January 7, 2009

BCS title game: Who has the edge?

MORE: How Florida will win | How Oklahoma will win | Coaches break down contenders

Florida run offense vs. Oklahoma run defense
Florida: The Gators ran the ball on 63 percent of their offensive plays and average 6.0 yards per carry. There is no true feature back, but there are five players with between 400 and 600 rushing yards. QB Tim Tebow is the short-yardage specialist, and he's dangerous when a play breaks down and he leaves the pocket. Tailbacks Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey are breakaway threats. Both have tremendous speed but still are used frequently between the tackles. WR Percy Harvin will be used on sweeps, the option, direct snaps and on handoffs when he lines up at tailback. Florida has scored at least three rushing touchdowns in 10 games this season and has run for at least 214 yards eight times and at least 317 yards three times.
Oklahoma: The Sooners held seven opponents to less than 100 rushing yards, but four gained at least 161 and three (Baylor, Nebraska and Oklahoma State) ran for at least 194. OU allowed 18 rushing touchdowns. OU's linebackers must play well. Teams with running quarterbacks have hurt the Sooners at times this season. Though Tebow certainly is not a blazer, he's adept on the option and can run over defenders.
Edge: Florida.

BCS NATIONAL TITLE GAME

Florida (12-1)
vs. Oklahoma (12-1)

WHEN: 8 p.m. Jan. 8.
WHERE: Dolphin Stadium, Miami.
TV: Fox (Thom Brennaman will do the play-by-play, with Charles Davis as the analyst).
THE LINE: Florida by 4.
RECORD VS. BOWL TEAMS: Florida 9-1, Oklahoma 7-1.
NCAA SCHEDULE STRENGTH: Florida 4th, Oklahoma 1st.
BCS RANKINGS: Florida 2nd, Oklahoma 1st.
COACHES: Florida − Urban Meyer (4-1 in bowls); Oklahoma − Bob Stoops (4-5 in bowls).
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: Come on it's the national title game, and it matches offensive juggernauts. Oklahoma set an NCAA record with 702 points and has scored at least 61 points in five consecutive games. Florida is third nationally in scoring offense and became the first team in NCAA history to win eight consecutive games by at least 28 points.
KEY STATS: Oklahoma is No. 3 nationally in total offense (562.1 yards per game) and No. 1 in scoring offense (54.0 points per game). Florida is 17th in total offense (442.4 ypg) and third in scoring offense (45.2 ppg). The Gators are No. 7 in total defense (279.3 ypg) and fourth in scoring defense (12.8 ppg), while Oklahoma is 62nd in total defense (359.1 ypg) and 58th in scoring defense (24.5 ppg). A big reason these teams are here is turnover margin: Oklahoma is No. 1 in the nation at plus-23, while Florida is No. 2 at plus-22.
KEEP AN EYE ON: For all the skill-position talent on both teams, each also has a productive tight end. OU's Jermaine Gresham is the best player at the position in the nation. He is second on the team with 58 receptions and leads the Sooners with 12 touchdown catches. He has great speed for a 6-foot-6, 261-pounder. Gresham is much too big for corners to handle but too fast for linebackers and safeties. Gresham can not only hurt foes on short routes, but he also can get down the seam and haul in a 50-yarder. Florida's Aaron Hernandez has much more modest stats (29 catches, five TDs), but he is a better blocker and has made some big plays on shuttle passes. He, too, can get downfield for a big play.
Florida pass offense vs. Oklahoma pass defense
Florida: The Gators rank 62nd nationally in pass offense at 212.6 yards per game, but they're 13th with 31 touchdown passes and first with just three interceptions. Tebow has 28 of the TD passes and two of the picks, and he completes 64.9 percent of his passes. Harvin and WR Louis Murphy are deep threats, and Harvin also is dangerous on slant patterns. Hernandez has been an underutilized weapon; he has good hands and can hurt a defense that is focused too heavily on the wide receivers. WRs Riley Cooper and Deonte Thompson are speedsters and have combined for six TD receptions. Demps can be a weapon on screens because of his world-class speed (he has run the 100 meters in 10.01 seconds and qualified for the Olympic Trials in the event). The Gators have allowed 16 sacks, and six of those came in two games (LSU and Ole Miss).
Oklahoma: The Sooners have a big, physical secondary, but none of the starters is a true burner - that could cause problems against Florida. OU has allowed 20 TD passes but also has 17 interceptions. The Sooners have allowed at least 250 passing yards in seven of their past eight games, but one reason for that is that foes get behind early and have to pass in an attempt to keep up. OU likely will use its nickel package often. Oklahoma's pass rush has been superb. The Sooners are tied for third nationally with 42 sacks. End Jeremy Beal has 8.5 and tackle Gerald McCoy has 6.5.
Edge: Florida.

Oklahoma run offense vs. Florida run defense
Oklahoma: The Sooners will be without injured tailback DeMarco Murray, but that shouldn't matter. Chris Brown leads the Sooners with 1,110 yards and 20 rushing touchdowns. Mossis Madu will be the No. 2 guy for this game, and he ran for 463 yards and six TDs this season. Oklahoma actually had more rushing touchdowns than Florida this season (45 to 41). OU rushed for at least four TDs in seven games and had four games with at least five. In OU's one loss, to Texas, the Sooners ran for 48 yards and no TDs. The Sooners had 25 rushing yards and one TD in a win over TCU. In every other game, OU ran for at least 182 yards.
Florida: Eight opponents ran for at least 100 yards on Florida, though the Gators have allowed just nine rushing touchdowns. Florida has depth issues at defensive tackle, so that bears watching. The Gators' linebackers have speed, making it difficult to run wide. Alabama had some success running right at the Gators; Georgia and LSU didn't.
Edge: Oklahoma.

Oklahoma pass offense vs. Florida pass defense
Oklahoma: Quarterback Sam Bradford has been magnificent, completing 68.3 percent of his throws for 4,464 yards, 48 touchdowns and just six interceptions. Wide receivers Juaquin Iglesias, Manuel Johnson and Ryan Broyles have combined for 149 receptions and 25 touchdowns. However, the guy to watch is tight end Jermaine Gresham, who is a matchup nightmare. His 12 TD receptions this season have averaged 22.1 yards. Murray will be missed in the passing attack; neither Brown nor Madu is as good a receiver as Murray. The Sooners have allowed just 11 sacks, the third-lowest total in the nation. Three of those sacks came in the loss to Texas.
Florida: The Gators start three true sophomores and a true freshman in the secondary, but they still are tied for second in the nation with 24 interceptions. Strong safety Ahmad Black had six picks and has returned two for scores. In all, Florida has returned five interceptions for touchdowns; that's half the number of TD passes the Gators have allowed. Free safety Major Wright can struggle in coverage, and that obviously will hurt against Gresham. UF will use its nickel package often. Expect to see true freshman strong safety Will Hill as the nickel back at times. The Gators have 32 sacks, with backup end Carlos Dunlap the team leader with nine. It's conceivable that UF will use a line with three or even four ends at times in an effort to pressure Bradford. Florida allowed only four foes to throw for more than 200 yards and is second in the nation in pass efficiency defense. But the Gators haven't faced a passing attack as potent as Oklahoma's.
Edge: Oklahoma.

Florida special teams vs. Oklahoma special teams
Florida: Brandon James is one of the best punt returners in the nation. He returned two for touchdowns this season, giving him four for his career. He's not as dangerous on kickoff returns, though he does average 23.7 yards per return. Kicker Jonathan Phillips is 11-of-12 on the season, but his longest is 40 yards and he has had only three attempts in the past seven games. Phillips had an extra point blocked in the Gators' one-point loss to Ole Miss. Punter Chas Henry has been excellent; he has a big leg and almost half (20) of his 41 punts have landed inside the opponents' 20. Florida's punt-coverage team has allowed just 85 yards in returns in the past two seasons, but the kick-coverage unit has struggled this season. The Gators have blocked eight kicks this season, including five punts. Demps is used as an edge rusher on punts and must be accounted for at all times. Kickoff man Caleb Sturgis has had eight of his kickoffs go out of bounds; the Gators can't afford that to happen Thursday.
Oklahoma: The Sooners will miss Murray's kick-return abilities. Those duties likely will fall to Iglesias, who's not nearly as dangerous. Broyles is the punt returner, and he's solid. The punt-coverage unit has been excellent. But the kickoff coverage has been abysmal, especially for a team with this much speed. OU has allowed four kickoffs to be returned for touchdowns this season. Punter Mike Knall averages just 36.4 yards per punt he ranks last in the nation in punting among players who have the required number of attempts. However, 16 of his 51 kicks have landed inside the 20, 14 have been fair caught and just four have been touchbacks. Kicker Jimmy Stevens is 8-for-11, with a long of 42. Matt Moreland is adequate on kickoff returns. OU has blocked one kick this season and hasn't had any blocked.
Edge: Florida.

Florida coaches vs. Oklahoma coaches
Florida: Coach Urban Meyer is in his fourth season with the Gators and is playing for his second national title. Meyer is a proponent of the spread offense and has proved it can work in the SEC. Meyer places a big premium on special teams freely using starters and oversees the units himself. Defensive coordinator Charlie Strong has a long track record and favors an aggressive approach. Offensive coordinator Dan Mullen has been with Meyer since his days at Bowling Green, and this will be his final game at UF. Mullen has been hired as coach at Mississippi State. Defensive line coach Dan McCarney and cornerbacks coach Vance Bedford are in their first seasons at Florida, and they have been given a lot of credit for how well their units have performed.
Oklahoma: This is coach Bob Stoops' 10th season with the Sooners. This is their fourth title game and seventh BCS bowl under his watch. He won the title in 2000, in his second season with OU after being hired away from Florida (he had been defensive coordinator for Steve Spurrier). Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson runs the spread, but with more of an emphasis on the pass. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables has been at OU since Stoops arrived and favors an attacking style.
Edge: Even.

X-factors
1. For a team as fast and talented as Oklahoma, it's a surprise that its special teams are so mediocre. If Florida can get a score on a return or, at the least, get a few short fields to work with it will be a huge boost.
2. These teams feast on turnovers. Florida has forced 33, Oklahoma 32. But both also take tremendous care of the ball: OU has committed just nine turnovers, Florida 11. Can either defense force two or three turnovers in this one?
3. Neither team has played since Dec. 6 33 days ago. Typically, long layoffs hamper offenses. Will either offense be that sharp early? A productive first quarter would go a long way toward a win.
4. Oklahoma runs a fast-paced attack, and that could hamper Florida's substitution patterns on defense. While the teams basically are even in average time of possession (OU has it for 29:46 per game, Florida 29:44), the Sooners average 79.7 plays per game and Florida 61.5.

Florida will win if: Above all, Florida has to play solid run defense. OU averages 205.5 rushing yards per game, but the Gators need to hold the Sooners to less than 150 if they're to win. OU's offense is so productive because of its balance. Florida also has to make sure Gresham doesn't go wild.

Oklahoma will win if: Oklahoma has to limit Florida's big plays, offensively and on special teams. OU's offense is going to have success; it's up to the defense to keep Florida in the 20s or low 30s. That may be difficult, considering Florida scored 31 on Alabama without Harvin and Alabama's defense is better than OU's.

The picks
Olin Buchanan: Florida 38, Oklahoma 35.
Tom Dienhart: Florida 33, Oklahoma 28.
David Fox: Florida 45, Oklahoma 38.
Mike Huguenin: Florida 38, Oklahoma 31.
Jason King: Oklahoma 42, Florida 31
Steve Megargee: Florida 45, Oklahoma 28.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.




 

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