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Florida Gators defense squelches the high-powered Sooners offense during the BCS title game's most crucial moments

MIAMI

When Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong and the Gators defensive assistants began preparing to play Oklahoma in the BCS title game, the task seemed daunting. The Sooners had the nation's top-ranked scoring offense, averaging 51 points, led by the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Sam Bradford. Oklahoma averaged 85 to 90 plays, so Florida's goal was to cut down on those offensive possessions, contain the running game and try to take Bradford out of his comfort zone. Preparation — and time — turned out to be crucial for Florida in achieving those goals in a 24-14 win — holding Oklahoma to its lowest point total of the season.

By having a month to plan and scheme, the Gators were able to implement a game plan that included defensive strategies it hadn't used before, or had used sparingly.

"We really put in two packages that our defense did a great job (on), and one was bare defense," coach Urban Meyer said. "And then we put in a lot of odd things. We played much more three-down than we've ever played. Basically, the whole game was four-down (linemen) against Alabama (in the SEC Championship Game), and then this game we played three-down and they call it bare defense where they kicked down to stop the inside run.

"We do everything an offense doesn't like to see," Meyer added. "And a lot of it (in this game) was new."

It wasn't as if Oklahoma couldn't get its offense going at all. Even without its second-leading rusher, DeMarco Murray, running back Chris Brown gained 110 yards on 22 carries. And Bradford was 26-of-41 for 256 yards and two touchdowns, but he also had two key interceptions.

"Our whole thing we did this year was bend, but don't break," linebacker Brandon Hicks said. "We knew this was the No. 1 offense coming in, and we knew they were going to make plays. They were going to make plays, but the plays that counted we had to make. And that's what we did, made the plays that counted."

Including holding the Sooners to 2-for-4 in the red zone and getting two interceptions that ended potential Oklahoma scoring drives. Big plays at key moments changed the momentum — and the outcome — of the game:

• Fourth and goal at the UF 1-yard line with 5:20 remaining in the first half: Armwood grad Torrey Davis tackled Brown for a 2-yard loss, preventing the Sooners from taking a potential 14-7 lead.

"I just came off the ball, he was right there, and we just met at the same place," Davis said.

• First and goal at the UF 6, 10 seconds left in the first half: Bradford's pass was touched by four players before it was intercepted by Major Wright at the 3.

• Fourth and 5 at the UF 32 with 1:30 left in the third quarter: Kicker Jimmy Stevens has a 49-yard field-goal attempt blocked and Florida holds its 14-7 lead.

• Second and 7 at the 50 with UF leading 17-14 in the fourth quarter: Ahmad Black grabs a pass intended for Juaquin Iglesias and literally rips it from his hands for his seventh interception of the season.

"I saw the ball, and I just grabbed it," Black said. "He grabbed it, but I just snatched it out."

"That was the play of the game," Strong said. "Our guys did a great job of sticking to the plan, tackling well, staying in position, doing all the things we've practiced. I'm just really proud of how they played."

To prepare for the Sooners' no-huddle, up-tempo offense, Florida used two separate scout teams — one to run pass plays, one for rushing — to keep the pace and help the defense understand just how quickly Oklahoma could move the ball downfield.

"We had a whole month to prepare, and constantly Coach Meyer had the scout team running the ball, the whole defense running no-huddle the whole practice, running faster than Oklahoma actually ran it," defensive end Carlos Dunlap said.

What the Gators were able to accomplish is even more impressive considering this — there isn't a single senior on Florida's starting defense. It is, essentially the same defense that was dismantled in the Capital One Bowl last season.

"We don't have a senior; we've just got guys stepping up every week, week in and week out," junior linebacker Brandon Spikes said. "They've got great attitudes. Everybody puts egos aside. We just keep fighting. Our program is based on toughness."

Join the party

Gainesville celebration:
1 p.m. Sunday, Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. TV: Sun Sports

No. 1 — with asterisk

The coaches officially vote the Gators as champions. But one doesn't see it that way. 4C

Go for two, or just go?

Tim Tebow, Brandon Spikes and Percy Harvin could try for back-to-back titles. Or, they could head for the NFL. 5C

Florida Gators defense squelches the high-powered Sooners offense during the BCS title game's most crucial moments 01/09/09 [Last modified: Monday, January 12, 2009 2:27pm]
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