Oklahoma Sooners preview

As a lifelong Trojan fan, previewing this University of Oklahoma Sooner football team feels a little bit like Danny Ocean sizing up the Belaggio's security systems. The Sooners come into the Orange Bowl undefeated and ranked second in the nation in every poll that counts. They embody everything you could want in a football team. They're balanced, deep, fast, experienced, strong and just plain talented.

As a lifelong Trojan fan, previewing this University of Oklahoma Sooner football team feels a little bit like Danny Ocean sizing up the Belaggio's security systems. The Sooners come into the Orange Bowl undefeated and ranked second in the nation in every poll that counts. They embody everything you could want in a football team. They're balanced, deep, fast, experienced, strong and just plain talented. This game will feature a lesson in physics as the unstoppable force of Oklahoma's offense meets the immovable object of the Trojan defense. And on the other side of the ball, while Oklahoma's defense isn't quite as airtight as a casino vault, we'll see how well Leinart's Eleven fares against it.

Sooners on Offense

Quarterback - #18 Jason White

Jason White entered this season looking to duplicate or even surpass his Heisman- winning 2003 campaign. He led the Sooners into 2004 looking to wipe away the bitter taste of a season-ending two game losing streak. While White was indeed blessed with a newfound backfield mate in freshman sensation Adrian Peterson, it's tough to deny the numbers he put up as being overly impressive. In the regular season White completed over 65% of his passes while amassing 2,961 yards through the air and his 33 touchdown passes look that much more impressive when compared to only six interceptions. White showed his maturity in allowing the Sooner offense to switch to a run-first style. He took advantage of each of his throwing opportunities, completing passes to his talented array of wide receivers. Knee problems have limited White's mobility, but it's not his legs that have opposing defenses concerned. White has the arm strength and accuracy to attack any area of the field, but more importantly, he now has the ability to simply turn around and hand the ball to his running back.

Running Back - #28 Adrian Peterson

Yes, Adrian Peterson really is that good. The combination of size and speed that he brings to the running back position is unmatched in college football. Peterson started his career with nine consecutive 100-yard rushing games, two of which were over 200 yards. The streak stopped with a 58-yard performance against Nebraska but picked right back up again as Peterson closed the year with 240 yards and three touchdowns against Baylor and 172 yards and three more touchdowns in the Big 12 title game against Colorado. While Peterson doesn't display perfect running form (some analysts say that his upright running style makes him less effective), the numbers don't lie. Peterson has rushed for 1,843 yards and 15 touchdowns on 314 carries, averaging almost six yards per carry. He has shown the ability to score from anywhere on the field as he has broken countless long runs for scores. The Trojan defense will need to swarm to Peterson, as solo tackles don't work very well against him. Early in his career it seemed that he might have a fumbling issue, dropping the ball six times in the first six games. Peterson, however, lost none of the fumbles and hasn't coughed it up since. He is the first ever freshman runner up for the Heisman trophy and just earned first team All-American honors. Peterson will be the best running back to face the talented Trojan front seven this season and this match-up could prove to be the most important one in the game. Because Peterson doesn't catch the ball out of the backfield, if the Trojans can limit the Sooner rushing attack, it will put that much more pressure on the arm of Jason White.

Wide Receivers - #9 Mark Clayton, #1 Mark Bradley, #81 Brandon Jones, #29 Will Peoples, #4 Travis Wilson

There is a reason that I'm listing all five of these guys. It seems that throughout the year, as soon as opposing teams forgot about any one of the Sooners talented pass catchers, he made a big play and ended up in the endzone. While Adrian Peterson has taken a lot of the pressure and focus off of the Oklahoma passing game, the talent is still there. These five wide receivers rank one through five in receiving yards on the team and are almost solely responsible for moving the ball through the air. Mark Clayton leads the team with 62 catches for 855 yards. He's registered three 100-yard receiving performances on the season. He is the shortest of the receivers, checking in at just under six feet tall. Travis Wilson and Brandon Jones are the tallest of the bunch at 6'3". They have the height to allow them a slight advantage but nothing that the Trojan defensive backs haven't seen. Wilson ranks second on the team with 43 catches for 601 yards. His nine touchdown grabs leads the team. Mark Bradley is an absolute speedster. His 21 catches ranks fourth on the team but his ridiculous 20 yard average gives him 425 yards and seven touchdowns on the year. Brandon Jones has chipped in this year with 25 catches for 332 yards and three touchdown grabs and once you get past those four, there's Will Peoples, who has managed 19 grabs for 205 yards and two touchdowns. While the running game has been the focus of the Sooner offense, the passing game hasn't stopped producing. The Trojans have faced many offenses in the Pac-10 this year capable of spreading the ball around through the air, and this Sooner team is no different.

Tight End - #89 James Moses

The Sooner tight ends are mostly used for blocking, but if a Sooner tight end is catching a pass, it's probably James Moses. His 16 catches, 143 yards and two touchdowns lead the Sooner tight ends. Moses is a capable tight end, but will not see the ball much in this high powered Sooner attack.

Offensive Line – #60 Wes Sims, #52 Chris Bush, #50 Vince Carter, #77 Davin Joseph, #55 Jammal Brown

This is where it all starts for the Sooners. The Oklahoma might be the best offensive line in college football, and they get it done with quickness and technique, not girth and power. The line has paved the way for Peterson and the rest of the Sooner running attack to rush for almost five yards per carry and they have surrendered an amazingly low seven sacks on the year. There is no weakness in the line and while the right side, led by All-World tackle Jammal Brown, is stronger, the Sooners have no trouble moving the ball left, right or straight up the middle. The Sooner offensive line against the equally talented Trojan defensive line will be another of the pivotal match-ups in this game. Over the past couple of years, two Big-10 teams have entered games against the Trojans thinking their smash mouth style of football would simply overwhelm the boys from Troy before realizing that the Trojan defense doesn't put up those kinds of numbers simply by showing up. The Trojan defensive line will be tested against this Sooner offense, but Mike Patterson and Shaun Cody aren't the types of players who get pushed around by anybody.

Sooners on Defense

Defensive Line – #49 Jonathan Jackson, #96 Lynn McGruder, #68 Carl Pendleton, #80 Dan Cody, #92 Larry Burdine

Just like the Trojan defensive front, the Sooner defensive line gets to the quarterback, but while the results are the same, the means are different. While the Trojans attack from the middle, with senior standouts Mike Patterson and Shaun Cody, the Sooners bring heat from the outside. Defensive ends Jonathan Jackson, Dan Cody and Larry Burdine have compiled 24 sacks to go with 36 tackles for loss between them. While Cody has the name recognition, Jackson leads the line in tackles, with 42, while Burdine has put up impressive stats of his own. He and Cody are tied with 39 tackles and his 11 quarterback hits put him at one less than Cody. Lynn McGruder and Carl Pendleton fill the middle and are used to take up blockers, freeing up the linebackers to make tackles in the running game. The Trojans will probably utilize some screen and draw plays to negate the speed rush of the Sooner defensive ends. The short passing game of the Trojans will also help to take pressure off of the USC offensive tackles.

Linebackers – #42 Rufus Alexander, #10 Lance Mitchell, #44 Clint Ingram

While the Sooner linebacking corps didn't receive as much national attention this year as it has in years past, it's not for lack of talent. Lance Mitchell is the leader of the group and ranks second on the team with 72 tackles, ten of which have come behind the line of scrimmage and two of which have come at the expense of the opposing quarterback. Mitchell plays a lot like Will Derting at Washington State, but Mitchell has the benefit of a much better supporting cast. Because of the talent around him, he isn't asked to be involved in every play, but he is anyway. Rufus Alexander is just behind Mitchell with 69 tackles, and he also has two sacks. Alexander has been an active participant in Oklahoma's turnover ratio, intercepting a pass as well as forcing and recovering three fumbles. Clint Ingram's 47 tackles come complete with two quarterback sacks as well. His two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries rank second on the team.

Cornerbacks – #24 Marcus Walker, #28 Antonio Perkins

With the return of Antonio Perkins, the Sooner cornerback situation becomes solidified. It's no coincidence that in the few games that Perkins sat out due to injury, the Sooner pass defense was absolutely shredded. However, even with Perkins back in the lineup, the defensive backfield of Oklahoma remains the softest and most vulnerable unit of the Sooners. Perkins has only one interception and no batted passes as Marcus Walker, a true freshman, has only seen action in four games, compiling nine tackles and no other notable statistics. They will be severely tested against the talented Trojan receivers. Given time, Matt Leinart will be able to find holes in the Sooner secondary, but getting that time against the Sooner pass rush might prove difficult.

Safeties – #23 Brodney Pool, #8 Donte Nicholson

While the Sooner cornerbacks are somewhat susceptible to big plays in the passing game, the safeties make up for it with speed and instinct. Brodney Pool might be the best player on the Sooner defense as he leads the team with 85 tackles, two interceptions and nine pass breakups. He is also the only member of the Sooners to block a kick this season. Donte Nicholson patrols the secondary with Pool and has made his share of contributions as well. Nicholson ranks fourth on the team with 66 tackles. He has two quarterback sacks and an interception, which he returned for 32 yards. The speed and athleticism of the Trojan tight ends, as well as running backs out of the backfield, will test Pool and Nicholson over the middle of the field.

Sooners on Special Teams

Kicker – #83 Trey DiCarlo

Any Trojan fan complaining about the USC kicking game obviously hasn't watched an Oklahoma game. Trey DiCarlo has attempted 16 kicks on the season and missed half of them. While he is a perfect 7-7 from inside 32 yards, he is only 1-9 from beyond that mark, connecting on a 35-yard try against Oregon. DiCarlo has also had two kicks blocked. It doesn't seem to be from a lack of leg strength however, as 39 of his 71 kickoffs have forced touchbacks.

Punter – #87 Blake Ferguson

Blake Ferguson has punted 48 times this year, averaging just over 41 yards per punt. He has pinned the opponent inside the 20 on 23 of his punts while forcing eight fair catches and ten touchbacks. Special teams will play a pivotal role in this game and if the Sooners allow Reggie Bush to get his hands on too many kicks, they might regret it.

Kick Returner – #1 Mark Bradley, #3 JeJuan Rankins

Kickoff returns have been pretty mundane for the Sooners this year. Mark Bradley leads the team with nine attempts for 166 yards, but is averaging only 18 yards per attempt. His long for the year is just 33 yards while the Sooner long is 56 yards, registered by JeJuan Rankins.

Punt Returner - #28 Antonio Perkins

Antonio Perkins is one of the most dangerous return men in college football. Even in a season where he has been bottled up for the most part, he still managed to break free and return one for a touchdown. Even though the numbers aren't there for him this year, his ability remains, and every Trojan fan remembers his three punt return touchdowns against UCLA last year. Hopefully for the Trojans, the punt return touchdown they allowed against UCLA was just a blip on the screen as for the most part, the special teams coverage units have been outstanding.

This is the game. Players and fans wait their whole lives for opportunities like this. In the January 4th Orange Bowl it will be number one against number two as the Southern California Trojans take on the Oklahoma Sooners it was is without a doubt the best match up of the year. The Sooners have 14 seniors in the starting lineup (including punter Blake Ferguson) and will be looking to avenge last season's late collapse and loss in the national title game. The Sooners' experience will be tested against the raw talent of the much younger Trojans looking to go wire to wire as the number one team in America. If the Trojans have been looking for an opportunity to prove to the nation just how good of a football team they are, this is their chance.

Erik McKinney is a senior majoring in creative writing.  He can be reached at mckinno22@yahoo.com

 


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