After traveling into a hostile environment and defeating a top-10 Oklahoma team with a potent offense just a year ago, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly’s squad knows what it’s up against Saturday.
Notre Dame sophomore defensive end Sheldon Day will play Saturday after returning to practice this week following a sprained ankle that kept him out of the 17-13 win over Michigan State.
“We know our opponent,” Kelly said at his weekly Thursday media briefing. “We know their strengths. And we know the things we have to improve on. I think our guys are very aware of our weaknesses and what we have to improve on to win this football game.
“I will say this: They’re confident, they know they can beat Oklahoma, but they’re going to have to play mistake-free. We’re going to have to be in great position and fundamentally sound defensively and all the basic tenets that go with playing championship football will have to be on display Saturday. [I’m] very confident in our football team that they understand what’s necessary and what will have to happen on Saturday for us to win.”
For a team much more adept at finishes than beginnings, Notre Dame must perform well throughout the 60 minutes of football in order to win rather than rely on a strong second half, as has been the case many times the past couple years.
“We’ve always talked about starting fast and it’s really hasn’t been part of this group yet consistently,” Kelly said. “What they do is they finish really well, so I’d stick around if I were you because they know how to finish games. We just have to make plays down the stretch but we have to do a better job of being consistent for four quarters. We haven’t really put together those four quarters of really good football and we’re going to need to do that against Oklahoma.
“If we get off to a poor start and don’t play well for a few quarters, we’re going to find ourselves in a tough situation against a good football team in Oklahoma.”
Kelly said sophomore defensive end Sheldon Day practiced all week and will start against the Sooners after sitting out in last week’s 17-13 win over Michigan State due to a sprained ankle.
“Anytime you’re coming back from an injury in the timeframe that he has, you have to feel good that he’s been able to respond,” he said.
Kelly praised the play of the defensive reserves that pitched in in Day’s absence. Despite the starter’s return against the Sooners, Kelly said to expect the Irish to display its depth this weekend.
“We played a lot of guys,” he said. “We played [sophomore defensive lineman Jarron Jones], obviously [senior defensive tackle Kona Schwenke] played a great deal and we’re pleased with his play. [Fifth-year senior defensive lineman] Tyler Stockton played, [freshman defensive end Isaac Rochell] played, [junior linebacker Ishaq Williams] played. A lot of those guys got in the rotation and got a lot of reps and I see that happening again more this weekend as well. You’re going to continue to see that rotation.”