Notre Dame game to be defining moment for Sooners’ defense

NORMAN, Okla. – Give it one more game before any conclusions are reached.

Because these days, after three games and three pretty good performances, we’re dangerously close to making some bold statements about what this Oklahoma defense has done to remake itself.

There’s already been a Keith Ford-to-Adrian Peterson comparison and the freshman running back has all of 11 carries this season. The point? Well, it’s easy to over-react.

Right? So, doesn’t that mean it’s too soon to talk up the OU defense?

Probably, but it’s only natural to want to assume the best, look ahead while at the same time distancing yourself from the past.

But do yourself a favor and at least wait till the calendar turns to fall before declaring that this defense is a step better than the one of the past two years.

In a little less than two weeks  Oklahoma takes on Notre Dame on the road and it’s pretty obvious the Irish will be the barometer that Tulsa, West Virginia and certainly Louisiana-Monroe couldn’t be.

“This is the biggest game of our season so far,” Oklahoma linebacker Corey Nelson said. We have to give it all that we got. It will show what our defense is really made of.”

But even before Notre Dame will ultimately expose OU’s defense or show us that maybe the Sooners have made a triumphant stride from a season ago, Oklahoma heads into the off-week with a new mentality.

Part of that can be credited to Mike Stoops as the defensive coordinator. And part of it is because of new defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery.

And at least one part of it is fueled by sheer embarrassment

“I would say that we have embraced it,” said defensive end Geneo Grissom. “There have been a lot of things said about our defense. We’re Oklahoma. We’re not going to lay back. We have to prove that we do have what it takes to be as good as some of these other lines (here).”

Remember, a season ago, the Sooners limped to the finish of a Cotton Bowl season where they were undone by Oklahoma State and West Virginia and then undressed by Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M.

And remember back to two seasons ago, the Sooners were shown up by Texas A&M, demolished by Oklahoma State and slipped to an Insight Bowl finish.

“I feel like we didn’t have leadership on defense last year,” Nelson said. “We didn’t have guys stepping up, taking control of the defense and grabbing it by the horns.”

Who knows what will ultimately become of the 2013 defense, a group that allowed just one touchdown total through the first two games and a group that certainly take plenty of momentum into the Notre Dame, considering there wasn’t a lot of it heading into the year.

“I’m excited because it matters to them,” Mike Stoops said. “That’s where it all starts. They have taken a lot of pride in some of the criticism that we earned throughout the course of (last) year. They are trying to change that perception. That’s important to them. That gives us a chance to win.

Stoops seemed quick to take ownership of this year’s team and like the fans who want some separation from the debacle 2012 turned into, Stoops wasn’t shy about saying there is a major difference between this year and next.

“I think we practice harder,” Mike Stoops said. “They see the results of preparation. Those are important elements of success, but it all starts with their desire. If they don’t want to practice and work at it, there’s only so much you can do from an x’s and o’s standpoint.”

The results are clear: Fourth in scoring defense at 9.0 points per game in the country. OU is leading the Big 12 in total defense (291 yards per game) and in rushing defense (100.7). OU is one of only two teams this season to not allow a passing touchdown this season.

An impressive leap from a year ago but consider it’s been three home games and three opponents the Sooners were supposed to beat. West Virginia doesn’t have the same power it had a season ago. Tulsa was not near as potent as it was when it won the Conference USA title in 2012.

Get excited for now. Wait to believe later.

Follow Andrew Gilman on Twitter: @andrewgilmanOK