Inside Carolina's Ten Keys to the Game
The average margin of victory for the Oklahoma Sooners over the last five games of 2000 versus Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Florida State was only seven points per ball game. Over their first eight games, their margin of victory was 25 points per game.
The challenge for the 2001 Tar Heels is to figure out if teams were catching on to the Sooner's system down the stretch, or whether quarterback Josh Heupel's arm was just wearing down.
There is not much magical about the keys to this game. In reality in comes down to two things: 1) running the ball successfully, and 2) stopping the run. Does that last part sound strange against an offense that averaged nearly 300 yards per game passing? Read on.
When the Tar Heels have the ball
1) Don't turn the ball over.
Kansas State won the turnover battle in the Big Twelve title game with the Sooners, one turnover against three, and lost by a field goal. Oklahoma State was even in the turnover category at two apiece, and lost by five. Texas A&M won the turnover battle three to two and lost by four points. OU scored five touchdowns off turnovers last year.
2) Get some yards on the ground up the middle.
Against the Sooners, Florida State got 27 yards rushing, Texas had minus seven. If the Sooners negate the ground game and make the Tar Heel offense one-dimensional, the party is over. In this game, consistent four-yard gains on the ground might be the most important offensive plays.
The weak spot on defense, if there is one, is right up the gut where second leading tackler MLB Torrance Marshall (Orange Bowl MVP) has been replaced by Teddy Lehman, who played mostly on special teams a year ago. Three defensive tackle's have graduated (one starter and two key reserves). That may mean the middle of the defense is vulnerable. At a minimum, it may be the least of all evils when it comes to attacking the OU defense.
3) Score points in the fourth quarter.
Kansas State led Oklahoma going into the fourth quarter in game one. Texas A&M led them by a score of 24-13 going into the fourth. In the Big 12 title game, Kansas State and Oklahoma were tied going into fourth quarter. The Sooners led FSU by a score of 6-0 going into fourth quarter in the title game.
4) Pick on the new guy. Throw away from Derrick Strait and Roy Williams and put pressure on Andre' Woolfork or Antonio Perkins. Woolfork is apparently going to play both ways. Can the Heels tire him out?
5) Throw the ball on first down.
The OU defense likes to put eight players "in the box" on the early downs, and try to force second and third-and-long situations. It is not an uncommon strategy in this day and age, but the Sooners execute it better than almost anyone.
There is only one way to loosen up a team committed to stuffing the run in the early downs, and that is to throw the ball. Most offensive coaches don't like this strategy, because the odds say that the offense will face second-and-ten somewhere between fifty and forty percent of the time.
When the Sooners have the ball
1) Rattle new quarterback Nate Hybl early and often.