Q: Any injuries Notre Dame is dealing with heading into the game Sunday night?
PETE SAMPSON: I thought the big surprise when the depth chart came out was Avery Sebastian starting at safety over freshman Devin Studstill.
Studstill had a bit of a hamstring during camp, so he was slowed. But Sebastian has been injured pretty much his whole career. He's a sixth-year senior who broke his foot against Texas last year and missed the rest of the season.
It really didn't seem like he was going to be much of a factor, honestly. So, basically, Notre Dame will be starting two strong safeties against Texas instead of starting a free safety in Studstill, who is a true freshman.
I think the last true freshman safety to start a season opener was Bobby Taylor, a Texas guy and total stud. And that was 25 years ago.
Jay Hayes (93), a defensive end, is a little banged up with a high ankle sprain. He's an "or" starter with Isaac Rochelle (90). Other than that, they're in pretty good shape.
Q: Does it matter who starts at quarterback - Malik Zaire, the junior, or DeShone Kizer, the sophomore - if they're both going to play?
PETE SAMPSON: They're both going to play. I don't know who starts. Brian Kelly really hasn't given us any clues, kind of the same way Charlie Strong hasn't.
I don't think it matters, honestly. Irish fans are looking at it like, 'Well, one guy will be looking over his shoulder.' But if the starter already knows he's coming out of the game, what's the point of looking over your shoulder?
Brian Kelly says it's not going to be like Zaire in the red zone situationally, which I could see happening. But he says that's not how it's going to play out. They'll both play, and I think they'll both get the full field. But Kelly is not talking much about how they'll be used, whether it's by quarter, series, hot hand or whatever. I feel like he knows, but he's just not saying.
Brian Kelly is basically betting on Brian Kelly to make this work.
Q: Obviously, there's been some adversity with players getting dismissed from the squad, including starting safety Max Redfield. Where do you think this team is mentally as they head to Austin?
PETE SAMPSON: I think because the arrests happened a couple weeks before the season opener, it shouldn't be a huge distraction. Losing Max Redfield as the starting free safety is a big deal as a player - even though he as a bit of a bust in terms of his recruiting hype in comparison to how he produced.
They just don't have a lot of bodies back there (at safety). But I don't think it sets a negative tone for the season or anything like that. So, I don't think will be a distraction. So I think Notre Dame will be in a decent frame of mind going down there.
Q: The defense lost some big-time playmakers from last season when you look at guys like LBs Jaylon Smith and Joe Schmidt, DT Sheldon Day, DE Romeo Okwara, CB KeiVarae Russell, S Elijah Shumate and S Max Redfield. Who have been the most difficult to replace?
PETE SAMPSON: Obviously, a healthy Jaylon Smith is the hardest to replace, because you don't get body types and athleticism like that very often. Sheldon Day was super productive last year and very difficult to block one-on-one at defensive tackle last year.
Now, they take Jerry Tiller from nose guard to defensive tackle, where Day played last year. And they're hoping for more of a pass rush from him. He's a completely different body type. Day was barely 6-foot. Tillery is 6-6 and a half. So, different frame.
They lose KeiVarae Russell at corner, who is now with the Kansas City Chiefs. I think Shaun Crawford, who is a redshirt freshman will be really good.
But without Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame is hoping Nyles Morgan, who was a 5-star on Scout, makes a big impact at middle linebacker.
Q: Where is the biggest drop-off in terms of the team last year to this year?
PETE SAMPSON: Wide receiver. Easily. They lost the most catches in the history of the program in one off-season. They have the fewest receptions returning at wide receiver of any Brian Kelly team.
It's a huge issue not only to replace Will Fuller, their leading receiver, but they lost their second-leading receiver (Chris Brown) and fourth-leading receiver (Amir Carlisle), fifth-leading receiver (C.J. Promise) and sixth-leading receiver (Corey Robinson).
So that's a huge hole to fill. And I don't think the offense is going to look good on Sunday night in terms of how they pass the ball on Sunday night. They'll have to run the ball effectively. Asking Torii Hunter to come in and be Will Fuller is a lot to ask. Receiver, by far, they lost a historic amount of production at that position.
Q: Where does Notre Dame have a clear advantage and where does Texas have a clear advantage?
PETE SAMPSON: In the box offensively, I think Notre Dame has a clear advantage over Texas' front seven on defense.
I think Notre Dame has a first-round pick at LT in Mike McGlinchey and at LG in Quenton Nelson. They've got two really good running backs in Josh Adams and Taurean Folston and two really good quarterbacks in Zaire and Kizer.
Even at tight end, they should be good. If Notre Dame wins the game, they control that aspect of the line.
Texas may have the advantage in terms of its offensive scheme against Notre Dame. Brian Kelly compared it to North Carolina in terms of how high-tempo it was. North Carolina put 43 points on Notre Dame two years ago and ran 84 plays.
Notre Dame doesn't have great depth. It's gonna be hot. And if Texas is really going to run 85 or 90 plays, and they're unable to sub a lot, Notre Dame's lack of depth on the D-line could show.
Schematically, Texas' offense is probably Notre Dame's biggest concern. They're running backs are big and physical and a lot of fun to watch. I think Notre Dame can match up with them physically just fine - but schematically, I think it will be a real challenge for Nyles Morgan in the first start of his career.
I think Texas' corners lining up against Notre Dame's green receivers could be a problem for Notre Dame.
Texas' speed at receiver against Notre Dame's safeties, neither of which is overly athletic, could be a problem for Notre Dame.
The back end of Notre Dame's defense and the depth of the defensive line - those are concerns for the Irish for sure.
And Notre Dame has no pass rush. So if Texas' weakness is not being able to protect up front, it might not be that big of an issue. Notre Dame basically starts four defensive tackles on the D-line. There's no pass-rusher there. They're going to have to blitz a lot to get pressure.
Q: So what's your prediction?
PETE SAMPSON: I think it will be Notre Dame 28, Texas 21. I just think Notre Dame is too physical for Texas at the point of attack on both lines, and I think that's the difference.
Texas vs. Notre Dame Brings In Big Recruits
A sold out crowd is expected for the Longhorns' season opener against Notre Dame, and among the fans will be some of the nation's top talent in the 2017 recruiting class.
While nothing is official until these guys are sitting in the stadium, here's a list of prospects who are planning to be in attendance this Sunday.
WR Omar Manning - Maybe
DE Ondario Robinson - Maybe
QB Sam Ehlinger
CB Kobe Boyce
WR Damion Miller - Maybe
ATH Montrell Estell
WR Joshua Moore
CB Anthony Cook
LB Alston Orji
Meet The Foe: Notre Dame Head Coach Brian Kelly Talks Texas
BREAKING DOWN THE OFFENSE
"Texas is going to rely on tempo on offense with the new offensive coordinator. They're going to push the tempo. Defensively they're young, they're athletic and they're certainly going to keep the pressure on our offense.
They know full well that we don't have an experienced receiving core, and they're going to keep a lot of pressure on our running game and make us certainly throw the football at a number of times during the game."
"I think both running games are going to have to be very, very instrumental in this game. They've got two big, physical running backs in Foreman and Warren, and we think we've got great depth at the running back position as well."
DIFFERENCE IN TYRONE SWOOPES AND SHANE BUECHELE
"They're quite different. They're not quite the same in the sense that we have. Swoopes, obviously, big arm, he can obviously get the ball down the field. We know about his size and physicality. He's got a lot of athletic ability. They want to move him around. He's not a guy that's going to stand in the same launch point. He's going to change launch points, move around. And, quite frankly, I've been impressed when teams have pressured him. He's done a really nice job of getting the ball down the field.
Shane is more of a guy that will hit open receivers. He's more of a guy that can be reading across the field, relative to progressions, and a precision passer.
You get two different quarterbacks, both of who can make plays down the field. And both have been effective. So I can see how coaches probably want to play both of them, because they have different styles.
OFFENSIVE GAME PLAN WITH TWO QUARTERBACKS
"The comfort level of the quarterback and his rhythm is something that is always going to be an issue with them, and I can't help them with that.
"What we're mostly focusing on is what Texas wants to do and then how we counter with our two quarterbacks and how we think effectively they can run our offense. So there will probably be times where it doesn't feel good for his flow or tempo, so that probably doesn't work best for him.
But what we're trying to counter is the game within the game, and that is how Texas is trying to defend what we are doing offensively. So that's really the biggest issue that I have moving forward.
We're going to run the quarterbacks how we see the defense is playing us."
"Well, spring game was a typical spring game. It was difficult. But we know the style of quarterback. I remember from high school. I know what kind of quarterback he is. He's high percentage. And I think if you look at the two quarterbacks, he fits the system pretty good with the new offensive coordinator.
"So I think for them, it's a comfort level that they know he can run the system. It's just that Swoopes is such an athletic kid. I mean, it's hard for him not to get your attention in his physicality and his arm strength.
"So I can see where they are. He's such a young kid. I see his potential and his growth to one day be the starter there. But with Swoopes, I know where they are. I mean, you've got an athletic kid that can do a lot of things, and you've got an emerging player in Buechele."
"I think two ares. I think the running game started to emerge. I think they got some confidence there.
"I think secondly, some of the young players settled down. Malik Jefferson - I think a couple of their younger players of the linebackers settled down and started to be a little bit more fundamentally sound in their areas. I think defensively they just tightened some things up.
"So tightened up defensively and began to run the ball effectively."
CONFIDENCE HEADING INTO SEASON OPENER
"Strongly or confident that no matter what happens, we're running the football. And strongly and confident that no matter what happens from a defensive standpoint, we're going to be in a pretty good structure defensively. We've got it. I think we've got it figured out pretty good in terms of what we need to do. Now it's just go execute.
"Feel pretty good about our plan defensively and how to handle Texas and what they want to do with their tempo. And we're going to run the football. Those two things are absolute certainties."