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- American football player and coach
STILLWATER — Notre Dame offensive coordinator Tommy Rees tried to sit back and enjoy the college football championship games that were being played on Saturday, without letting his emotions get too tied up in what was happening.
Notre Dame was on the fringe of the College Football Playoff, but needed a lot of help on Saturday, but Rees didn’t want to fight that emotional rollercoaster.
As he watched Oklahoma State and Baylor in the Big 12 title game on Saturday morning — though he didn’t know it at the time — Rees was getting an education on his next opponent.
And he was impressed with what he saw.
“We’ve heard about Oklahoma State all year, and I know a lot of the conversation has been about how strong their defense has been playing,” Rees said. “Over the last 10 years or so, when you think about that program, you think offense first, right? But (defensive coordinator Jim) Knowles has done a great job preparing them.”
Fifth-ranked Notre Dame will face No. 9 Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl at noon on Jan. 1 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, to conclude a season in which both teams got to the edge of the College Football Playoff but fell short.
The Cowboys were in that position primarily because of a defense that ranked highly in several significant statistical categories. OSU ranks first nationally in sacks, second in third-down defense, third in total defense and fifth in rushing defense.
Against Baylor, OSU’s defense was put in some difficult situations, and struggled early, giving up three first-half touchdowns. But it allowed only 36 yards and no points in the second half.
“(Saturday) was my first opportunity to really sit down and watch them play,” Rees said. “I’ve gotten a little bit ahead on some film, and looking at them early on, they present a lot of challenges.”
For his work this season, Knowles is one of five finalists for the Broyles Award, given to college football’s top assistant coach. The winner will be announced Tuesday.
Knowles’ creativity as a coordinator has been at the heart of OSU’s defensive success this season, and that was evident to Rees in his brief viewing.
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“They do a lot of different things defensively,” Rees said. “They’re very multiple in their front and their coverages. They definitely present a great challenge for us, one that we’re gonna have to prepare for, especially given the time that they’re gonna have to prepare.
“We’re gonna have to really dive into who they are and what they do, and how we want to answer some of those issues that they present.”
Notre Dame has a balanced offense that has rushed for 1,827 yards and thrown for 3,163 this season. The offensive line, however, has allowed 33 sacks this season, which is tied for 100th nationally. The Cowboys have a school-record 55 sacks this season.
When his offensive line has protected him, Notre Dame quarterback Jack Coan has been accurate, completing 67.6% of his passes for 2,641 yards with 20 touchdowns and six interceptions.
“I think it gives us a great opportunity offensively to kind of figure out where we’re at,” Rees said. “This is a barometer game for us, where we’ve felt the steady improvement throughout the year, and now we get to go against a great defense and see how much we’ve improved.”
OSU VS. NOTRE DAME: Noon Saturday, Jan. 1, at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. (ESPN)
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Oklahoma State football: Notre Dame offensive coordinator impressed