Before the year, the Sooners special teams unit was talked about as having a chance to be one of the best in the Stoops era. They certainly have lived up to the billing, and even set a school record last week as they returned both a punt and kickoff for a touchdown. Now with another big-game coming up, the special teams unit will be needed to be a factor once again.
One thing sophomore kicker Kyle Brindza has shown he can do, is be counted on in late game situations. In week two against Purdue, he kicked a game winning field goal with six seconds left to vault the Irish to a 20-17 win. Two weeks ago against Stanford, Brindza was called upon to tie the game with just over 20 seconds left. Once again, he came through and sent the game into overtime where the Irish ultimately prevailed to a 20-13 victory. Brindza is 11-15 on the year with a long of 40. One thing to note however, is that he’s just 1-3 from 40 yards or longer.
Michael Hunnicutt continues to be solid, and is showing no signs of a sophomore slump. Hunnicutt is 8-9 on the year with a long of 42 yards, and 32-34 on the year in extra point attempts. He continues to give the coaches confidence in the kicking game, something that hasn’t been there the past few seasons.
Senior Ben Turk is averaging 40.9 yards a punt, which ranks 60th in the country. However, Turk has eight punts inside the 20, and only one touchback on the year. Turk will try and neutralize Justin Brown’s return ability with high angling punts. The Irish will need him to win the field position game, and help slow down the Sooner offense.
Tress Way’s 43.2 yard average currently ranks second in the conference, and 20th in the nation. A four-year starter, Way is no stranger to playing in big games. If the Irish are able to slow down the Sooners offensively, it could very well come down to who wins the field position battle. If this happens, Way certainly has the edge over Turk.
The Irish haven’t been explosive in the kick return game this year, and are only averaging 19.2 yards a return, which ranks 93rd in the nation. George Atkinson is the biggest threat in the return game for the Irish, but is only averaging 19.4 yards on eight returns with a long of 32. With the Sooner kickoff coverage team playing so well, it would be very surprising to see the Irish break open a kick return.
The Sooners are the only team in the country to be ranked in the top six in both kickoff and punt returns. A 31.2 yard kick return average ranks as the best in the Big 12, and third in the country. We’ve been waiting to see it all year, and last week it finally happened when Roy Finch took the opening kickoff back 100 yards for a touchdown. Notre Dame kicker Kyle Brindza handles the kickoff duties for the Irish, and has 18 touchbacks on 39 attempts. Look for Finch to get another opportunity on Saturday to bust open a kick return.
The Irish are ranked 111th in the country with a 2.8 yard return average. Davonte Neal handles the returns for the Irish, and has a long of only 11 yards on the season. For a team that comes in so highly ranked, the Irish pose little threat in the return game. This is will not at all help them if it turns into a field position battle.
After coming close a couple of times this year, Justin Brown was finally able to score on a punt return last week against Kansas. Brown’s 19.0 yard average is the best in the Big 12, and ranks second in the country. One thing Brown can’t do, is muff another punt like he did last week against Kansas. We saw how turnovers can swing the momentum of the game against Kansas State, and in a big game like this, special teams blunders can be the difference in a win and a loss.
Once again, the Sooners have the edge in every special teams category. They key in this game will be the offensive line’s play against the defensive front of Notre Dame. If the Sooners are able to establish a running game and keep pressure off Landry Jones, the offense will have a field day.
The Sooner defense will stand tall again, and Landry Jones will be able to exploit the vulnerable Irish secondary. Sooners win 27-10.