Blue and Gold Illustrated

January 2022*

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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38 JANUARY 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED GAME PREVIEW: OKLAHOMA STATE BY TODD D. BURLAGE OKLAHOMA STATE RUNNING GAME VS. NOTRE DAME RUN DEFENSE Cowboys redshirt senior running back Jaylen Warren was off to a fabulous start this season with four 100-yard rushing performances in his first six games, until ankle and shoulder injuries limited him to only 284 rushing yards in his four November outings. Warren still managed 1,134 total rushing yards with 11 touchdowns and was named the Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year after transferring from Utah State. Redshirt senior offensive lineman Josh Sills be- came a 2021 first-team All-Big 12 selection af- ter leading a Cowboys rushing unit that averaged 181.8 yards a game, which ranked fourth in the conference and 45th nationally. Cowboys redshirt junior quarterback Spencer Sanders is second on the team with 543 rushing yards and six touchdowns. If Warren is healthy for the Fiesta Bowl, he'll get the carries. If he's not, redshirt senior tailback Dezmon Jackson (139 yards, two touchdowns) and sophomore tailback Dominic Richardson (236 yards, two touchdowns) will share the workload. Junior linebacker JD Bertrand easily leads the Irish with 92 total tackles on a defense that ranked 30th nationally in run stoppage (127.1 yards per game) and tied for 33rd with 6.5 tackles for loss per outing before the bowl games. Additionally, led by junior defensive end Isaiah Foskey's 11.5 tackles for loss, 21 different Irish players have recorded at least one stop behind the line of scrimmage so far this season. Foskey's work helped Notre Dame hold its oppo- nents to just 14 touchdowns on 38 red-zone trips (36.8 percent), which was the fourth-best mark in the country. Advantage: Notre Dame OKLAHOMA STATE PASSING GAME VS. NOTRE DAME PASS DEFENSE Sanders, Oklahoma State's starting quarter- back — who was named the 2021 first-team All-Big 12 signal-caller — finished the regular season ranked fourth in the league with 205.7 passing yards per game. But with 16 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions, Sanders checks in at only ninth out of 10 conference quarterbacks in passing efficiency. In the Big 12 title game, Sanders threw four in- terceptions during the 21-16 loss to Baylor Dec. 4. With 70 catches for 942 yards and seven touch- downs, Oklahoma State senior Tay Martin — a sec- ond-team All-Big 12 selection — headlines a group of seven Cowboys pass catchers with double-digit receptions. Sophomore slot receiver Brennan Pre- sley has contributed 40 catches for 482 yards with five scores. Up front, the Cowboys allowed only 16 sacks in 13 games for a 1.15 per-game average that ranked 10th-best nationally in pass protection. Playing without junior All-American safety Kyle Hamilton (knee injury, now declared for the NFL Draft) obviously depletes the Irish pass defense. However, this unit has not only survived but also thrived in Hamilton's absence during the final five- plus games this season, allowing only two touch- down passes while recording five interceptions. Notre Dame ranked 15th nationally in passing efficiency defense (116.16 rating) through the regular season and allowed only two touchdown passes in its final seven games after giving up seven touchdown tosses through its first five. Advantage: Notre Dame NOTRE DAME RUNNING GAME VS. OKLAHOMA STATE RUN DEFENSE The top storyline here is Irish junior running back Kyren Williams opting out of the Fiesta Bowl to concentrate on preparations for the 2022 NFL Draft. Williams led the Irish ground game this season with 1,002 yards and 14 rushing touchdowns. In his absence, sophomore Chris Tyree (204 yards, one touchdown) and freshman Logan Diggs (201 yards, three touchdowns) will be asked to fill the production void at running back. Freshman quarterback Tyler Buchner is second on the team with 336 rushing yards and has three rushing touchdowns. Notre Dame averages a pedestrian 152.2 rush- ing yards per game, which ranked 73rd nationally, heading into the bowl season. That said, while working behind an improving offensive line, the Irish hit their stride in this category during the second half of the season. Through its first six games, Notre Dame averaged 97.3 rushing yards before averaging 207.7 in its final six contests. For Oklahoma State, when you think of Big 12 football, seldom does defense become a talking point, but that's the case for this year's Cowboys. Senior linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez led the conference with 112 total tackles to become a first-team all-conference selection. Redshirt senior linebacker Devin Harper is sec- ond on the Cowboys with 86 stops, mostly against the run, and added 6.0 sacks for the Cowboys' pass defense. Advantage: Oklahoma State On PaPer Senior wide receiver Tay Martin hauled in 70 receptions for 942 yards and seven touchdowns en route to second-team All-Big 12 accolades. PHOTO COURTESY OKLAHOMA STATE ATHLETICS

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