The Big Plays That Oklahoma Gave Up vs. Notre Dame Could Be Cause for Concern

Ben Kercheval@@BenKerchevalCollege Football Lead WriterOctober 1, 2013

Sep 28, 2013; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back George Atkinson III (4) crosses the goal line for a touchdown in the third quarter against the Oklahoma Sooners at Notre Dame Stadium. Oklahoma won 35-21. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Oklahoma's 35-21 win over Notre Dame last Saturday was impressive from a big picture standpoint. It's a solid out-of-conference win on the road and by a comfortable margin. Despite two instances where the Irish pulled within a score, the game never really felt in doubt—at least not for long. 

The Sooners got a great boost from three first-half interceptions by their defense. But if there was an area of concern coming out of that game, it was OU getting gashed a couple of times against the run.

The biggest run of the day came from Irish running back George Atkinson III, who went right up the middle before bouncing to his left at the second level and scampering 80 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter. 

It was a well-executed play by Notre Dame. The line opened up a huge hole and Atkinson got a great second-level block from wide receiver Danny Smith. The rest was all Atkinson, though. 

Earlier, in the first quarter, fellow Notre Dame running back Tarean Folston was able to sweep around the left side of the line for a 36-yard gain that would put the Irish at the 3-yard line. Overall, the Sooners did a decent job of containing big runs, but the Irish, who have not been a good running team this year, were able to tally 220 yards rushing and over 7.5 yards per carry. 

In some ways, Atkinson's touchdown run looked similar to the one West Virginia running back Dreamius Smith scored against the Sooners in Week 2. 

The primary difference is that OU had the Smith run defended well; they just didn't tackle him. While that's a separate problem in and of itself, the fact is OU's defense was in position to make a play on Smith. 

That wasn't the case last Saturday on the two big runs from Atkinson and Folston. 

Getting into the meat of Big 12 conference play, there could be some more instances down the road where big plays could inflict more damage against Oklahoma than it did last Saturday. 

Though OU has owned Texas over the past few years, Longhorns running back Johnathan Gray could give the Sooners defense some problems. The sophomore looks like he's starting to blossom after his career day against Kansas State in Week 4. 

What Gray provides is the combination of shiftiness and power that's tough to contain. He displayed both qualities against the Wildcats. He had a lot of success up the middle and on the perimeter. 

But that may not even prove to be OU's biggest challenge. The Sooners are going to have to play their most disciplined defense on Nov. 7 when they travel to Baylor. The Bears are currently the fifth-best rushing team in the country with the best one-two running back combination in Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin. 

Martin has been battling injuries lately, but he's a lethal, powerful option when healthy. 

But what has to make OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops lose sleep at night is the reality he'll have to face, well, this:

Seastrunk is averaging a ridiculous 11 yards per carry at the moment. That's impossible to ignore no matter the competition. 

Oklahoma's run defense is improved from a year ago, currently 41st nationally. But with some of the better rushing talent in the country still ahead, there's cause for worry about whether the Sooners will be able to contain it.