BCS National Championship: Are the Sooners prepared for the unfamiliar role of the slow team?

by Berry Tramel Modified: January 8, 2009 at 4:08 pm •  Published: January 8, 2009
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"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.

Berry Tramel: 405-760-8080. Berry Tramel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1.

by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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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 “dominant” 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.

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