A Visit from Mike Mayock
Veteran NBC and NFL Network football analyst Mike Mayock visited Norman in preparation for Saturday’s broadcast. Mayock will team with play-by-play man Dan Hicks on NBC at 2:30 p.m. CT.
Jessica Coody of SoonerSports.tv caught up Mayock to get his thoughts on his first visit to the University of Oklahoma campus since he was in Norman for QB Sam Bradford’s pro day.
“When I think Sooner football I think great players, I think full football stadiums, I think excitement and this week,” Mayock told Coody in an exclusive interview. “Every time I come here I’m impressed with the facilities. I’m impressed with the coaching staff. I’m impressed with the level of players and the commitment of the community to the football program. It doesn’t get a whole lot better than Norman, Oklahoma.”
Mayock, a former safety at Boston College and with the New York Giants, has earned a well-deserved reputation as a draft guru for NFL Network. On Tuesday, he spent time with two NFL hopefuls, center Gabe Ikard and linebacker Corey Nelson, along with head coach Bob Stoops.
“It’s really kind of interesting because I think it’s a benchmark game for Oklahoma,” Mayock told Coody. “I think they’re going to take a step up this week, as far as caliber of opponent. I think it’s important that they play well in this game prior to re-starting their Big 12 schedule again. So I think it’s a huge game for Oklahoma and it’s just as big for Notre Dame. You know, when you look at Notre Dame, they made it to the national championship and I really thought that the Oklahoma game was a catalyst a year ago. So I think you have two programs that need a big win in a national spotlight.”
Mayock also offered his opinion on the biggest change OU fans will notice in this year’s vintage of the Fighting Irish compared to the 2012 model that claimed a victory in Norman.
“I think the biggest difference is at the quarterback position,” he continued. “Tommy Rees is more of a pocket passer. They’re a little different at the quarterback position; they want to run the ball, so far teams haven’t really let them. I think that’s going to be a big part of the game on Saturday, whether or not Notre Dame can run the football.”
But before Mayock sees the Sooners in South Bend, he’ll call a contest on NFL Network that features one of OU’s five Heisman winners, QB Sam Bradford, as the Rams host the 49ers on Thursday night. After departing Oklahoma, Mayock was bound for St. Louis to meet with head coach Jeff Fisher, Bradford and company.
Asked about his hectic fall schedule, this football junkie offered this closing tidbit:
“Are you kidding me? If I could find a high school game, I’d do it on Friday.”
Moving the Chains
After going four of 14 on third downs against Notre Dame last season, the OU coaching staff has placed emphasis on the moving the sticks on third down offensively and getting off the field defensively on third down.
“We weren’t nearly as good as we needed to be, and they were better at getting the stop, and that was a big factor,” said head coach Bob Stoops of last year’s third downs. “In critical third downs when you’re about to move to scoring position or keep the drive going then you’ve got to be able to convert those.”
On the season, the Sooners are currently 24 of 50 (.480) on third-down conversions, ranking 38th in the country in conversion percentage. However, most recently against Tulsa, the Sooners were a sizzling 12 of 16 (.750).
“They try to get you behind the eight-ball by not allowing you success on first down, which puts you in third-and-long situations,” said co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell of the Notre Dame defense. “We have to do a good job of making efficient plays on first down, whether it’s running or throwing. In this game, it’s important that you catch it and get upfield, north and south. It’s not fancy, it’s just get upfield, get the yards you need, bang off pads, and move on to the next play. Six and seven yard gains are big in this game and you have to do it over and over again because their style of defense forces you to do that.”
Co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel pointed out third-down conversions as a key to quarterback Blake Bell’s success against Notre Dame, the first road start of his career.
“We’ve got to stay out of third and longs,” Heupel said. “We’ve got to be efficient on first and second downs, and we’ve got to create some big plays. A year ago we hit them with some things that picked up 15 to 25, but we didn’t hit any home runs, so we’ve got to find a way to do that, too.”
Scouting Notre Dame
Notre Dame has seen its share of great players come through its program and this season is no different. In talking with OU coaches and players this week, two names in particular have surfaced that will need to be neutralized for the Sooners to have a good chance of coming out of South Bend with a victory.
Irish quarterback Tommy Rees has thrown for over 300 yards in three of four games this season and is most recently coming off a win against Temple in which he went 16 of 23 for 346 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
“They’re going to put it up in every game a good number of times," said head coach Stoops of the Irish passing attack. "He (Rees) throws an excellent ball, and they have confidence in their receivers going up and getting it. That’s definitely something we’re aware of and something we need to be able to defend.”
“You take away the run, he (Rees) is good enough to hurt you," added defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. "Again, the big plays last year, the big post route off the run action, that’s what they pride themselves on and we have to be better in making sure we don’t give up big plays.”
On the defensive side, OU senior center Gabe Ikard listed Irish DE Louis Nix as a focal point of the Notre Dame front.
“There’s no doubt that Nix is the best in the country," Ikard said. "It constantly takes two guys to block him. I saw on Saturday against Michigan State how active he is. He’s one of those guys where you can tell how strong and talented he is on the tape. Last year, he was certainly the biggest challenge of my season. I’m excited to block the best in the country. We have to prepare for him and the rest of the defense.”
Ikard's coach on the offensive line, Bill Bedenbaugh, also stressed the need to shut down the senior.
"I don’t know that I’ve seen many guys like him," said Bedenbaugh. "You had the guys here, Dusty (Dvoracek) and Tommie Harris, but they’re different types of players than this guy. This kid is unique in that he is massive. He is a big thick guy. You look at him on film and he covers up the center; you can’t even see the center. So he presents a huge challenge. He’s quick, he’s got good hands and he’s well coached so it’s a big challenge."
Last year, Notre Dame had 7.0 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks against OU, giving Stoops reason to highlight the battle in the trenches between Nix, Ikard and the rest as important to Saturday's result.
"It’s a big matchup," said OU’s head coach, who will meet Notre Dame for a third time in his 15 seasons with the Sooners. "If you’re going to run the ball or protect the quarterback, it all starts with those five guys up front against their D-line and then fullbacks and tight ends as well dealing with them. It’s a big part of the game and they are an excellent group up there that Notre Dame plays with.”
So what are the overall keys to victory in South Bend?
“I think first turnovers are a huge deal, third-down conversions each way, stopping them and us getting them, and being able to have good balance, run and pass," Stoops continued. "I thought a year ago those were big deals in the fourth quarter. Last year they made all the plays down the stretch in the last six minutes of the game and that’s what changed the game. It was a 13-13 game with six minutes to go and they make all the plays at the end."
A Key Moment in OU Football Lore
On Oct. 10, 1956, Oklahoma played in front of what was then the largest crowd in Notre Dame Stadium history and the largest away crowd the Sooners had ever played in front of - a total of 60,128 fans. The record crowd came to South Bend, Ind., not only to watch their "Golden Boy" Paul Hornung, but also flocked to see the visiting Sooners, the defending national champions who were currently on a 34-game winning streak.
In weather recorded as "clear and zippy" at 65 degrees on the official play-by-play, OU won the toss and elected to receive. The Sooners, led by senior quarterback Jim Harris, marched 69 yards down the field almost unhindered, scoring the game's first points on a 14-yard pass from Harris to Bell.
The drive would be indicative of the entire game, coupled with a Sooner defense that silenced Hornung, the eventual Heisman Trophy winner that same season. On Notre Dame's first offensive drive after the touchdown, the Irish reached the Sooner 18-yard line before failing to convert on fourth down. After running one play, OU actually kicked the ball back to Notre Dame, pinning the Irish back in their own territory.
The tactic worked. After Notre Dame went three-and-out, the Irish lined up to punt. Steve Jennings, a sophomore end for the Sooners, burst through the line and blocked the kick, resulting in OU taking over at the Irish 3-yard line. Two plays later, senior Jay O'Neal rushed in for a one-yard touchdown, giving Oklahoma a 13-0 lead.
Bud Wilkinson's Sooners would continue to roll on both sides of the ball heading into the second quarter. Junior Clendon Thomas ran untouched from 11 yards out to give the Sooners a 19-0 lead before senior Tommy McDonald returned an interception 55 yards for another score to give OU a 26-0 halftime lead.
Harris added another score on a 1-yard sneak in the third and Thomas scored his second touchdown of the game in the fourth, this time on defense on a 36-yard pick six.
In all, OU held Hornung to 10 of 17 passing for 85 yards and forced the senior to commit four of Notre Dame's six turnovers on the day.
Harris finished with five rushes for 23 yards, completing three passes for 39 yards and a touchdown, along with making three of four PATs. Harris finished his career at OU with a 25-0 record as the starting quarterback from 1954-56, helping Oklahoma to two national titles.
In a well-rounded day, McDonald, who would finish third in the Heisman Trophy voting and was named The Sporting News Player of the Year, rushed 12 times for 52 yards, threw a 49-yard pass, had a 17-yard punt return and picked off two passes, one for the 55-yard touchdown. McDonald, who was a two-time All-American at OU, was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1985.
Thomas also filled up the stat sheet, rushing 10 times for 69 yards and a touchdown, scoring another six on an interception return, and making his mark on special teams with a 41-yard punt and a 17-yard kickoff return. He would finish as the leading scorer in college football in 1956 with 18 touchdowns. A Consensus All-American in 1957, Thomas joined the College Football Hall of Fame as a 2011 inductee.
Another Hall of Famer, Jerry Tubbs played center in the Sooners' victory over Notre Dame. In 1956, Tubbs was a unanimous All-America and was named Lineman of the Year by three agencies. He was also an Academic All-American that same year.
A Coaching Legend's Influence
He won't be walking the storied sidelines of Notre Dame Stadium when the Sooners and Fighting Irish kick off this Saturday. Yet one Hall of Fame coach will still have a large influence over a number of those who will be.
Hayden Fry, most notably the head coach at Iowa from 1979-98 who led the Hawkeyes to three Big Ten championships and 14 bowl games, is a legend for those he has impacted in the college football world.
“He was a great leader and projected such a confidence, no matter where we went and who we played,” said Bob Stoops in a 2011 Oklahoman article on Fry. “He really projected a persona, a swagger and an attitude. It helped us. Where were we going to get it from if not for him? He just walked in with it and projected it everywhere he went.”
Stoops indicated he spoke with Fry on Tuesday and the two discussed the eight coaches involved in Saturday’s game that boast ties to Fry’s Hawkeye squads.
Between OU and Notre Dame, eight coaches - four from each side - are Fry proteges. Seven played for Fry at Iowa and all went on to coach in some capacity with him.“They’re very well-coached,” added Jay Norvell on the Notre Dame staff. “Half of their coaches are from Iowa, so we know those guys very well.”
Hayden Fry Coaching Tree - Oklahoma & Notre Dame Oklahoma
- Bob Stoops - Head Coach, 1999-13
- Iowa (1979-82 player; 1983-87 graduate assistant/volunteer assistant)
- Mike Stoops - Associate Head Coach & Defensive Coordinator, 1999-03 & 2012-13
- Iowa (1981-84 player; 1988-91 LB/DB coach)
- Jay Norvell - Co-Offensive Coordinator & Receivers Coach, 2008-13
- Iowa (1982-85 player; 1986-87 graduate assistant)
- Jerry Montgomery - Defensive Line Coach, 2013
- Iowa (1998-01 player – member of Fry’s final Iowa recruiting class)
- Bob Diaco - Assistant Head Coach & Defensive Coordinator, 2010-13
- Iowa (1992-95 player; 1996-97 graduate assistant)
- Bob Elliott - Safeties Coach, 2012-13
- Iowa (1972-75 player; 1976 graduate assistant; 1994-98 assistant coach)
- Kerry Cooks - Co-Defensive Coordinator, 2010-13
- Iowa (1993-97 player)
- Paul Longo - Director of Football Strength & Conditioning, 2010-13
- Iowa (1998-03 strength coach)