MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — As Bob Stoops keeps telling us, his Sooners have been called many things.
Slow isn't one of them.
Sooner teams for more than half a century have been known for their speed. From sprinting halfbacks (Greg Pruitt) to speed linebackers (Rod Shoate) to blazing quarterbacks (Charles Thompson).
But tonight, in a very familiar place, the Sooners find themselves in a very unfamiliar role.
Under the palm branches of Miami and in the national championship game, stages that have been second homes to Oklahoma football, OU plays to relieve the burden of four straight BCS bowl defeats and a month of defending its right to be here.
And the Sooners are the tortoise to Florida's hare.
"They'll be the fastest team we've seen," said OU defensive coordinator Brent Venables.
Florida coach Urban Meyer arrived in Gainesville four years ago wanting to make the Gators the fastest team in America. Darned if he hasn't done it.
Here's how fast are the Gators. Flanker Louis Murphy, who covers 40 yards in 4.3 seconds, says wingback Percy Harvin has the "fastest 10 yards I've ever seen, and he keeps getting faster and faster as he runs."
Yet Harvin is no better than the third-fastest Gator, behind tailbacks Chris Rainey (4.24 40) and Jeff Demps (10.01 100 meters).
"They're fast," said OU d-end Jeremy Beal. "They're real fast. That's our main concern."
But before we hand the BCS trophy to Florida's rabbits, remember the fate of the tortoise.
"There's a lot of equalizers out there on the field," Venables said. "Playing smart, playing disciplined. Talent isn't what wins."
Heck, witnesses as varied as Bob Stoops and Vance Bedford scoff at the tortoise label anyway.
Bedford, who played against the Sooners almost 30 years ago as a Texas defensive back and coached against the Sooners this decade as Oklahoma State's defensive coordinator, said anyone who touts Florida's team speed over OU's is blowing smoke.
"They have some guys that can flat fly," said Bedford, now Florida's cornerbacks coach. "They have three or four receivers, they touch the football, they can be in the end zone. It's going to take a full team to slow 'em down."
Stoops said that until you're on the field, you can't gauge team speed, although I would assume he makes individual exceptions for the likes of Demps and Harvin.
Stoops pointed out a Miami trip of recent vintage. OU came to the Orange Bowl eight years ago and heard all about Florida State's speed. The Sooners won 13-2 and the game could have lasted into the next morning without the Seminoles sniffing the end zone.
And for a more recent lesson, the Fiesta Bowl last January. West Virginia coaching legend Don Nehlen warned us that the Mountaineers were lightning-swift, but not until his school pinned a 48-28 loss on the Sooners did folks outside Appalachia believe it.
Stoops' theory: the top team in most every conference can run. Florida, OU, West Virginia last year. "Utah looked really fast" in the Sugar Bowl, Stoops said. "I don't know if anyone knew how fast they were."
Truth is, both defenses must corral ballhandlers, be they fast or elusive.
"Tackling will be the most important thing in this game," said OU free safety Lendy Holmes.
Sooner cornerback Dom Franks spent most of the week throwing laurel wreaths at the Gators but got grilled for his one sidestep, about quarterback Tim Tebow.
"They're probably the fastest team in the country on offense," Franks said.
"You can't simulate it. We haven't seen anything like that.
"You just gotta fly around to the ball. Just gotta tackle well. That's all we've done is tackling drills."
Team speed shows up on Florida's defense, too. If the Gators can quickly pressure Sam Bradford, their chances of victory skyrocket. If those Gators get blocked, their chances of victory plummet.
"Every team has an extra gear," Bradford said, "and it's going to be faster on game day than in practice."
But who knows? The race is not always to the swift, nor even to the strong, but rarely is it won by a football team that is neither.
Tonight at Dolphin Stadium, where the Sooners have achieved great glory and suffered massive despair, we find out just how much of a shell the Oklahoma turtles carry.
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A look at four Sooners in the crosshairs of Florida's speed:
1. Keenan Clayton: The OU linebacker is fast; he's a safety in linebacker clothing. But Clayton has to be more tough than swift against Florida. As the strongside linebacker, he must tackle in space against the Gators' array of speedy ballhandlers, notably Percy Harvin.
2. Phil Loadholt: Remember West Virginia defensive end Johnny Dingle zipping past the Oklahoma aircraft carrier all night in the Fiesta Bowl? Same thing could happen with Jermaine Cunningham, Florida's smallish (250 pounds) pass rusher. As the left tackle, Loadholt must have a better game tonight in protecting Bradford's blind side.
3. Matthew Moreland & Michael Knall: The Sooners need big leg nights. OU ranks 105th out of 119 teams in kickoff coverage. Moreland has produced only 15 touchbacks in 119 kickoffs. OU ranks 82nd nationally in net punting, 33.8 yards, with Knall averaging 36.4 yards a punt. The Sooners need Moreland and Knall to have quality kicking nights. Florida coach Urban Meyer said that if the Gators aren't â€œdominantâ€ on return yards, he didn't know if they could win.
4. Lendy Holmes: The OU free safety will be in the line of fire all night. He'll be the back man when Tebow launches a deep ball and lets one of his flyers run under the ball. Holmes also will have to run up and tackle in space on underneath passes. And oh, yes, he's also on the kickoff team, which has allowed four touchdowns this season.