Football

Culpepper previews Texas-Notre Dame

Pat Culpepper. (Will Gallagher/IT)
Pat Culpepper. (Will Gallagher/IT)

It’s here. Real live College football. There will be 80,795 rabid fans ready to roar before kickoff in South Bend at 6:30 pm on Saturday night.

​It is a unique campus and when I was head football coach at Midland High School, one of my boys became Coach Lou Holtz’s first team captain. I went to see him play versus Penn State in a night game at Notre Dame. The pep rally the night before was outstanding. In many ways this school was where America fell in love with College Football and the campus itself is a buzz of activity on game day.

​Last season the Irish had a QB dilemma – isn’t that interesting- Junior Everett Golson was magnificent against Michigan in a 31-0 win but by the time USC beat them 49-14, Coach Brian Kelly had enough and turned the reigns over to freshman Malik Zaire in the Dec. 30th Music City Bowl and the youngster came through versus LSU with his passing and electric running ability for a 31-28 victory.

​Notre Dame, who gave the Cowboys Zach Martin, is loaded in the offensive line. Wide receiver Will Fuller is similar to ex-Longhorn John Harris.

​Believe me, Coach Kelly went through hell last season, having to deal with losses to Arizona State (55-31) and the embarrassing overtime defeat to Northwestern which was at Notre Dame – think Kansas beating Texas in Austin.

​The Longhorns must stop running back Tarean Folston and 5-Star recruit Greg Bryant.

​The Irish defense was erratic particularly after their first five games. Outstanding are linebacker Jaylon Smith and lockdown corner KeiVarae Russell, who will return after an academic suspension.

​No doubt the Irish will be a healthy favorite since Coach Strong is still listening to Coach Shawn Watson and thinking Tyrone Swoopes is a college QB. Don’t dare think he had experience running this spread offense in High School – he was recruited by Coach Mack Brown’s staff as the leader of a High School team that went 1-9.

​If Swoopes doesn’t improve over last season’s TCU and Arkansas year-ending ridiculous losses, there might be another Manny Diaz type firing of Watson when the Longhorns plane comes back to Austin.

​The Longhorn defense will be tested for sure. Poona Ford, Hassan Ridgeway, and Desmond Jackson must play solid at defensive tackle to allow this defense to stand up to the Irish attack. Zaire is an excellent runner, and different from Swoopes, will take a hit to make a first down.

​I can’t wait to watch Malik Jefferson make some plays with his speed and football instincts. There will be other freshmen making plays like Connor Williams and Patrick Vahe along the offensive line. He was in full gear this spring and made a great impression on Coach Joe Wickline with his attitude and sheer toughness.

​I will be watching Daje Johnson to see if he is going to make a statement as a wide receiver in his senior season. Same can be said for Marcus Johnson. God gave him some unique ability and so far he has wasted it away. I have a difficult time understanding Longhorn players like Johnson and Johnson. Whatever it is that has kept them from being 100% playmakers last season wasn’t worth it.

​In my day players like Scott Appleton, Johnny Treadwell, and Don Talbert put nothing ahead of playing their best every Saturday for Texas to win at their position. They were inspirational to their teammates. In their senior years they were not only All-Americans but made outstanding plays in the big ball games. I well remember the opening kickoff against Baylor in 1961 – Talbert hit the bear return man on his 27-yard line and the ball went straight up in the air and was recovered by Texas.

​No doubt this Texas team could make a huge statement for the Big 12 conference, the Texas Longhorns fans and themselves with an outstanding effort in the kicking game, defensive hustle, and offensive execution on a national stage Saturday Night. It won’t be easy and they will be exhausted going back on the plane to Austin.

​Last season after the North Texas game, a 38-7 Texas, when all of us as fans were excited – then we came crashing down to earth in the 41-7 loss to BYU.

​For sure we will know much more about this Texas team Saturday night. What has to be fixed, who has to be replaced, how much this team really wants to win. I think Texas will show some spark perhaps with a big game from Johnathan Gray but as long as the Swoopes-Watson situation exists, I’m not sure Texas can win such a contest against a quality opponent

I’ll call it Notre Dame 28-Texas 10. I hope I’m wrong and I hope it’s not worse in Notre Dame’s favor.

Hook’Em,

Pat

Pat Culpepper played for The University of Texas from 1960-62 and graduated from UT with a B.A. degree with honors in history. He coached college football for 12 years as an assistant at Texas, Colorado, Tulane, Baylor, and Memphis State and was head coach at Northern Illinois from 1976-79. He also spent 16 years as a high school coach in Texas at Midland, Lufkin, Galveston Ball, Westfield and his hometown of Cleburne. He was selected to the Longhorn Hall of Honor in 1991. His commentary appears regularly in the Inside Texas magazine and at InsideTexas.com.