Last season the Sooners defense welcomed back coordinator Mike Stoops, but Stoops struggled to find a system that could defeat the spread offenses of the Big 12 conference. Overall the defense allowed 25.5 points per game, but in five games against Notre Dame, West Virginia, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Baylor the defense gave up an average of 40.6 points per game. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma’s head coach, hopes that the hiring of new defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery will assist in developing the defensive front and bringing fresh life to a once vaunted defense.
In 2012, the defensive front struggled against the run (allowing 5.17 yards per carry) and had difficulty producing pressure. With the loss of several seniors, Stoops considered switching to a 3-4 defense, but during Oklahoma’s spring game he stayed with four down linemen. The team’s projected depth chart has two juniors and two sophomores starting along the front with only Chuka Ndulue seeing meaningful time last season. Stoops will also have to deal with the lack of depth behind the starters if injuries or fatigue take their toll.
The linebacker corps, like the defensive front, is also dangerously thin. Last season Stoops employed a 4-0-7 scheme to maximize their depth at cornerback and safety and challenge the spread teams of the Big 12. The scheme failed and Stoops plans to refocus his attention on the 4-3 defense. Oklahoma’s top linebacker, Tom Wort, departed for the NFL, leaving sophomore Frank Shannon and senior Corey Nelson to carry the load.
Stoops will have some relief in the secondary. The unit boasts outstanding talent and depth. According to Jason Kersey at NewOK “Senior cornerback Aaron Colvin is the group’s mainstay; he’s joined by cornerback Cortez Johnson, free safety Gabe Lynn, strong safety Quentin Hayes and nickelback Julian Wilson.” Stoops will lean on this experienced group as the front seven develops and matures.
Every year Notre Dame faces a daunting schedule. I know some experts attack their lack of SEC opponents, but one fact remains indisputable: the schedule consistently collects a group of well-funded, well-followed and well-coached programs. Oklahoma falls directly into this category. In the past three years, Stoops has won 32 games and dominated the Big 12. However the Sooners have failed to compete in the big games. In the offseason, Stoops reevaluated his staff and his recruiting, and he made changes that will improve both areas well beyond 2013. Even so, on the field Oklahoma will struggle in 2013 as Bell develops and the defensive front seven searches for an identity.
Offensively, Notre Dame should run the ball and run the ball some more. Martin and Watt should handle Oklahoma’s front and provide running lanes for Atkinson III and Bryant. Rees needs to maintain his cool and take what the Sooner’s talented secondary gives him. During the game, Notre Dame’s offensive will stall and clamor for Everett Golson’s playmaking ability, so do not be surprised if Kelly calls upon the services of Andrew Hendrix or Malik Zaire to take advantage of that young OU front seven.
On defense, Bob Diaco will dial up complicated blitz packages and pass coverages to confuse Bell and force him into bad throws. Oklahoma will struggle again to run the ball against a defensive front seven that may be better than last year’s unit. If Bell utilizes screen plays to limit the rush and get the ball to his playmakers outside and out of the backfield, the Sooners can attack the Irish’s small defensive secondary and gain big yards. But will Bell have enough of a grasp of the offense after three games to make the right decisions.
Oklahoma’s secondary could force Rees into a turnover or those wide receivers could break a big play which would change the entire dynamic of the game. But if Notre Dame plays their game and dominates the line of scrimmage they should send the Sooners home to Norman with their first loss of the season.