Until kickoff, Sooners Illustrated will provide continuing in-depth coverage on this matchup, including what the Sooners must do and must avoid in order to ensure victory, as well as some of the key storylines, and here is the first part of that, an early three keys to victory for the Sooners.
3. Get ahead early:
Taking control of games early does a lot of things. First, if the Sooners could jump on the Cardinal from the get-go, that would take some of the pressure off them in the early stages of the game. The Sooners could then rely on their defense to manage the game instead of forcing a struggling offense into pressure-cooked situations. Second, it would force Stanford to be one-dimensional in its offensive attack. A large deficit out of the gates would make the Cardinal put the ball in the air more frequently, which is already going to be risky, considering Stanford starting quarterback Andrew Luck figures to be on the sidelines due to surgery on a finger on his throwing hand. Putting the ball in the air more due to an early deficit also means speedster running back Toby Gerhart will see fewer touches, a very good thing for the Sooners.
2. Excel in special teams:
It's often that bowl games between evenly matched teams come down to one play, and often that play is in special teams. Special teams is an area where the Sooners were dreadful last year. And it has been questionable in some areas throughout 2009 as well. The field goal game has virtually been a revolving door, opened by Jimmy Stevens, who was replaced by Tress Way, and now the job belongs to walk-on Patrick O'Hara. On the other hand, the kickoff coverage unit has been solid, and the punting game has been excellent, especially in OU's most recent game against Oklahoma State, when Way became the first ever Sooner to punt five times for more than 50 yards. The return games have been pretty good as well, with Ryan Broyles' electric play in the punt game. But the Sooners will have to be solid in all these areas in order to ensure Stanford doesn't make a big play in the special teams that swings the game in its favor.
1. Limit Gerhart:
Most importantly, stop the Heisman hopeful running back from getting his big plays. Gerhart leads the nation in rushing yards, as he has racked up 1,736 yards on 311 carries for an average of 5.6 per carry. He has had three 200-yard games this season, including in contests against Washington (200), Oregon (223) and most recently Notre Dame (205). Not surprisingly, the Cardinal won all three of those games. So, the Sooner defense must come to play and limit Gerhart's damage.