January 6, 2009

Opposing coaches break down the contenders

MORE: How Florida will win | Ingram has no regrets

Rivals.com talked to four coaches two head coaches and two assistants about the participants in the national title game. Two played against Florida and two against Oklahoma. Here are their views.

Breaking down Florida

Florida has so much speed and so many weapons. They want to run the football. You almost have to treat [Percy] Harvin and [Brandon] James like tailbacks. They want to get them the ball, and everything offensively starts with running. If you get a defender in the wrong gap against Arkansas or Kentucky or even Georgia, it's a 10- or 15-yard run. You do that against Florida, and it's a touchdown. They turn one of your mistakes into a 50-yard gain. That's what's scary about them.

How do you stop Florida? I think [defensive coordinator] Tyrone Nix and Ole Miss had it right. You have to bring pressure and hit [Tim] Tebow. I don't think you'll stop their running game. When Will Muschamp was at Auburn, he did a good job keeping them off-balance. I think you have to do what you can to stop their run. You have to give them different looks. You can't line up in the same defense every play.

You have to pick your spots and pressure Tebow. You can't let him sit back in the pocket. He isn't a super-accurate passer, but he can beat you if you give him time. And you have to do a great job tackling. They are going to complete some balls on you. You can't let a 10- or 15-yard gain turn into a 60-yard gain.

When we played them, we had three deep in coverage and had eight in the box. We went with a three-deep zone to protect ourselves on deep balls. They don't have a super-sophisticated deep-passing game, but they'll take some shots. At the same time, we wanted an eighth man in the box to help vs. the run. Going into our game against them, we thought Florida had trouble blocking a three-down linemen scheme. But they shredded us, so I don't know if that's the answer.

Tight end Aaron Hernandez is a really good player. I think wide receiver Louis Murphy is great, too. He's really physical at the line. He gets open deep because he overpowers guys. The one guy they don't talk about who impressed our guys was Riley Cooper. All of our DBs felt he was their fastest receiver. They hit him on underneath routes and throw deep to him.

They are athletic on defense. They don't do a whole lot, but are sound with what they do. They are deep. I remember being in the fourth quarter and they had all of their backups in, and the backups look like starters. Physically, they are built.

Going into our game, our coaches thought their corners were a little undersized and we could take advantage of them, but they have talented safeties. And their front runs and flies around.

[Defensive end] Carlos Dunlap was a guy we were concerned about. He can rush the passer and be a disruptive guy. He isn't always in on first and second downs, but they make sure he is on third downs to come after the quarterback.

Linebacker Brandon Spikes is good, and active, and physical.

Special teams
Return man Brandon James is scary. They do a great job on special teams. Urban [Meyer] runs them. James gives them a huge weapon.

They come after punts, and if they rough the punter, Urban can't look at any other coaches because he's the one who called it. They do a lot of good stuff from a punt-rush standpoint.

He isn't afraid to fake a punt. And they rarely line up in the same look on punts. You don't know how they will line up, so it's hard to devise a scheme to block one of their kicks. At the same time, you are worried about covering their eligible receivers. He has shown he'll fake it, so it takes some of your aggressiveness away because you don't know what to expect. And they do a good job covering kicks, and their players have bought into it. It's a huge advantage for Florida going into this game.

Breaking down Oklahoma

I don't think I've seen a better offensive line than Oklahoma's, and I've been coaching for a long time. Despite all the fuss over the fact they play a spread offense, they really are an I-formation team that runs the ball.

Their offensive line gets away with more holding in the most egregious way than any team. [Tackle] Phil Loadholt is good, but he has the worst technique of any of their linemen. Their best lineman is their center, Jon Cooper, and he's the runt of the group. But he's quick and active, and they can overwhelm you with their size. All of their linemen have good footwork, but they grab your guys and throw them to the ground.

I don't think they will miss running back DeMarco Murray because their line is so good. And they have some other good running backs. The key to limiting the effectiveness of their line is to get penetration. But if quarterback Sam Bradford sees it coming, he'll audible to another play or they quick-count before a defense can get set. Oklahoma has few zero or negative running plays, and they wear you down.

Bradford controls the tempo well, and he's very accurate. The coaches did a great job of introducing him to the game last year, asking him to throw few deep passes. This year, they did more with the inside, breaking routes.

Bradford keeps plays alive as well as anyone in the Big 12. Was he the best quarterback in our league? No, I think it was Graham Harrell. I think he was the best player in America.

I think you have to play man defense against Bradford. If you play a zone, he'll pick you apart. We just didn't have enough athletes to play man against them all the time and survive. Florida has the ability to play man and not get in any mismatches.

My fear is Oklahoma will try to do too much on defense. That has been their recent history in bowl games. The defensive coaches have too much time to prepare and get pregnant with ideas, coming up with blitzes they probably don't need. That's why they lost to Texas. They blitzed too much. They don't need to do that. They are good enough already. Being impatient on defense gets them in trouble. They always seem to want to have an answer for everything an offense can do, but there is no need to get fancy sometimes. Just play with what got you there. Plus, it's hard to guess what an offense is going to do.

I don't think Tebow will have much success trying to do that run between the tackles. OU's front is good. But Florida may have success throwing. Oklahoma has big defensive backs, but they aren't blazing fast. I don't think they'll be able to handle Florida's speed. We threw the ball over some of their guys and ran away from them.

Special teams
I think the special teams are OK. But they have problems on kickoff coverage. They have allowed four kickoff returns for TDs this year. If they do that against Florida, it could be the difference in the game.

Tom Dienhart is the national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.

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