Ready…as always

Louis Nix: on his way to a water break

Notre Dame's biggest game of the season is approximately 48 hours away. Just don't try to tell them that.

The state of Oklahoma is buzzing. South Bend and 50 states full of Notre Dame's Subway Alums are as well. Heck, even fan bases of Oregon, Kansas State, Georgia, LSU, Oregon State, and, especially, USC, will be tuned in Saturday in prime time when undefeated and heavy underdog Notre Dame takes on its toughest foe to date, the perennial Top 10 Oklahoma Sooners.

And of course, the Irish are champing at the bit as well. After all, there's a football game to be played.

"We'll take this week like any other week," said surging linebacker Danny Spond. "We won't do anything differently, just another challenge for us. We'll get out there and just play our game.

"They're an amazing offense, they're top 10 for a reason," he continued. "There's no doubt about it watching them on film. They have a lot of threats out there; they're very fast, very big, very physical.

"Speed is a big factor in the outcome. But we're not doing anything different than the last seven games, and we'll see what happens."

Yes the one-game-at-at-time syndrome has served head coach Brian Kelly's third Irish team well. Its the only logical approach a team can take when four of its first eight games include opponents ranked among the nation's top 18 -- with none against an FCS warm-up school to work out the kinks.

"The good part for me is it hasn't been a lot about Oklahoma," said Kelly of his team's practice week. "It's been about getting better, correcting things, and doing things better. My feeling after coaching for a long time is that when your team is focused on themselves more so than who you're playing, that's the focus you want.

"We know how good Oklahoma is. We have a lot of respect for them. Our guys were clearly excited about it when we talked Monday, but it's been a good week because they've been focused on themselves and what they need to do to win this game."

Kelly's focus has trickled down throughout the ranks.

"It's the same," said junior Louis Nix of his practice approach. "No matter the rank or hyped up it is we could win or lose this game. Then if we lose to Pitt (next week), it might not be as hyped up, but if we lose, then well, 'Notre dame's not relevant.' You just have to prepare and play hard."

They've prepared and played hard enough to allow just 66 total points (59 vs the defense) -- second lowest in the nation. Oklahoma has produced the fifth most per game: 44. It's taken three teams among Irish foes to combine for that many points (Purdue, Stanford, Brigham Young) to date.

"We focus on preparing and getting ourselves better, no matter the opponent," said senior safety Zeke Motta when asked if he'd noticed the 11-point spread in the Sooners favor. "We're going to take each week and take that opportunity to get better."

Their Kind of Contest

For the first time in at least 10 seasons (or exactly the last time Notre Dame was 7-0), Notre Dame's defensive front enters each contest knowing it will physically compete at worst -- and likely dominate.

For the first time in far more than 10 seasons (18, perhaps?) the Irish offensive front rightfully feels the same.

Saturday night in Norman, both sides of scrimmage will get their wish.

"They have some feisty receivers now," said Motta of Oklahoma's perimeter. "They can block. That motivates me. I like that kind of contact.

"I think any chance you get to get your hands on someone or give them a pop, that wears on people during a game. That's how I like to (play). I think it definitely affects receivers."

Its affected every team the Irish have played. Some (Purdue, Michigan, Stanford, BYU) punched back. Other (Michigan State, Miami) wilted under 60 minutes of harassment.

Oklahoma will likely offer the former, and the Irish are alright with that.

"On third-and-short or third-and-goal they have a package with that big quarterback," said Spond of 21-touchdown sophomore star Blake Bell. "But we'll play what our coaches tell us to play. For the past seven weeks we've exhibited that's our type of game. We like a hard-nosed physical game."

The Wonderful World of Big Lou

Spond isn't' alone in his assessment that physical play favors the Irish in any week. Notre Dame's most imposing defender, the 6'4" 330-pound Nix, is likewise excited for a meeting of the bigs with Oklahoma's Bell-Dozer:

"Just looking forward to it. When we see him come in he's there to pound it in and get a touchdown or first down. That's what I expect and I'm going to try my best to get to him. It'll be hard," said Nix. "He's a big guy. I think like 6'8" 340 pounds or something like that (6'6" 255, but who's counting?). He's a huge guy. You have to do your best to tackle him. He doesn't try to run out of bounds, he doesn't try to 'Ole' block. He tries to run through people. We have to do our best to wrap him up and take him to the ground."

Asked if he'd enjoy a chance to meet Bell in the hole Nix paused and noted, "I would love a one-on-one matchup with him. I think it would be fun."

Of course, Nix's idea of fun doesn't always jibe with that of his head coach. Consider the newest wrinkle Nix hopes to employ for the Irish offense.

"The Irish Chocolate package?" Nix answered when one reporter wondered if he was jealous of The Bell-Dozer. "One of these days (Kelly) might come around. We'll just get in there, 4th-and-1 or whenever he wants to. If I do it then he'll just keep giving it to me. I might can throw it around a little bit. We'll see."

Told Oklahoma's home record under head coach Bob Stoops was an obscene 79-4, Nix responded, "Nooo...I didn't. I don't care about all that. But that's impressive."

Prodded that his team's best efforts have been impressive to date as well, Nix noted, "Depends on who you talk to, I guess."

Regardless if its Bell, running back Damien Williams, or the right arm of 5th-year senior quarterback Landry Jones, Oklahoma's offense has thrived in the red zone this season, scoring touchdowns on a ridiculous 75 percent of their forays inside the opponents' 20-yard line, the touchdown rate in the nation.

That strength will meet with Nix and Notre Dame, the second-best red zone defense overall, and by far the nation's best at denying touchdowns.

Asked about his unit's prowess at defending their goal, Nix offered a unique take:

"'Cause...you get sick of being on the field so long. Something tells you, 'Just get off,' he began. "You just get tired of it. Like, 'Get off the field.' You're so tired and you're just ready to go off the field and go sit down and get some water. These guys are trying to score so you have to stop them to get some water. If you want water, you have to stop them."

Pressed if there was perhaps another aspect attributable to their success, Nix reiterated, "'No. Just have to want water. If you want water that bad, you have to get off the field."

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