The final game of the 2021 season is here and the first game of the Marcus Freeman era as well. The Irish will take on an Oklahoma State Cowboy team that was close to winning the Big XII and potentially making the College Football Playoff. This team won’t just roll over and let the Irish take a win home back to South Bend. They’re scrappy and it’s going to be a battle to come out victorious. Here are five keys for Notre Dame to avoid a an upset and get the all important bowl victory.
Establish the run early
Dec 28, 2021; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; Notre Dame running backs Chris Tyree (front) and Logan Diggs run a drill during practice for the Fiesta Bowl, December 28, 2021, at Chaparral High School, 6935 E. Gold Dust Ave., Scottsdale, Arizona. Mandatory Credit: Mark Henle-USA TODAY Sports
The Irish are without running back Kyren Williams, who declared for the NFL Draft, and offensive lineman Josh Lugg, who won suit up due to an injury. Replacements Logan Diggs and Chris Tyree at running back have seen plenty of time and really shouldn’t skip a beat. The question is if Blake Fisher is fully recovered and can perform at the level Lugg did. If that is the case, the Irish can control the game on the ground and keep the ball away from the Cowboy’s.
Stop Collin Oliver
Nov 27, 2021; Stillwater, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma State Cowboys defensive end Collin Oliver (30) and defensive end Brock Martin (9) celebrate after defeating the Oklahoma Sooners at Boone Pickens Stadium. Oklahoma State won 37-33. Mandatory Credit: Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports
The freshman defensive end is a monster, sacking the quarterback 11.5 times this year. He’s a force and will most likely be going against another freshman, Fisher, for the majority of the game. Oliver has been a problem for many teams and if the Irish want to win, keeping him away from Jack Coan is a must.
Locking down Tay Martin
Nov 20, 2021; Lubbock, Texas, USA; Oklahoma State Cowboys wide receiver Tay Martin (1) runs the ball against Texas Tech Red Raiders defensive safety Eric Monroe (11) in the first half at Jones AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
The OSU offense isn’t what many of us have seen the last few years, the air raid hasn’t been there, it’s been much more of a ground game. That doesn’t mean they won’t try and throw the ball down downfield and Martin is their go-to guy. If the Irish are able to make the Cowboy’s defense one-dimensional, it will be much easier to stop.
Pressure Spencer Sanders into mistakes
Dec 4, 2021; Arlington, TX, USA; Oklahoma State Cowboys quarterback Spencer Sanders (3) passes against the Baylor Bears during the first quarter in the Big 12 Conference championship game at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
The Cowboy’s quarterback has not been very good with his decision making, throwing 12 interceptions this season. The touchdown to interception ratio is weak, meaning that if the Irish can force Sanders into making decisions quickly, there will be opportunities to pick off passes. The secondary for Notre Dame has been very good despite missing Kyle Hamilton for a good chunk of the year. If they’re able to keep up that work, the Irish should be in good shape.
Have explosive passing plays
Nov. 27, 2021; Stanford, California, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish wide receiver Kevin Austin Jr. (4) runs after a catch during the third quarter against the Stanford Cardinal at Stanford Stadium.Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
There is a need for the Irish to push the ball down the field, Jack Coan needs to be accurate when he takes shots. Due to the fact that Williams is not playing, the Irish will need to look for other players to make an impact on offense and the onus should be not he receivers. Be it tight end Michael Mayer, Kevin Austin or one of the freshmen, the Irish need to push the ball down the field to open the run game up.