In the fifth installment of a 12-part series previewing Notre Dame's 2013 opponents, I'll dissect the Oklahoma Sooners, the Irish's lone challengers from the Big 12 Conference on this season's slate.
With eight minutes, 26 seconds remaining in regulation and the scored knotted at 13 at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium last Oct. 27, former Notre Dame starting quarterback Everett Golson delivered a play that would, ultimately, have a season-altering effect on both the Irish and their counterpart, Oklahoma.
Golson and the Irish offense lined up in a two-tight end formation at their own 35-yard line, with receiver Chris Brown split wide right.
Golson took the snap from under center, sold the play-action handoff, bought some time and launched the ball through the crisp October evening air in Norman, Okla. to a streaking Brown, who hauled in the reception 50 yards later in the red zone. This would set up Notre Dame's go-ahead touchdown that was a catalyst in an eventual 30-13 victory that cemented head coach Brian Kelly and co. as championship contenders.
As for Oklahoma, the loss would ultimately prevent the team from receiving a BCS invitation.
However, head coach Bob Stoops and his Sooners squad will make the trek to Notre Dame Stadium in late September in the second and final edition of the home-and-home series seeking revenge for last season's loss.
Here's what to expect from Stoops' Sooners when they meet the Irish in South Bend, Ind., in week five of the college football season.
Game Day Information
Who: Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma
When: Sept. 28, 3:30 p.m. EDT
Where: Notre Dame Stadium
Oklahoma Team Information
Head Coach: Bob Stoops (15th season, 149-37 record at Oklahoma)
Conference: Big 12
Returning Starters: Offense (seven), Defense (four)
2012 Record: 10-3 (lost to Texas A&M, 41-13, in AT&T Cotton Bowl)
For the past three seasons, Oklahoma featured one of the most well-respected passing quarterbacks in college football—Landry Jones.
The now former starting quarterback has since joined the professional ranks, having been selected 115th overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2013 NFL Draft. Jones' departure leaves the Sooners with what is perhaps the largest question mark at quarterback in Stoops' tenure.
When former starting quarterback Sam Bradford—now the starter for the NFL's Saint Louis Rams—departed following the 2009 season, Jones was the unquestionable replacement, as he started two games in 2009, due to Bradford having suffered a shoulder injury during the Sooners' season-opening contest against BYU.
As it stands, Oklahoma does not have a clear-cut replacement for Jones, though the competition has been pared down to redshirt junior Blake Bell and redshirt freshman Trevor Knight after redshirt sophomore Kendal Thompson suffered a fractured right foot, per SoonerScoop.com, during the team's first fall practice.
Bell seems to be the most suitable replacement, as he has fulfilled the role of short-yardage back during the past two seasons, though he has only attempted 20 career passes.
Regardless of who is tabbed as the starter, he'll enjoy the luxury of a veteran offensive line that boasts four returning starters who have combined for 84 career starts.
The seasoned bunch will likely be called upon to spur a running game in need of rejuvenation due to a new starting quarterback, as well as last season's middling national ranking of 60th in rushing yards per game (161.38).
Senior running back Damien Williams returns as the Sooners' lead back, with Brennan Clay, Alex Ross and David Smith rounding out the quartet of horses for the offensive staff to work with.
Any preseason discussion of Oklahoma's defense has to begin with the state of the Sooner secondary.
Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, brother of head coach Bob Stoops, will employ an attacking 4-2-5 defense, maintaining the importance of depth at defensive back.
Unfortunately, the Sooners don't possess experienced depth at the position entering fall camp. While the talent is there, the seniority is not. The good news for the back end of the defense is the return of senior cornerback Aaron Colvin, though the pieces around him will be a patchwork effort, at best.
Starting opposite Colvin will likely be Gabe Lynn, who started 10 games last season as the Sooners' designated nickelback.
Both safety positions will be youthful, as Julian Wilson (two career starts) and Quentin Hayes (no career starts) will fill both vacant roles. Hayes missed the entire 2012 season after being suspended in May 2012 for violating team rules, though he was reinstated last November.
The most concerning aspect of how green the secondary is lies with the paltry Sooner pass-rush.
Oklahoma finished the 2012 season ranked 70th nationally in sacks, recording just 24 through 13 games.
If the front seven (six in Oklahoma's 4-2-5 scheme) doesn't experience a noticeable improvement, the Sooner defense as a whole will suffer as a result. The odds of an improvement are slim, as the Sooners lost five of their top defensive linemen, with end Chuka Ndulue being the only returning starter entering 2013.
The most telling statistic of Notre Dame's road victory against Oklahoma last season was the disparity in rushing yards; the Irish out-rushed the Sooners by 200 yards.
The ferocity and tenacity of the Irish front seven against the Oklahoma offensive line offset the threat of the Sooner passing attack, which, at the time, was spearheaded by one of college football's best passing quarterbacks in Jones.
The current Pittsburgh Steeler was forced to throw the ball 51 times due to his team's inability to establish the run against one of the stingiest defensive fronts in the country, and the end result was a meager 13 total points.
Even with four returning starters along its offensive line, Oklahoma yet again faces the daunting Irish defensive front, which may be an improved version from that of 2012. And with a first-year starting quarterback in the fold, the Sooners will sorely miss Jones.
Add in home-field advantage for the Irish (I know, playing at Notre Dame Stadium isn't much of an advantage these days), and another victory against Oklahoma is likely in store.
Predicted Score: Notre Dame 34, Oklahoma 16
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