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And in that corner… The Oklahoma Sooners

Sep 25, 2013, 12:00 PM EDT

Tulsa  v Oklahoma Getty Images

Oklahoma heads to South Bend for the first time since Bob Stoops’ debut season in Norman this weekend. A year after losing to Notre Dame in the comfy confines of Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, the Sooners head to South Bend hoping to return the favor, with a prestige non-conference victory likely bringing some luster back to a program that’s won a lot of football games, but been outside the BCS for the past three years.

With a talented roster that’s yet to leave home or play a team with a winning record, this is the first big test for Stoops’ Sooners. And to get us prepared for the match-up, Oklahoman beat writer Jason Kersey took some time to answer a few questions.

Enjoy.

1) Walk us through what is going on at quarterback. From the outside, it seemed like a shocking decision to name Trevor Knight the starting quarterback out of camp, with Blake Bell all but assumed to be the heir apparent to Landry Jones. 

After some uneven appearances by Knight, the job looks to be Bell’s now, especially after passing for 400+ against Tulsa . Is it? After only knowing about the Belldozer, what’s in store for the Irish defense this weekend?

It’s safe to say that Trevor Knight’s rise in the quarterback derby was a pretty big surprise to everyone. Knight earned the job by displaying impressive flashes of athleticism throughout fall camp and the scrimmages, but when it came to game time, it was often apparent that he might not have been quite ready for this stage. He struggled mightily in the passing game, which is obviously really important in Oklahoma ’s offense.

Knight’s knee was injured late in the first half of the Sooners’ second game against West Virginia, but he still played the third quarter and threw two interceptions. So at the beginning of the fourth, they made the switch to Bell .

To answer your question, yes, the job is Bell’s, and unless he plays really, really bad against Notre Dame or gets hurt, there’s no reason to believe it won’t stay Bell’s for the foreseeable future.

I think there’s probably still a place for the Belldozer package in OU’s offense, but I would be shocked if it’s used much. Now that he’s the guy, they don’t want him taking those big hits.

2) The Notre Dame defense has been a different unit than the group that powered the Irish to the BCS National Championship game. Particularly, the secondary has struggled early this season. Is this an area the Sooners can exploit? On paper, this group looks really deep. Jalen Saunders is back after a big game against the Irish last season. Who are the dangerous skill players that the Irish will have to account for?

Judging from the Sooners’ most recent game, I would expect they’ll try to take advantage of a relatively weak Notre Dame secondary with the passing game. But I really expect them to work hard at establishing the run. OU has really been “persistent” — as Bob Stoops said Monday — in the run game, and it’s worked pretty well so far.

The Sooners rushed for 300 yards in their first two games, and they’ve got a strong group of backs that are capable of carrying the load, and the offensive line has beefed up and is playing much more physical than it did a year ago, when Notre Dame held OU to 15 rushing yards.

The skill guys Notre Dame will need to account for are Jalen Saunders, Sterling Shepard, Brennan Clay and Roy Finch.

3) Mike Stoops has installed a 3-3-5 defense. You wrote earlier this week about a leadership void last season. There were worries about the defensive front. What do we know about this group through three games?

The defensive line was a major area of concern entering the season, but that unit has really played well through three games. But OU obviously hasn’t faced a team like Notre Dame yet, so this will be a tremendous challenge for the defensive line.

The linebackers were an area of concern this year because of how badly they were used a year ago. Late in the season against high-powered spread attacks of Baylor, West Virginia , Oklahoma State and Texas A&M, Mike Stoops experimented with linebacker-less schemes to disastrous results.

But this year, the linebackers are a major part of the defense. Corey Nelson and Frank Shannon are among the defense’s best playmakers, which really is striking considering how they were used in 2012.

Nelson talked about a lack of leadership on defense last year, which I thought was a pretty interesting — and somewhat startling — confession. That doesn’t seem to be a problem so far in 2013.

4) Bob Stoops just got a new two-year extension, paying him a tremendous sum of money. After a dominant start in Norman, it’s been three years since the Sooners last BCS appearance. Stoops’ reputation seems to have taken a bit of a hit these past few years, especially since he started losing some of the big games he built his reputation on winning. Is he a victim of his own success? How do Sooner fans feel about their head coach, who will likely become the program’s all-time winningest coach this season?

I’d say Oklahoma fans, on the whole, are still appreciative of the job Bob Stoops has done with the Sooners. Those who aren’t probably need a reminder of the shape OU was in when Stoops arrived.

But it’s also fair to say that many fans are frustrated by some of the big-game struggles of the past few seasons. I think Bob, though, is also pretty frustrated by it, which is why he’s fired four assistant coaches in the past two seasons.

5) Last year, most were shocked when Notre Dame came into Norman and pulled away for a convincing win. Is this a weekend that’s been circled on the calendars for quite some time? Last weekend, we heard from Mark Dantonio how the game was important, but it was a non-conference game. How are the Sooners treating this Saturday?

Among fans and maybe some players, yes, I think the game has probably been circled for a while. Bob Stoops gave a similar answer when asked about the game’s importance, saying that it’s not a conference game and the season won’t be made or broken by Saturday’s result. I don’t necessarily buy that, though. I think this game is critical for a program that many have started to label as overrated. Oklahoma needs this win badly to boost its national reputation.

***

To read more from Jason, check out his work at The Oklahoman and follow him on Twitter @JasonKersey.

  1. NotreDan - Sep 25, 2013 at 12:07 PM

    Let me be the first to leave a non-racist, non-political comment.

    GO IRISH!

    • dickasman - Sep 25, 2013 at 5:44 PM

      Lol, Booooooooooooooooooooooo

    • dickasman - Sep 25, 2013 at 6:16 PM

      Go home you leftist progaysax wingnut! Ted Cruz, Ted Cruz, Ted Cruz Ted Cruz, Ted Cruz, Ted CruzTed Cruz, Ted Cruz, Ted CruzTed Cruz, Ted Cruz, Ted CruzTed Cruz, Ted Cruz, Ted Cruz

  2. NotreDan - Sep 25, 2013 at 12:10 PM

    On another note, based on last year and this year, I really appreciate the even approach of the OU fans and sports writers, and regardless of the outcome, I think they are a class act all the way around.

    My prediction is ND will surprise a lot of people this weekend.

    • 4horsemenrideagain - Sep 25, 2013 at 12:33 PM

      i am so glad that the OU match-up has returned because OU’s fanbase is such a classy bunch.

      i would have had a hard time admitting this back when barry switzer was coaching OU, just because any school or fanbase that would tolerate that character is beyond me, but that’s a different story.

      i hope the ND students and fans are as welcoming, generous and classy as the OU fans were last year. while OU/ND isn’t on par with ND/USC, Mich./Ohio State or Alabama/Auburn, it is refreshing to have a rivalry where the schools and fans genuinely respect and enjoy each other.

    • dickasman - Sep 25, 2013 at 1:24 PM

      Screw those hillbillys. They do ton of illegal sht over there too now.

      • dickasman - Sep 25, 2013 at 1:28 PM

        Although I use to love “the boz”. Read his book like 10x in high school football to get pumped.

  3. nudeman - Sep 25, 2013 at 12:22 PM

    I won’t re-post the missive I left on Keith’s previous article, but if you read that, then you know that I’m sick of the bad offense, bad defense, stupid excuses for the uninspired play against poor teams, poor coaching, terrible play calling and bad quarterbacking.

    I think ND gets beat badly this weekend.
    Sorry.
    Just isn’t our year, based on what I’ve seen so far.

    • seadomer - Sep 25, 2013 at 12:58 PM

      I kinda agree to the extent that I won’t call for a close game nor do I want to see one.
      Let it be 34-17 Either Ways. If it is our way, that means this ND team is capable of playing to their competition, otherwise, it would be a great stimulus to try something different.

    • dickasman - Sep 25, 2013 at 1:19 PM

      We’re dead. OMG, we’re dead. We’re dead.

    • dickasman - Sep 25, 2013 at 1:22 PM

      That fat a$$ Bell will be horse pounding over our 11 horsemen, just like he did last year. This is one horse pounding that I do not want to witness.

    • irish4006 - Sep 25, 2013 at 2:06 PM

      I get the sentiment and almost there with you. The only hope I have is BK. As I mentioned in another post, good coaches learn from what is not working and make adjustments that work. I do think the offense is better this year and we all saw glimpses of greatness. If we can only play with a bit more heart, we are there (with the right playcalling, of course).

      As for defense, as much as I hate to say it, we need to go back to bend not break mentality. Don’t be too aggressive and get caught out of position. Rush 3/4, keep everything in front and let the rooky quarterback make mistakes.

      I get the feeling that we are much closer to being a great team than what we felt from watching 3.5 (0.5 credit for the Temple game) ugly, ugly, ug freaking ly games.

      • nudeman - Sep 25, 2013 at 7:01 PM

        Well I’m a BK believer too, but I’m getting tested here. How do you explain all this:

        – A punt return team that looks like a Chinese fire drill, EVERY YEAR

        – An offense that, despite a pretty good OL and good RBs, has no running game.
        – Complete failure to develop QB, despite having a highly rated recruit in your system for 4 years (AH)

        – Delay of game penalties, including one on the first play of the game recently

        – No composure on the sidelines. 18-22 year old kids don’t do well being screamed at on national TV, week after week

        – Consistently playing DOWN to the level of the competition. Despite having a talented roster, there are very few times they’ve pounded lesser opponents who weren’t service academies into submission. Wake Forest and Miami last year. Aside from that, who?

        – Turning your offense over to a 21 year old kid by letting him change the play seemingly 90% of the time. Why even bother with a game plan? Just let Rees be the OC and QB.
        The offense has no pace, they’ve thrown 50+ passes twice this year, 27 passes in the first half last week and overall they just look like sh**. 99th in the nation running the ball

        – No running game but you keep your most talented RBs on the bench because they might moss a blocking assignment. Atkinson misses at least one every game

        Seriously, this season is looking like it could get ugly

      • irish4006 - Sep 26, 2013 at 12:52 AM

        BK did address some of the concerns you mentioned here, I will try to address a couple more –

        Punt Return: he said that he didn’t have the depth to put some good ones on sp teams and he is only really trying this year. After two (or, is it three) straight years of fair catching, it’s taking a little time.

        No running game: I would say about 33% his fault, other 67% falls on Chucky for poor coaching and TR for trying too hard to ‘check us into good plays’.

        Lack of QB development: I am just as lost, esp. considering his track record in other places. Some of it probably is just pure luck – Crist proving to be worthless, Golson’s indiscretion, Kiel being a chicken, AH not being able to settle down; I mean what coach in his right mind would want to go with TR year after year if he had a choice?

        I am not necessarily disagreeing with you, this can really take an ugly turn. If BK truly is a great coach, he should be able to right the ship pretty quick. The tools are all right there.

    • irish4006 - Sep 25, 2013 at 2:13 PM

      By the way, with the level of talent on this team, it will all come down to coaching by the end of the year. There will likely be some pressure on BK to fire his friend and bring in a new OC.

      When I look at this team, except for a glaring hole in the middle of the linebacking group; we have very very capable individuals everywhere. They just need to gel and play like a team. As for ILBs, this should not have come as a surprise. While BK and crew did a great job of recruiting DEs, they did not bring in any blue chip ILB in the last 4 years.

      • dickasman - Sep 25, 2013 at 5:46 PM

        Yes, true offensive coordinator. Looks like we r hurting both sides of the ball now. We are not NAIA, we can afford one, two, one thousand

  4. ndcanuck - Sep 25, 2013 at 1:13 PM

    It’s only September, so it’s hard to call anything “make or break”, but this is a huge game for the Irish. A win here could be a springboard for a move up the rankings and a major boost to the team’s confidence going into a tough schedule.

    If they lose badly they’ll drop out of the top 25 and it could set the stage for a long, painful rest of the season. Not to mention they’ll start to lose that national spotlight which might hurt recruiting and have long term implications.

    Either way, this game is going to tell us a lot about where the program is right now.

    • irish4006 - Sep 25, 2013 at 1:45 PM

      Congratulations, Canuck for being the first one to bring up ranking in ND conversation this year. Who gives a rat’s a$$ about ranking? I would be just as pissed ranked #1 by poor showing on the field as I would be as #120. It’s about playing well and winning games, not ranking. Why do you need validation from the talking heads whether your team is the 10th best in the country or the 100th?

      When you are ND playing ND’s schedule, if you win all games on your schedule, you go to a national championship game. It is as simple as that. If you lose 2 or 3 and get left out of the BCS conversation, that too is a good thing for the team; it will likely save an embarrassment on national TV in front of a national audience.

      • ndcanuck - Sep 25, 2013 at 3:14 PM

        I agree that actual play on the field is clearly the most important element, but don’t kid yourself by thinking that rankings don’t matter. ND is in a unique situation having their own national TV network, but if you fall of that scroll on ESPN and don’t get stories or recaps in national papers with the rest of the Top 25 you clearly lose something in terms of staying on radar and having (here it comes) “relevance”.

        The important part of rankings isn’t validation from talking heads; it’s getting and keeping the attention of potential recruits.

        ND isn’t going to the National Championship, but if they get it together a BCS Bowl still isn’t out of the picture. Potential embarassment aside, the BCS has got to be the goal for a program like ND. And hey, they have the chance to be embarassed on national TV every saturday anyway.

      • irish4006 - Sep 25, 2013 at 4:40 PM

        Winning a game is all that matters, rankings just follow. I want ND to win every game we play, I will argue about how we are playing, how we won/lost etc., but not ranking. It’s just plain dumb to worry about what the number would be next to the name of the university on Sunday when the polls come out. Rankings don’t come out of vacuum, people will take notice if you are a good football team, esp. when you are ND. I will admit that it felt good when I saw ND to be #1 last year, but that was because we won all our games and deserved to be there. I wouldn’t mind if Bama or Oregon won out and stayed ahead of us. It would sting a little but I would know that we did everything that was in our control.

        As for relevance, another word I don’t care for much either. Who cares what your beloved analyst on ESPN thinks. I love ND, I love football; as long as ND plays football, ND will be relevant to me. I should probably stop now and let you get back to poll watching and agonizing over how the hell UCLA (or any other name, just put one) is ahead of ND in the poll. You know, we beat Stanford and they lost to them back to back; it clearly shows we are superior to them, right? This is the kind of juvenile argument that I have zero interest in participating.

      • txirish2 - Sep 25, 2013 at 10:17 PM

        Saying “ND will always be relevant to me” fails to address canuck’s argument about ranking being important for recruiting.

      • irish4006 - Sep 26, 2013 at 12:21 AM

        Yes it does, tx. Didn’t think it was worth addressing. Ranking is a by-product of winning on the field, not the other way round. Suppose we start the season at #1 and keep winning ugly, barely getting by PU and MSU hanging onto that #1 spot by the teeth, canuck may feel great about him/herself being in that position eating candies in his (her) dream thinking how the recruits are flocking to ND because of the ranking, I won’t. A person grounded in reality should be able to see that it’s only a matter of time before the ship sinks. Recruits are not idiots either. Like I said, we are ND (not Louisville), we don’t need validation of ranking or any additional “spotlight” to be “relevant”.

      • ndcanuck - Sep 26, 2013 at 10:26 AM

        I agreed off the start that on-field play is the most important factor. That said, the kind of arrogance that assumes every recruit will flock to play for ND simply because they’re ND and are “special” is exactly what’s been wrong with this program for years. Competition on the recruiting circuit is fierce, and every other school trying to sign a kid will certainly point out rankings if it’s to their advantage. That’s reality.

      • irish4006 - Sep 26, 2013 at 12:26 PM

        Yes, you are right. It’s probably just me. When the team is not doing well, worrying about ranking is the last thing on my mind. We have had some good recruiting classes lately, but that can only take you so far. if the on field production does not match your recruiting ‘ranking’, there are other, bigger problems we need to worry about.

        About the ND thing, it’s not arrogance. It’s the reality. Love or hate, people love to talk about ND. As long as we are doing well on the field and contending on a national level, we will be on people’s radar.

  5. irishdodger - Sep 25, 2013 at 1:18 PM

    If ND loses, I think they get blown out. If ND wins, I think it’s by a narrow margin. Tough year to be an Irish fan when expectations were that the D would be stout or even better (based on the one year experience under the belts of Russell, Jackson & Farley) and that the rushing game would be a true threat. BK/Martin have a different philosophy than the fans. They believe in establishing the pass to set up the run. I assumed they’d use the talented OL & those 4-5 star RBs to establish the run to set up Rees & the passing attack. Now, EVERY defense simply loads the box w/ 7-8 players & Rees is relegated to throwing down the sidelines (vs. slants, TE screens, etc). Now I understand that when the opposition’s D has their CBs on an island that we match up well. But on 3rd & short why pass 20-30 yds downfield? I hope this isn’t an embarrassment, but a lot of things have to improve for nD to win.

    • irish4006 - Sep 25, 2013 at 1:46 PM

      I think it’s more Rees than BK who is calling the pass plays – remember he is a coach’s son and he checks us into the right plays?

    • nudeman - Sep 25, 2013 at 1:57 PM

      “BK/Martin have a different philosophy than the fans. They believe in establishing the pass to set up the run”

      I know that’s what BK is saying now, but I don’t look at that as any enduring philosophy.
      Rather it’s just what he’s saying since he knows they can’t run the damn ball.

      Whatever their philosophy is, it isn’t working.

    • ndnphx - Sep 25, 2013 at 3:50 PM

      Going empty backfield on third-and-short is not using the pass to set up the run. It is an open admission you have no running game, especially after four games of trying to create one with whatever strategy you’ve chosen.

      I agree that the only way we win is if it’s close. And ugly. As in OU holds on to the ball like it were a greased piglet ugly.

  6. islandsdomer - Sep 25, 2013 at 2:11 PM

    Looking back at least years game, a large part of NDs offensive production was golsons play and ability. I completely understand why we haven’t seen Hendrix but you’d think this is the game where bk just might roll the dice and give OU something to throw them off…at least in the redzone. Only way I see ND winning is this game is if ND can use some sort of new touch on O….. Or if all else fails they have to get Oklahoma to play their game. (dog fight and messy)

    • nudeman - Sep 25, 2013 at 2:24 PM

      I don’t care what he does in the red zone. Just don’t let Rees throw a fade.
      Has never once come even close to completing one

      • irish4me - Sep 25, 2013 at 4:27 PM

        Come on Nude that is so false it’s comical. You don’t need to exaggerate, the Offensive play calling (pun intended) is awful, but he has completed many fades this year alone. Yep he had a terible week last week, yep, no fades last week but to say he hasn’t come close ever is pure hyperbole.

      • nudeman - Sep 25, 2013 at 7:05 PM

        Please tell me where he’s completed a fade route in the red zone for a TD

        I’ll take my answer on the air.

      • irish4me - Sep 26, 2013 at 2:34 PM

        Here’s a Fade against Temple on Youtube. 1:26 into the clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=euGLrqBuYSI

  7. seadomer - Sep 25, 2013 at 4:01 PM

    As most know, this is only the 2nd season I’ve been here but was ND since Bob Davie.

    I wonder what rants and complains must have been going on. I remember generally D was saving the day and we can’t run option or score.
    Then TW, can’t say O or D performed better, both average. Charlie W era definitely pumped up the O but D could not hold on.

    I think we are all jacked up by the 2012 team, and like someone said a few articles earlier, this is NOT that team. I call this the messy team. So keep expecting messy wins, crazy bad wins, bewildering wins AND hope to be surprised.

  8. oleolehey - Sep 25, 2013 at 4:41 PM

    How about this novelty: two backs on the field at the same time on 3rd and short? Hand off or fake to them and/or pass to Niklas as needed after he finishes blocks.

  9. coachtemp - Sep 25, 2013 at 4:43 PM

    I so totally agree that on 3rd and short, going with an “empty” backfield is a sure sign of a lack of confidence in your run game! WHY? We have a talented group of RB’s that c an get the job done! throwing 20/30 yds down field in that situation just doesn’t make sense…… Rely more on Mc Daniel….. He’s proven he can get the tough yd(s)

  10. 700levelvet - Sep 25, 2013 at 5:37 PM

    And in the other corner…a “L”

  11. mannydomer61 - Sep 25, 2013 at 9:39 PM

    Is he a mad scientist or just an overrated coach, 4 years in and still am not sure.
    Nude your previous post was 100% on the money and really not much to add to it.
    That said its I would take another ugly win for the Irish.

  12. viktory2013 - Sep 26, 2013 at 2:57 AM

    Objectively speaking, Brian Kelly is actually a remarkably successful coach. He came within a field goal of playing for a national championship with an untalented Cincinnati team, and actually did so with an ND program that had been virtually dormant since Lou Holtz departed. He screams and yells on national TV, makes shitty gametime decisions and is ridiculously stubborn in some glaringly obvious areas, he somehow seems to win a lot of games. His teams don’t finish 4-7, or 6-6, so I’m holding out hope he realizes the team needs a major shakeup now and not after a bad loss or two. If you and I can see it, I’m pretty sure he and his staff can also. Just a matter of sucking it up and doing what’s necessary, even if it means admitting your first hunch was wrong.

  13. irish2011 - Sep 26, 2013 at 8:13 AM

    I can’t wait for the article on our RB transferring, and don’t tell me they weren’t ND people either.

  14. mediocrebob - Sep 26, 2013 at 9:04 AM

    I still laugh at the people on here complaining of bad coaching. You guys that are saying this really have absolutely no clue what you’re talking about.

    As for this weekend, I hope the Irish battle and keep it close. Unless the run game improves dramatically, we won’t be beating any upper echelon teams though.

    • bowser75 - Sep 26, 2013 at 11:17 AM

      I don’t think BK and company have shown 1 iota of coaching ability this year. He says he wants to mold this team in the image of SEC/Alabama and he has the Smurfettes in the backfield that get tripped up on a blade of grass. I think Saban could take the talent on this team and turn them into a Championship calibre team this year. This is his team. BK has to get a handle on this team. If players underperform, bench ‘em. They’ll either come aroind or they will transfer.

      • danirish - Sep 26, 2013 at 12:32 PM

        Saben wouldn’t be able to coach this team – they have to go to school and study.

  15. bowser75 - Sep 26, 2013 at 10:42 AM

    I see where the OK LB says they look to dominate ND this weekend. Let’s hope the O line can meet the challenge. Need some leaders to start emerging on this team. Now!!!!!

  16. mediocrebob - Sep 26, 2013 at 12:16 PM

    I’m willing to bet that BK has more wins as a head coach than anyone else on here. I’m sure he had nothing to do with last years run either?

    What you people aren’t realizing is that he is essentially playing his backup quarterback. One that has yet to show consistency in 4 years. Not his fault. It’s who Rees is. People who doubted BK last year still have the taste of foot in their mouth. I’m willing to bet that if he has his starter at QB, this team is completely different. Opens up a lot in this offense when you have a QB that is capable of running the offense.

  17. danirish - Sep 26, 2013 at 12:35 PM

    My new “theory” on Bryant: May it is a grade issue. That is not something that would be published constantly in a magazine or website. Maybe the kid is struggling with grades. Weren’t there rumors of Golsen have grade issues and that was the “real” reason he was red-shirted? And then he gets kcked out for a grade related offense?

    Not knocking the kid but maybe we don’t know verything that is going on <- A guess?

    I do know this: If I see a 3rd and 1 with Rees alone in the backfield and he throws some crappy deep fade that lands in the first row I am going to …………

    You won't like me when I'm angry!

    JUST WIN! GO IRISH!

  18. irish4me - Sep 26, 2013 at 2:33 PM

    Here’s a Fade against Temple on Youtube. 1:26 into the clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=euGLrqBuYSI

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