Summer Opponent Preview: Oklahoma Sooners

Jamie Squire

Big Game Bob and the Sooners make a return to South Bend this fall. Here's the summer preview of that game.

The Fighting Irish pulled off one of the game's rare feats last year by defeating Oklahoma in Norman while being ranked. This season the Sooners will try and return the favor as they visit South Bend. Here's a preview of that game.

OKLAHOMA SOONERS

Oklahoma_medium

Location: Norman, Oklahoma

Head Coach: Bob Stoops (15th year)

2012 Record: 10-3

2012 S&P Rating: 9

'12 S&P Offense: 6

'12 S&P Defense: 15

'12 FEI Rating: 6

Just another ho-hum 10-win season for Bob Stoops and his Oklahoma Sooners. Their season got off to a slow start as UTEP blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown to take a lead against OU. However, the Sooners methodically took care of business and kept the Miners out of the endzone the rest of the game in a 24-7 victory.

A 69-13 blowout of Florida A&M preceded a tough and rare home loss to Kansas State as 3 turnovers doomed the Sooners. They bounced back with 3 impressive wins though---41-20 over Texas Tech, 63-21 over Texas, and 52-7 over Kansas.

Notre Dame's strong 4th quarter took down Oklahoma 30-13 handing the Sooners their first ever 2-loss season at home under head coach Bob Stoops.

OU brushed off their second loss and won their last 5 games of the regular season. First a 35-20 win over Iowa State, followed by a shootout win over Baylor. A touchdown pass with 24 second left brought a 1-point victory over West Virginia in a game that had over 14,000 yards of offense. If that wasn't crazy enough the Sooners took Oklahoma State to overtime before beating the Cowboys and then finished up the regular season holding off TCU 24-17.

A super hyped matchup in the Cotton Bowl against Texas A&M and Heisman winner Johnny Manziel left Oklahoma with a bad taste in their mouth. After a 1-point deficit going in to halftime the Aggies pulled away the rest of the way, piling up 633 yards of offense, outscoring the Sooners 28-0, and winning 41-13.

~~~

Q&A with Matt Hofeld from Crimson and Cream Machine:

1. There was some talk that it might not be a big surprise if Blake Bell wasn't the starter this fall, but that theory seems to have subsided a little bit following spring practice. Do you expect Bell to be the full-time starter for 2013?

I fully expect Bell to be the starter. Kendal Thompson was more of a challenge to him in the spring quarterback competition than anyone expected and redshirt freshman Trevor Knight showed that he had a huge upside. However, Bell was the #2 on the depth chart last season for a reason. He had already competed in a competition with then backup Drew Allen (now at Syracuse) for the spot.

Had Landry Jones gone down at any point last season it would have been Bell directing the offense. He's the only one of the three quarterbacks with game experience and, being a junior, he's the oldest of the candidates. Those two intangibles right there gave him an edge going into the spring and there was nothing that he did at any point during that span to put him behind Thompson or Knight.

2. Oklahoma once again has strong depth at the running back position heading in to the fall. Do you expect to see any new faces like redshirt freshman Alex Ross or true freshman Keith Ford contribute this year?

I think that Damien Williams and Brennan Clay will get the bulk of the carries. They are both seniors and had very solid seasons in 2012. I do believe that Ross will work his way onto the field, if he can stay healthy, and I also think that Roy Finch may be used more this fall than he has been in his previous three seasons.

The running backs are deep and experienced at OU which will make it hard for Ford to compete immediately. He may see some spot or garbage time but I think the best use of his talent is to redshirt and save him.

3. The Sooners lost their top two receivers from last season but have perhaps the most talented young corps of wideouts in the country. How big of a concern is some of the inexperience at this position, particularly when paired with a new quarterback?

I'm a firm believer that Penn State transfer Justin Brown saved Oklahoma's 2012 season. His experience and leadership was just what the Sooners needed at such a young position. Now Jalen Saunders takes the role of the senior leader and mentor. The group isn't quite as young as they were last fall but the still have to prove themselves. Sterling Shepard had the best season of the freshman group last year and will need to be a significant playmaker this year.

The good news is that all of these guys seem to have a good rapport with all of the quarterbacks and have found themselves playing key roles in what was a pressure packed spring QB competition. Now they just have to get out on the field and prove that they can step up into the roles vacated by Brown and Stills. Look for Trey Metoyer to become a key part of the offense this fall after fizzling out a bit last year as a true freshman.

4. 5th-year senior Tyler Evans tore his ACL in mid-March and there was some talk that he might have to hang up the cleats. Do you expect him to play at all in 2013 or in 2014? Also, there are several experienced starters returning on the offensive line---how is that unit shaping up for this fall?

It appears that Evans' career may be over with. He missed all of last season with a torn ACL in the other knee only to suffer the same injury early this spring. He would have to apply for another year of eligibility and that doesn't look promising. Its an extreme long shot for him to make the field this fall.

As it is, the only player gone from last season's line is Lane Johnson. There is a load of experience up front for the Sooners but not much depth. It is essential that this group stay healthy. They obviously aren't off to a good start with the Evans injury.

5. Oklahoma lost a lot of bodies on defense, especially along the defensive line. The team also hired Jerry Montgomery away from Michigan to coach the defensive line in a staff shakeup. Is there a bigger concern on the entire team than this position?

I would say that the secondary may be a bigger concern. Montgomery is changing the line to a single gap assignment which will hopefully make them more aggressive and get them into the backfield more often. Jordan Phillips had a great spring and while the line is mostly inexperienced there's still a lot of promise there.

The secondary is returning Aaron Colvin and that's it. When you consider that Oklahoma's top four leading tacklers last season were all in the secondary, that's a pretty significant loss. Outside of the quarterback competition, the positions in the secondary have been the most watch battles through the spring.

6. It's crazy to think that it's been 12 years since Oklahoma's last national title. Still, Bob Stoops has won 10+ games in each of the last 3 seasons, and double digit victories in every season but two since his first in Norman. That's the definition of sustained dominance, but how do OU fans measure success nowadays as Stoops enters his 15th season as head coach? What are expectations for 2013?

The Sooners went 15 years between their last two titles (1985-2000) so it gives you a little appreciation of how special those moments are. There's been a big difference though between the two spans of time. From 1985-2000 Oklahoma went through three losing seasons and had five different coaches on the sideline.

In the twelve seasons since the 2000 championship Oklahoma has won an additional seven conference titles, as well as never suffering through a losing season, having two Heisman winners and a plethora of first-round NFL draft picks.

Stoops has the program consistently at the forefront of college football's elite and that has resulted in fan expectations being off the chart. Oklahoma fans are extremely spoiled and winning is everything. However, winning conference championships isn't enough for some. There are those who demand national titles or coaching changes. Spoiled I say, spoiled!

7. Notre Dame fans really enjoyed the game at Oklahoma last year not just because of the win but also because of the hospitality shown by Sooner fans and the matchup of two great traditional powerhouse programs. Irish fans are preparing for many Oklahoma fans to come to South Bend this year, so how much is your fan base looking forward to the road trip?

This trip has been talked about since Oklahoma last visited South Bend in 1999. The history and nostalgia of these two programs is off the chart and the fact that they are getting together for a regular season tilt two years in a row is a gift to college football.

I was in attendance during last year's game and, despite the OU loss, it was a magic moment to see the two teams on the field against each other. I think you'll get a lot of Sooner fans who are wanting to visit the ND campus, see Touchdown Jesus and experience a game at a famed stadium. There's no doubt in my mind that Irish fans will duplicate the hospitality they were shown in Norman last fall. Just wish that Notre Dame wasn't Oklahoma's kryptonite.

~~~

PROJECTED 2013 SOONERS DEPTH CHART

BOLD denotes returning starter

*Quarterback

Blake Bell, RS Jr.

Kendal Thompson, RS So.

Trevor Knight, RS Fr.

Landry Jones and his 16,646 career passing yards have moved on to the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers leaving the Belldozer as the next man in line in Norman. Bell has been used almost exclusively as a red zone runner over the past two seasons (353 rushing yards and 24!! rushing touchdowns) and has been limited to just 20 career passes since 2011.

Kendal Thompson, whose father played quarterback at Oklahoma, has been fighting for the starting spot and had a decent spring. However, he was arrested for public intoxication and disorderly conduct in early May.

Trevor Knight has been part of a 3-way competition but is likely a distant third heading in to the fall.

*Running Back

Damien Williams, Sr.

Brennan Clay, Sr.

Roy Finch, Sr.

Alex Ross, RS Fr.

All the senior running backs. Williams was a top JUCO recruit last year who grabbed the starting job and ran for 946 yards in 2012. Clay has seen some spot-duty over the past few seasons and comes into this fall with 956 career rushing yards. Finch is a small speedster who rushed for 1,003 yards in 2010-11 but had his carries cut back significantly in 2012 finishing with just 62 yards.

20121013_mje_se1_1252

Damien Williams. [Matthew Emmons, US Presswire]

Alex Ross, the No. 6 Composite back from the 2012 class, is a big and talented kid who has impressed many in Norman. The Sooners also have a pair of redshirt freshmen and one of 2013's top running backs in Keith Ford to add depth as well.

*Fullback

Trey Millard, Sr.

Aaron Ripkowski, Jr.

Fullback ninja Trey Millard is back after a 548 all-purpose yard season in 2012. Working with a more mobile quarterback could make Millard a bigger weapon in the future.

*X Wide Receiver

Trey Metoyer, So.

Durron Neal, So.

*Z Receiver

Jalen Saunders, Sr.

Lacoltan Bester, Sr.

Derrick Woods, RS Fr.

*Y Receiver

Sterling Shepard, So.

Jaz Reynold, 5th Sr.

Dannon Cavil, Fr.

Kenny Stills left early for the NFL and Penn State transfer Justin Brown exhausted his eligibility after finishing up his career in Norman in 2012. Those two combined for 155 receptions, 1,843 yards, and 16 touchdowns last year.

Nevertheless, this is still a highly talented receiving corps. Metoyer, Neal, and Shepard were elite freshmen recruits who got their feet wet last season---the latter even hauling in an impressive 45 catches.

Jalen Saunders transferred in from Fresno State last year and ended up starting the last 9 games of the season after being ruled eligible in October. He finished with 62 receptions in 2012.

Offering excellent depth is former JUCO Lacoltan Bester, and the highly regarded Derrick Woods. True freshman Dannon Cavil entered Norman this spring and Stoops was singing his praises as well.

*Tight End

Brannon Green, Sr.

Taylor McNamara, RS Fr.

Sam Grant, RS Fr.

Once a big part of the playmaking wing of the Sooner offense the tight end position was all but extinct last season for Oklahoma. Former Irish target Taylor McNamara started 1 game and played in 2 last season before a redshirt was thrown on him due to injury. That left Brannon Green as the lone used tight end and he finished the season with a mere 3 catches as the Sooners worked with 4-wide receiver formations on a consistent basis.

Grant is a tall (6'7") athlete offering some depth and who has the frame to grow in to a tackle.

*Left Tackle

Daryl Williams, RS Jr.

Derek Farniok, RS So.

*Left Guard

Adam Shead, RS Jr.

Nila Kasitati, RS So.

*Center

Gabe Ikard, 5th Sr.

Ty Darlington, So.

*Right Guard

Bronson Irwin, Sr.

Dionte Savage, Jr.

*Right Tackle

Tyrus Thompson, RS Jr.

Kyle Marrs, RS Fr.

The Sooners lost left tackle Lane Johnson to the NFL (4th overall pick) and look to be without 5th-year senior right guard Tyler Evans who started 29 games from 2009-11 but missed 2012 with an injury and suffered an ACL injury this spring.

However, they still bring back 4 full-time starters from last year and will be moving Daryl Williams from right to left tackle to fill in Johnson's vacated spot. Tyrus Thompson (5 starts in 2012) will move in to the right tackle starting position.

Like most teams, not much experienced depth behind the projected starters but a pair of JUCO recruits will arrive this summer to help out.

*Defensive End

Genero Grissom, RS Jr.

Mike Onuoha, So.

*Defensive Tackle

Jordan Phillips, RS So.

Quincy Russell, Jr.

Rashod Favors, RS Jr.

*Defensive Tackle

Jordan Wade, RS Fr.

Torrea Peterson, RS Jr.

*Defensive End

Chuka Ndulue, RS Jr.

Charles Tapper, So.

R.J. Washington, Jamarcus McFarland, David King, Casey Walker, and Stacy McGee have all moved on from Norman. That is 5 of the top 6 tacklers along the defensive line! The bad news is replacing all those bodies, the good news is that these players didn't light the world on fire to begin with.

Redshirt junior Chuka Ndulue is the lone returning starter coming off a solid 45 tackles, 5.5 for loss, and 4.5 sacks in 2012. He'll be backed up by Tapper, a true sophomore who played very little last season. Geneo Grissom looks to start at the other end spot and has 8 career tackles through 2 seasons. He looks to be backed up by Mike Onuoha who, like Tapper, played sparingly as a true freshmen in 2012.

On the interior the highly touted and massive redshirt sophomore Jordan Phillips looks to flourish in his first year starting. Starting opposite Phillips looks to be Jordan Wade another big recruit who sat out 2012 with a redshirt. Various players could be back ups at this position and the Sooners are expecting incoming JUCO recruit Quincy Russell to be on the two deep.

*Weak-side Linebacker

Corey Nelson, Sr.

Aaron Franklin, RS Jr.

*Strong-side Linebacker

Frank Shannon, RS So.

Caleb Gastelum, Jr.

Middle linebacker Tom Wort (190 career tackles) left early and signed a free agent deal with the Tennessee Titans, but he's the only major loss to a unit that typically only utilizes 2 linebackers at a time in the pass-happy Big 12.

20121021_ter_sh2_818

Corey Nelson. [Tim Heitman, US Presswire]

The talented Corey Nelson is back at the weak-side linebacker spot and brings 124 tackles and 5.5 sacks through 3 seasons in Norman. Nelson will be backed up by Aaron Franklin just like last year. At the strong-side spot Frank Shannon looks to start after a fairly strong redshirt freshman season (38 tackles, 2 sacks) with a couple others vying for backup minutes behind him.

*Nickel Corner

Julian Wilson, RS Jr.

*Right Corner

Aaron Colvin, Sr.

Zack Sanchez, RS Fr.

*Left Corner

Kass Everett, Sr.

L.J. Moore, Fr.

*Strong Safety

Gabe Lynn, 5th Sr.

Quentin Hayes, RS Jr.

*Free Safety

Cortez Johnson, RS Jr.

Trey Franks, RS Jr.

Free safety Tony Jefferson (258 tackles, 18 for loss, 7 sacks, 8 interceptions---and shockingly went undrafted) left school early, while strong safety Javon Harris (162 tackles, 9 interceptions) and corner Demontre Hurst (178 tackles) ran out of eligibility.

Returning from Oklahoma's primary 5-man secondary set is corner Aaron Colvin (52 tackles & 4 picks in 2012) while Gabe Lynn (37 tackles in '12) moves from the nickel corner to strong safety.

There are a lot of questions in the rest of the secondary and you can see why it's a concern for Oklahoma fans. Kass Everett, a JUCO that arrived last fall and made 6 tackles in 2012, looks to be the other starter at corner. Julian Wilson had a nice 2012 (31 tackles, 5 passes broken up) and should step up at the nickel corner spot. The free safety spot looks to be filled by Cortez Johnson a transfer from Arizona who sat out 2012. Also, watch for a trio of freshmen in L.J. Moore, Hatari Byrd, and Ahmad Thomas to make some noise this fall.

~~~

Final Thoughts

On paper this doesn't look like an Oklahoma team that is going to be a national power and contend for a championship outside of the Big 12. Just 4 starters are back on defense and the schedule is no push-over with 11 teams who made it a bowl game last year, and 8 teams that won at least 8 games in 2012.

Offensively the Sooners should be fine, although it wouldn't surprise me if they take a small step back. Whether that's noticeable probably depends upon if the OU defense can improve. There is a veteran offensive line and a plethora of skill position athletes to distribute the ball to---that's typically a good indicator for a strong offense.

Some apprehension about the quarterback is normal, especially for a program that has averaged 564 passing attempts over the past 5 seasons. I'm not sure Bell is going to excel as a passer although his mobility could open up a lot more for the Oklahoma offense than was possible under Landry Jones.

On the other side of the ball there are major question marks in the secondary and defensive line---not great news for a program that really hasn't been recruiting as well as you'd think. Of the 29 players expected to play on the defensive line and secondary a full 20 of them are 3-star talents or below. That's not to say that those players can't be great but it's not like the Sooners are re-stocking on the heels of a bunch of top 5 recruiting classes.

I'm not sure I'd bet against Oklahoma dropping below 9 or 10 wins but this should be a game that the Fighting Irish win at home.

Predicted Game Day Spread: Oklahoma (+4.5)

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