Previewing the Sooner game

For many Alabama fans, watching the No. 1 team in the nation play probably isn't that much as a thrill. When you have captured twelve national championships, the top spot in the national poll is familiar ground. <br><br>However, the men in Crimson and White won't be the top ranked team in Bryant-Denny Stadium this Saturday. That distinction goes to the team in Crimson and Cream.

Since 1936, the Tide has squared off against the No. 1 ranked team in the land six times, compiling a dead even 3-3 record. The last time the match up occurred, Alabama walked out of New Orleans with a victory in the national championship game against Miami in 1993. The top ranked Sooners are coming off a 12-2 season, as well as a 37-3 opening-game victory last weekend over North Texas. Oklahoma will be playing its first road game of the season as it travels to Tuscaloosa. This marks the Sooners' first trip to a Southeastern Conference venue since September 18, 1982, when they prevailed at Kentucky, 29-8. The trip to Tuscaloosa will be the first by an OU football team to the state of Alabama.

The game will be a match-up between two of the most storied programs in college football. Both teams are in their 109th year of competition. Alabama has won 755 games (5th), Oklahoma 726 (9th). Bama's .717 winning percentages ranks third all-time, Oklahoma's .709 fourth. Alabama and Oklahoma claim 12 and 7 national titles respectively. The Tide has appeared in 51 bowl games, Oklahoma 36, ranking them first and ninth in that category. Alabama's 29 bowl victories is also first, Oklahoma is third with 26.

During his still-brief tenure as Oklahoma head coach, Bob Stoops has already established himself as one of the top coaches in college football. (AllSports)

One of the brightest stars in the college coaching ranks, Bob Stoops is now in his fifth season with the Sooners. Stoops is 44-9 overall, 15-1 in regular season non-conference games. Before Stoops took over, it had been five seasons since the Sooners finished above .500. In Stoops' first three seasons, Oklahoma captured a national championship, 31 victories and three bowl appearances

Two players enter Saturday's game having already garnered awards during this very young season. Alabama's Shaud Williams was named SEC Offensive Player of the Week on Monday following his first ever three-touchdown day. His 177 all-purpose yards was enough to put him at over 300 all purpose yards in his career. On the other side of the field, you can find Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week, Derrick Strait (5-11, 195, Jr). Strait racked up seven tackles (two for a loss), forced one fumble, and notched the 44th pass deflection of his career. The latter effort was enough to tie Strait for the school record in pass deflections, a mark he now shares with former sooner All-American Roy Williams.

The vaunted Sooner defense did not disappoint in their opener against North Texas. The first team defense allowed just over 50 yards of offense in the first three quarters of the game, and North Texas's only scoring drive didn't occur until the defensive reserves were seeing playing time. Offensively, Oklahoma got good production from oft-injured quarterback Jason White (6-3, 221, Sr), who went 23-35 for 248 yards through the air. White, who re-injured the ACL in his right knee against Alabama last year, was the bright spot in the Sooner offense for the day, as North Texas did a good job clogging up the Oklahoma running game. Leading rusher Kejuan Jones (5-9, 187, So) had only 51 yards on 15 carries, and the Sooners only gained 108 total yards on the ground. Receiver Brandon Jones (6-3, 208, Jr) also had a good day, snagging 10 balls for 121 yards.

The key to Oklahoma's offensive success Saturday could depend on keeping Jason White on the field and in good physical shape. Oklahoma defeated the Tide after losing White to injury last year, but they no longer have the services of talented back-up quarterback Nate Hybl, who kept the Sooner offense going when White's knee gave out. Should White leave the game, Paul Thompson (6-4, 201, So) will be under center for the Sooners. Thompson played sparingly last season, but won the back-up job during spring practice. Also gone this season is running back Quentin Griffin, the 5-7 dynamo that fueled the Oklahoma ground game in 2002. The starting tailback slot is now occupied by Renaldo Works (6-1, 220, Sr), last seen by Alabama fans taking a shovel pass right past the Tide defense on the winning drive of last year's game in Norman. Coach Bob Stoops hopes the one-two punch of Works and Dejuan Jones will be enough to fill the void left by Griffin's departure.

The Oklahoma offensive line is, at a glance, surprisingly young. Junior right tackle Jammal Brown (6-6, 313) is the "elder statesman" of the line. Three sophomores and one redshirt freshman along the Sooner front join him. What the young linemen lack in experience, however, they make up for in size. The "rookie" of the bunch, redshirt freshman Chris Messner, measures up at a quite stout 6-7, 270 pounds. He is actually the lightest of the Oklahoma linemen, however, as center Chris Bush (6-4, 282, So) is the only other Sooner lineman weighing in under 300 lbs.

OU linebacker Teddy Lehman (#11) could be the top defensive player in college football. (AllSport)

The vaunted Oklahoma defense showed last weekend that unlike some stories of this off-season, they are not overrated. Junior defensive tackle Tommie Harris (6-3, 289, Jr) has healed from a groin injury that hobbled him for the entirety of the 2002 season, and is back this year trying to live up to his hype of a year ago. Although Harris is a well known force, Sooner coaches say that fellow junior defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek (6-3, 282, Jr) is the most underrated player on the Oklahoma defense. He, too, was hobbled by a nagging injury last season (turf toe), and is looking to stay healthy this year.

Teddy Lehman (6-2, 243), Lance Mitchell (6-3, 247), and Pasha Jackson (6-3, 240) make up the all-senior linebacking corps for the Sooners this year. Interestingly, both Mitchell and Jackson are former teammates of Tide receiver Zach Fletcher. All three played together at City College of San Francisco. Lehman is the reigning Chevrolet National Defensive Player of the year, but the underrated Mitchell led Oklahoma in tackles last season. Mitchell racked up a staggering 124 stops in 2002.

In the defensive backfield, Oklahoma is obviously in good shape with the aforementioned Derrick Strait. Taking over at the other corner is Antonio Perkins (6-0, 188, Jr), a former nickle back and return specialist who has finally been given the chance to start on the island. Free Safety Brandon Everage (6-0, 202, Sr), a Thorpe Award contender, returns to the field after serving a one game suspension for a drug related arrest. (A penalty that Alabama fans might find less than harsh after Tide Defensive End Todd Bates lost a year of eligibility this year for taking a legal, but NCAA banned, supplement). Joining him will be junior strong safety Donte Nicholson (6-2, 210). Coach Bob Stoops calls Nicholson, "The most natural safety I have coached." The junior college transfer enrolled in the spring, and immediately grabbed the top strong safety spot, and he appears primed for a big year.

Back from his second knee surgery in as many years, quarterback Jason White will lead the Sooner offense.

The Crimson Tide might look to take advantage of Sooner punter Blake Ferguson (6-0, 190, Jr), who was rather inconsistent last season. Despite his inconsistency, Ferguson kept his job this fall despite a push by true freshman Cody Freeby. Trey DiCarlo (6-0, 180, So) handles the placekicking duties for Oklahoma.

Bob Stoops and Jim Leavitt (the head coach at South Florida) both coached together on Bill Snyder's defensive staff at Kansas State. Their defensive schemes are similar, but obviously the Sooners have a higher caliber of athlete.

Alabama looked very good against South Florida last weekend, considering all the team went through during the off season. However, the important thing to remember about that last statement was the phrase "against South Florida". With all due respect to the Bulls, a different level of opponent is coming to Bryant-Denny Saturday, and they come with the favor of two national polls that say they are the best college football team in the nation. They nearly felt defeat at the hands of the Crimson Tide last season on their own turf, and now Shula, Croyle, Williams and company will attempt to prove those pollsters wrong.

Dave Rader, Alabama's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach is a native of Tulsa. He coached the Golden Hurricane for many years, including a memorable win over Oklahoma.

There are several Alabama/Oklahoma ties involving the two teams. Bama offensive coordinator Dave Rader is a Tulsa native, who was a standout player at TU and the Golden Hurricane head coach from 1988-99. UA defensive tackles coach Buddy Wyatt was Oklahoma State's defensive line coach in 1996. Defensive Coordinator Joe Kines was Florida State's linebackers coach when OU and FSU met in the 2000 national championship game. Secondary coach Chris Ball and offensive line coach Bobby Connelly were on the Washington State staff that opposed Oklahoma in last season's Rose Bowl. OU defensive line coach Jackie Shipp held the same position at Alabama in 1998. Sooner running backs coach Cale Gundy was on the UAB staff from 1995-98.

The Tide and Oklahoma have played only three times, with the series tied at 1-1-1. Last year's game was the first meeting between the two during the regular season. Alabama prevailed in the 1963 Orange Bowl, 17-0, the game in which Tide great Lee Roy Jordan made his name before the nation. In a magnificent performance, Jordan finished with 31 tackles during the game, a Tide record that still stands. Afterwards, Coach Bryant famously said "If they stay in bounds, Lee Roy'll get ‘em."

Alabama and Oklahoma played to a 24-all stalemate in the 1970 Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl. Led by the passing of Scott Hunter and running of Johnny Musso, the Tide was great on offense but not much on defense. On the day, the two teams racked up 843 yards of total offense. The Tide finished up that year 6-5-1, Bryant's lowest single-season winning percentage during his tenure in Tuscaloosa.

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