NORMAN — Oklahoma travels to Notre Dame on Sept. 28 for a nationally televised game with big-time implications for both squads.
The Sooners lost 30-13 at home last year to the Irish, who went on to finish 12-1 with a national-title game appearance.
Continuing my blog series with a beat writer from each of OU’s 2013 opponents, Eric Hansen from the South Bend Tribune was kind enough to answer a few questions about Notre Dame.
You can follow Eric on Twitter @hansenNDInsider.
1. Notre Dame must obviously be disappointed to lose Everett Golson, but if any team could sustain such a loss, it seems like it would be the Irish. How do the expectations for 2013 change with Tommy Rees under center, or do they?
They do change, perhaps unfairly, even though Tommy has a 14-4 record in 18 career starts. He has to overcome turnovers. He has 35 career TD passes, but 30 career turnovers. When ND switched from Rees to Everett Golson, the Irish went from 110th nationally in turnovers lost in 2011 to 13th nationally with Golson in 2012. Rees’ lack of mobility and inconsistency with the deep ball have been exposed by elite defenses. His pass-efficiency rating has been relatively flat since his freshman season, coaxing the question whether there is a higher ceiling for him. He certainly has plenty of assets, not the least of which is mental toughness and respect of his teammates. Perhaps some of these questions will be answered in August.
2. The Irish defense loses a great player in Manti Te’o, but also brings back lots of talent. What are the expectations for Notre Dame’s defense entering 2013?
There’s a belief this defense can be better, because the secondary is significantly stronger and deeper. Some feel ND may have the best starting defensive line in the nation, and Jarrett Grace projects as an able fit at middle linebacker. He’ll be flanked by some outstanding outside linebackers. The biggest “if” is defensive line depth. Heading into August, there’s a cliff between the starters and the next wave. The Irish can’t afford an injury there.
3. After the Irish beat OU, then continued finding ways to win throughout the regular season, they sure seemed like a team of destiny. How devastating was the national title game loss for Notre Dame, and how do you think that game will continue to affect the team in 2013?
I think the culture shock was at its worst during and immediately following the game. Since then, the Irish have used it to tweak strategy, personnel, recruiting and how they’ll handle bowl prep the next time. Sustained success is what Kelly wants. The loss has become his rallying cry.
4. Where do you think Notre Dame’s greatest strengths are as a team, and where do you see potential weaknesses?
The balance of power still rests with this team’s defense. This will drive a BCS run, but the offense could cause that to unravel. Coaching is a strength. Sustained recruiting is a strength. Talented wild cards like USC transfer Amir Carlisle and freshmen Jaylon Smith, Greg Bryant and Max Redfield are all strengths. Potential weaknesses? The quarterback position and offensive line depth.
5. Last October, excitement and pageantry took over Norman because of Notre Dame’s visit. Do you expect a similar build-up in South Bend this season?
Notre Dame is used to elite programs coming to Notre Dame Stadium, so many times the build-up is more subdued than outsiders may expect. Oklahoma is different. Its pedigree, its fan base, its coach (who ND fans long coveted) will coax a bowl-like atmosphere in South Bend, I believe.