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Quotes | Stats | Breakdowns | Opponent Previews | Opinions From The Experts
Can Blake Bell Take The Reigns Of The Sooner Offense? A Look Inside The QB Race
Rebuilding The Sooner Defense Can Corey Nelson Lead A Resurgent Group Of Linebackers?
Position-By-Position Breakdowns Of The Offense & Defense
Interviews With Some Of The Best Known Oklahoma Football Writers
Date: September 28th, 2013 Location: South Bend, IN 2012 Record: 12-1 All-Time vs. OU: 9-1 Last Meeting: (w) 30-13 2012
with Eric Murtaugh
quarterback, finding some dynamic offensive playmakers, and continuing the stellar recruiting. If all that happens, and Notre Dame wins 10+ games again, I believe many in the fan base will be pretty excited. There is some pressure to win a major bowl and I think that is a fair goal for this upcoming season. Other than that, consistency is a big key. The Irish haven't been able to play at a high level in consecutive seasons in a really long time and doing so (even without a major bowl win or a top 10 finish) would be a big accomplishment. Do the losses of Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood at running back put more pressure on quarterback Everette Golson to make plays with his arm, or do the Irish have the answer to the ground game already? The answer definitely hasn't been found in the ground game. George Atkinson (he didn't travel to the Oklahoma game last year due to the flu) has moved in to the starting role this spring after being behind Riddick and Wood last season. He's legitimately one of the fastest backs in the country and has great size, but there are still a lot of questions about whether he can refine his skills and be more than just a track athlete carrying a football. He has so much potential that he could run for 1,200 yards, but he might end up with the same token home-run threat role he had last season, as well. Behind him is the scrappy Cam McDaniel, who is so well-rounded that he might play a ton but never be "the
Quarterback Everett Golson passed for 2,405 yards and 12 touchdowns last season
Oklahoma and Notre Dame renewed their gridiron rivalry last fall, with the Irish claiming a 30-13 victory in Norman. Now it’s OU’s turn to travel to South Bend this fall. While much has changed with the Sooners from 2012-13, the Irish have had some turnover at a few key positions themselves. Giving us the inside slant on the Fighting Irish is The Irish returned to the national stage of college football last year and were just a game away from the perfect season and a national title. How has that changed fan expectations going into this season? I don't think it's changed many people's opinions in regards to expectations for this upcoming season as much as it has convinced a lot of fans that the ship has been righted and the program is heading in the right direction. There was also a sense that the Irish were at least a year or two away from the kind of season they had in 2012 and obviously, Alabama knocked us down a couple of notches (or 30, whatever) and changed the color of the season at the very end. In regards to 2013, I think most just want to see the positive trend lines continue. Things like maintaining a strong defense, developing Golson at
Key Returners: LT Zach Martin, LG Chris Watt, RT Christian Lombard, TE Troy Niklas, WR TJ Jones, WR DaVaris Daniels, QB Everett Golson, DE Stephon Tuitt, NG Louis Nix, "Dog" OLB Danny Spond, "Cat" OLB Prince Shembo, Will MLB Dan Fox/Carlo Calabrese, CB KeiVarae Russell, CB Bennett Jackson, FS Matthias Farley Key Losses: C Braxston Cave, RG Mike Golic, TE Tyler Eifert, RB Theo Riddick, RB Cierre Wood, WR Robby Toma, DE Kapron Lewis-Moore, MLB Manti Te'o, SS Zeke Motta,
guy." He's not the typical number one back the team is looking for. They have a redshirt freshman in Will Mahone, who is probably another year or two away from serious contending for playing time, too.
That leaves 3 players who could really change the dynamic of the entire offense and not just the running game. Amir Carlisle- Transfer from USC. He's probably as dynamic as anyone on the roster, but hasn't been able to stay healthy. He was banged up as a freshman at USC in 2011, and ended up missing last season because he broke his ankle in the spring, and had a bunch of complications---even though his waiver was accepted by the NCAA and he was eligible in 2012. This spring he was turning a ton of heads before breaking his collarbone halfway through the practice sessions. He's not very big, and probably won't be an every down back, but he could bring a lot to the running game and offense. Tarean Folston- Incoming freshman in the similar mold as Carlisle but with a little more size. Like Carlisle, he'll probably be a hybrid slot/running back player but he is talented and athletic enough to make an impact in his first season. Greg Bryant- Former Oklahoma commit, many are expecting him to insert himself in to the starting discussion. Much too talented and physically ready not to move up the depth chart rather quickly. In regards to Golson, I think a lot more pressure will be on his shoulders not only as a passer, but as a runner. I would expect a little more passing than last year because that's where the team's strength lies--especially early in the season. But, Golson could also flourish as a runner and really help out the ground game while it tries to find the right pieces early in the fall. The linebackers and secondary both went through some attrition. Who are some of the new defenders that college football fans should be aware of, and what are the general expectations for the defense? The Irish lost a starter at each level of the defense (line, linebackers, secondary), but everyone else returns. Even with the loss of a generational talent like Te'o, there's the belief that this 2013 defense can be even better, and certainly full of more depth and playmaking ability. I think the defense will be a little bit more aggressive and "appear" more dominant this season in the form of more sacks, interceptions, 3-&-outs, but at the same time, it will be extremely hard to replicate some of the defensive team stats they put up last year. The three new projected starters should make a name for themselves and, while they aren't as experienced as the veterans they are replacing,
they do offer more speed and athleticism---a natural product of Kelly's high-level recruiting over the past couple seasons.
“Even with the loss of a generational talent like Te'o, there's the belief that this 2013 defense can be even better.”
Sheldon Day is a little under-sized as a defensive end in Notre Dame's 3-4 system, but he has an insane burst off the line and played really well as a true freshman last season. He might not be as technically sound, and able to eat blocks as well as his predecessor Kapron Lewis-Moore did, but Day brings more speed, and an ability to get in to the backfield and be disruptive. Jarrett Grace has big shoes to fill at middle linebacker, but the staff has been singing his praises for over a year and he's been groomed to take over for Te'o not only as a productive player, but also as a leader. It'll be shocking if he's as refined as Manti, but he does offer a little more speed, a little more sideline-to-sideline ability, and is the exact type of vocal leader the team wants at the all-important Mike linebacker spot. Elijah Shumate started last year as the nickel corner in his true freshman season, and is transitioning to strong safety this off-season. He's not a lock to start, as there are several candidates in a deep secondary battling for that spot, but Shumate spent the entire spring with the 1st team---a good indicator as any. He's still swimming a little bit trying to learn all the responsibilities and coverages, but athletically he's another notch or two above his predecessor, Zeke Motta. Besides those three new starters, there will probably be a few backups who begin to play at a high level (OLB Ben Councell, OLB Ishaq Williams, and another body in the secondary being likely) as well as three 5-star recruits coming in this summer. Outside linebacker Jaylon Smith is the most freakishly athletic player to come to South Bend in a very long time, and should see the field in some sort of nickel corner/pass rusher role. Defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes will be stepping on to campus physically ready to play on the interior, and as a hybrid pass rusher. Safety Max Redfield enters a log-jam at safety, but might be the
nickel corner from day one (like Shumate last year). He could force his way for playing time at free safety, or may even make an impact at receiver, or as a return man.
Are there any concerns at the center position with the graduations of Braxston Cave and Mike Golic Jr.? I think many Irish fans are fairly worried about a new center and right guard, mostly because these positions aren't being filled by highly- touted recruits (like most other spots on the roster), and it's naturally a position fans like to fret about anyway.
Cave was a 3-year starter at center and generally played pretty well over his career. He really struggled during the Senior Bowl and didn't get drafted, though. The coaching staff seems very high on his replacement (Nick Martin, brother of left tackle Zack Martin) and, again, this might be another instance where the new player is more athletically gifted but not quite as polished, as his predecessor. Right guard is more worrisome because Connor Hanratty, who worked there during the spring, hasn't received quite the rave reviews, and isn't as athletic, as some other options on the team. In fact, the staff has been waiting for redshirt freshman Ronnie Stanley to get healthy and see if he can work at right tackle, and move Christian Lombard from there to right guard. At the same time, Mike Golic was probably as limited physically as any Irish linemen over the past 4 or 5 years. It shouldn't be terribly difficult to replace him.
several backups with experience (Springmann, Schwenke, etc.), and one of the top defensive linemen in the country coming in this summer---things are looking pretty. Factor in the Cat outside linebacker, a position that often plays with their hand on the ground at the line, and the Irish have a lot of weapons to throw at teams. I definitely see the defensive line as the strength of the defense, if not the entire team.
Eric Murtaugh is a site manager for One Foot Down.com
2012 Stastical Leaders
Passing: Everett Golson - 2,405 Yards ,12 TDs, 6 INTs Rushing Theo Riddick - 943 Yards, 5 TDs, 4.8 YPC
Tuitt and Nix are future 1stround NFL picks, with size and athleticism seldom seen from players over 300 pounds.
So, there is definitely worry, but the staff has done a really good job improving the offensive line since they arrived. Things could be worse than breaking in 2 new offensive line starters with 2 All-American candidates on the left side who offer top-notch leadership for the entire offense. With Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix back up front, is the line the strength of the Irish defense? Without a doubt, yes. The line took a little bit of a hit with the season-ending shoulder surgery of Chase Hounshell (he would have provided depth as a backup), but this is still shaping up to be the best defensive line at Notre Dame in a very long time---and they were awfully good last year. Tuitt and Nix are future 1st-round NFL picks, with size and athleticism seldom seen from players over 300 pounds. There's no question that they are legitimate 1stteam All-Americans and, the scary thing is, they'll both have another year of eligibility left after 2013, although neither will probably come back. With these two players anchoring the line, a highlytouted sophomore (Day) stepping in to a starting role,
Receiving Tyler Eifert - 685 Yards, 4 TDs, 13.7 YPC Tackles Manti Te’o - 113 Sacks Stephon Tuitt - 12 Tackles For Loss Stephon Tuitt - 13 Interceptions Manti Te’o - 7
Score By Quarters 1st 2nd 3rd 4th OT Total Notre Dame 85 73 71 90 16 335 Opponents 23 74 24 39 6 166
2013 Sooner Kickoff
THE QUARTERBACK RACE
Regardless Of Who Wins The Job, Oklahoma’s Next Quarterback Will Bring In A New Era Of Sooner Football
Bob Stoops has had it pretty good in Norman as far as quarterbacks are concerned.
From Josh Heupel to Landry Jones, he’s had quarterbacks who can air the ball out with precision and accuracy, including Heisman winners Jason White and Sam Bradford. Five different signal callers have led Oklahoma to conference championships, but the other thing that they’ve all had in common is that they were all fairly immobile. That’s about to change! Landry Jones graduated and left for the NFL virtually owning the Oklahoma football passing record book. He was good enough to become the Big 12’s all-time leader in passing yards and set the career touchdown record bar so high that it may never be challenged. However, the winds of college football are changing and Jones, who was statue-like in the pocket at times, is going to be replaced by a quarterback who can make plays with his legs as well as his arm. The problem is, we just don’t know who that quarterback is going to be just yet. What we do know is that the naked bootlegs and quarterback draws that were run in the spring game clearly indicate that Oklahoma is stepping into the era of the mobile quarterback. The competition was so close in the spring that the Sooners will head into the summer with the situation unresolved. The combination of strength, agility and a massive upside have made for a difficult coaching decision, but the understanding that whoever wins this battle will guide the team through multiple seasons puts more weight on the coaches decision.
Blake Bell has to be considered the front runner to win the starting job. He’s been starring for two seasons now as the “Belldozer” and was even named the MVP of Oklahoma’s 31-14 Insight Bowl win over Iowa in 2011. Bell owns the rushing touchdown record for a freshman quarterback with 13 scored in 2011. The question has been whether he could pass with accuracy because, while he may have 24 rushing touchdowns, he’s only attempted twenty passes in his two seasons as a Sooner. He seemed to silence the doubters with a 14/23 passing performance, for 213 yards and two scores, in the spring game.
Blake Bell HT: 6-6 WT: 263 YR: JR
Trevor Knight is quickly becoming a fan favorite because of his athleticism and knack for making plays. Only a freshman, Knight had been written off by many as not being ready for the competition. A native of San Antonio, TX, Knight was the nation’s fifth-ranked quarterback prospect coming out of high school. He joined Oklahoma as a four-star recruit in the class of 2012. In his final two years of high school he passed for over 3,000 yards and ran for over 1,900 with a combined 75 touchdowns scored.
“We have three good guys just competing and having fun with it and we're all just going to work hard each and every day and that's all we can do.” Blake Bell
Trevor Knight HT: 6-1 WT: 202
Kendal Thompson was the surprise of the spring. His athleticism was evident in high school but he showed off a strong arm and accuracy in the spring. The most athletic of the three quarterbacks (Kendal is the son of former Sooner star Charles Thompson), Thompson’s playmaking ability is uncanny. A four-star prospect from Southmoore High School in Moore, OK, Thompson was the number two overall prospect in the state and fourteenth best quarterback prospect in the country. An injury in the second game of the season cost Thompson his senior year of high school, so this quarterback race is the first time he’s been involved in competitive football since September 2010 so you could say that he’s still knocking off some rust. However, he showed enough in the spring (as did Bell and Knight) that he’s got a strong enough grasp on things to take the reins of the offense.
YR: RS FR
"I prefer to stay in the pocket, as do most quarterbacks. When I'm out there, you don't have time to think about it. It's a split second decision. If I have to pull it down, I pull it down and then just play ball from there." - Kendal Thompson
Kendal Thompson HT: 6-1 WT: 191 YR: RS SO
Inside The QB Race With ESPN’s Jake Trotter
Did the quarterback competition turn out to be more of an actual competition than was expected? JT: No, I always expected it to be a competition. What I didn't expect was Kendal Thompson being a factor. Thompson really has made a great deal of improvement since the 2012 spring game, which is a tribute to his work ethic. Thompson was almost always the last to leave the practice field, and it shows. I still consider Blake Bell to be the favorite, and I still think that Trevor Knight has the highest ceiling, but Thompson quickly ensured this would be a three-man race. Is it still a three-man race after the spring? JT: Yes, although not in the way people might think. I really don't envision a scenario where Bell doesn't get the start against Louisiana-Monroe, especially after watching the spring game. But, say Bell struggles against West Virginia or in South Bend? I don't think Bob Stoops would hesitate to give one of the younger guys a shot. The big question then becomes, who would get the first shot? Thompson or Knight? To me, that will be the more compelling competition during two-a-days, more so than whether anyone can unseat Bell, which I see little chance of happening, at least in August. But all three are capable of running the new offense that we're expected to see this fall, right? JT: Yes. All three have subtle differences. But basically, they are a similar style of quarterback, which is why Josh Heupel won't have to tailor the offense to each individual. After the Sam Bradford and Landry Jones era, are we now seeing a time where OU football perhaps gives up some passing accuracy for athleticism from the quarterback? JT: Well, that's not the way they'll put it. Maybe the way they'll phrase it is, they're willing to place more emphasis on a quarterback's mobility than past years. Stoops and Heupel want to throw the ball, so there's definitely a limit to the amount of throwing accuracy they'd be willing to sacrifice. So, even though the coaches want to run the QBs this year, being the most athletic of the three quarterbacks doesn't necessarily give one guy a leg up over the other then? JT: The quarterback that runs the best and throws the worst is not going to win this job. What they are really looking for is the quarterback that makes the most plays -- running or throwing -- with the fewest mistakes. That player is going to ultimately prevail in this competition. Break it down and give us a possible advantage each of the three quarterbacks may have over the others. JT: Bell has the experience advantage over the other three, and his arm takes no backseat, either. Thompson's foot quickness gives him the potential to make plays outside the pocket the other two might not be able to. Knight is stronger and faster, and for those reasons among others, I believe he has the highest ceiling. But these are all subtle differences, because all three quarterbacks are similar in a lot of ways, and relatively close at the moment in terms of how far along they are as quarterbacks.
Jake Trotter covers OU football for ESPN SoonerNation
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