and just one interception while only being sacked twice with no hurries over his last three games. Those performances have rejuvenated Jones’ confidence heading into his biggest test of the season.
Notre Dame is sporting the second ranked scoring defense in all of college football. Manti Te’o leads a defense ranked 14th against the pass and that is even tougher against the run. The Irish haven’t allowed a rushing touchdown yet this season, a streak that stretches back into last season for a total of nine games.
Oklahoma has found success in the last three games by striking a balance with their running and passing game, taking some pressure off of Jones. That will be difficult to do against the Irish front seven who have taken a lot of pride in shutting down opposing running games, putting the pressure on the quarterback to win the game with his arm while facing a unyielding pass rush.
So far, Notre Dame has won with this formula. They will have a much tougher task in this game, however, as Jones will be the best quarterback the Irish defenders have faced all season. The Irish are ranked in the top 15 against the pass this season, but only one of the teams they have faced rank in the top 60 in passing (Miami Hurricanes, No. 23).
Jones presents the biggest challenge yet for the Irish. He will need to get good protection from his offensive line and use his quick release and ability to recognize the defense to keep the Sooner offense moving. Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly recognizes that Jones is in a “good rhythm” right now and will have a gameplan ready to disrupt that.
So which Landry Jones will show up? This will be the best defense that Jones has faced this season and it is one of the biggest games the Sooners have played in his career. He’s looked good the last three games but two of those games were against the Texas Longhorns, who lead the conference in missed tackles, and the Kansas Jayhawks, who might lead the country in sadness.
Will Jones be able to respond to the pressure of the moment and overcome the talented defense to deliver the performance his team needs from him? Or will this be another spotlight that shines a bit too bright?
One way or the other, one side will pass their toughest test of the season. Will it be Landry Jones against the talented Irish defense? Or will it be the Notre Dame D against the best quarterback and the best offense they’ve faced? We’ll find out Saturday as the whole world watches.