Oklahoma State and Notre Dame were both on the cusp of making the College Football Playoff. For Oklahoma State, a loss to Baylor in the Big 12 championship game knocked the Cowboys out of contention. The Irish, without a conference championship game, needed a little bit of chaos ahead of them to get in. A Michigan or Cincinnati loss would’ve been a big help, but it didn’t happen.
Motivation for a game like this, after narrowly missing out on a playoff spot, can often be concerning. Oklahoma State may be disappointed in coming up just inches short against Baylor when it had a chance to win the game in the final seconds, but Mike Gundy says no team he has ever had has improved as much as this one through the season.
Notre Dame, on the other hand, has a new head coach in Marcus Freeman after Brian Kelly left for the LSU job. The Irish have motivation to play for Freeman and show onlookers that Freeman is the right guy to lead this team. In a matchup between two teams meeting for the first time, these are truly two teams that have no reason to be disappointed in this matchup. Motivation won’t be a problem.
No. 5 Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. No. 9 Oklahoma State Cowboys
PlayStation Fiesta Bowl
When: Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022, 1 p.m. ET
Where: State Farm Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
How to watch: ESPN and ESPN App
Opening line from Caesars Sportsbook: Notre Dame -2.5
Key player for Notre Dame: DE Isaiah Foskey. Notre Dame’s defense needs to contain Oklahoma State quarterback Spencer Sanders and disrupt the passing game. Foskey is the guy that will do it for the Irish. He leads the team with 10 sacks and has 11.5 tackles for loss, six quarterback hurries and five forced fumbles. Foskey has been a key player for Notre Dame’s defense all season and he’ll be an important piece in this matchup as well.
Key player for Oklahoma State: Running back Jaylen Warren. Without Warren, who missed the Big 12 title game with ankle and shoulder injuries, the Cowboys were one-dimensional against Baylor. OSU finished with just 70 rushing yards, its second-lowest total of the season. Sanders led the team with 33 yards rushing and running back Dezmon Jackson finished with 31. Warren had five 100-yard rushing games this season, but had just 284 yards in five games in November and December while dealing with injuries. If he’s healthy, he can take a lot of pressure off Sanders, who threw four interceptions against Baylor.
Matchup to watch: Notre Dame’s passing offense against Oklahoma State’s secondary. The Cowboys’ D has been stellar all season, but particularly against the run, including holding Baylor, the best rushing team in the Big 12, to just 62 yards and 1.9 yards per carry on the ground. While Kyren Williams just eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark and averaged 4.9 yards per carry, Notre Dame doesn’t lean on the run much, ranking 77th nationally in yards per game and 73rd in yards per carry. The Irish will need Jack Coan to continue to be sharp after throwing for 345 yards and two TDs against Stanford two weeks ago.
X factor: Gundy has been here before, but this is Freeman’s first time as a head coach, and it’s on a national stage. That experience might give Oklahoma State an edge because there has been a lot of shake-ups and emotion within the Notre Dame program. Given how Kelly ran his program, though, offensive coordinator Tommy Rees and Freeman, as the defensive coordinator, should still be able to come up with a game plan and strategy in contest as they normally would. Knowing what to expect as the head coach during bowl week and how to keep a team focused is important, though, so it’s something to watch between these two teams.