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Florida Gators vs. Oklahoma Sooners: What happens when …

. Florida 20

First and 10

. Oklahoma 45

Second and 7

. Midfield

Third and 17

. Oklahoma 2

Fourth and 1

. Oklahoma 20

First and 10

Football is a game of tendencies. Teams study one another for hours to anticipate what's coming. Here are some scenarios and what we believe the Gators (in blue) and Sooners will do:

The formation: The Gators come out with Tim Tebow in the shotgun, tailback Jeff Demps in the slot, four receivers and the line in wide splits.

The likely call: Florida loves to get its fast backs involved on early downs. More than half of the time in this situation, expect the back to go in motion toward Tebow. Tebow likes to take a snap, fake a run and hand off to a back such as Demps, who is at full speed by the time he gets the ball.

The defense's best strategy: Keep an eye on Tebow first. He loves to pull the ball out and run with it. The ends must contain Demps, one of the fastest backs in the nation. If he gets through the front wall, there's a good chance he will outrun any linebacker, leaving only the secondary to make the play.

The surprise call: Offensive coordinator Dan Mullen is so in tune with Tebow that he often doesn't have to make a call. If opponents put eight men in the box, it's an automatic check. Tebow will go over the top to one of his fast receivers and try for six points instead of 6 yards.

The formation: Florida doesn't deviate much in predictable downs until the defense shows a weakness. Expect it to go with a tight end, three wideouts and a back. Here's where Oklahoma faces a decision. If you don't match up with the receivers, the calls change. The back likely will slide into a receiver spot, and the ball will go long. If the Sooners match up and play the tight end straight up, there's a good chance the tight end will move into the backfield, creating even more headaches and questions.

The likely call: This is the down and situation Florida loves to run the ball; that is if the defense overplays the pass. The majority of its long scores have come when the opposition forgets that the Gators can sneak the handoff to Jeff Demps, Chris Rainey or Percy Harvin, right. If the Sooners play straight up on the receivers, it's almost always a run play.

The defense's best strategy: Blitz. You have to gamble to beat Florida. The Gators' speed is too much to overcome standing in one spot. Moving the linebackers puts pressure on Tim Tebow and clogs the holes those fast backs like to run through.

The surprise call: It shouldn't be but almost always is. Harvin loves to come around Tebow for a quick pitch and run to the outside — cutting back into the line if there is a big hole. This is the play that made Urban Meyer one of the hottest names in college coaching and Harvin one of his best players.

The formation: Four wideouts, spreading the field, the offensive line in wide splits and Tim Tebow in the shotgun.

The likely call: Back the Sooners up. Tebow loves to take a five-step drop, sit and wait while, perhaps, the fastest group of receivers in college football does its thing: run. Florida uses myriad strategies in this situation. One of its favorites is running Percy Harvin on a fly pattern, sending Jeff Demps on the same route on the other side and sliding Louis Murphy, right, across the middle on a post pattern. Tebow then reads the defense. Murphy is the primary receiver, anticipating the two speedsters will be covered by corners with safety help.

The defense's best strategy: Get off the line of scrimmage fast. The key element is to send a linebacker or safety to force some extra pressure on the line, rush Tebow and not give the speedy receivers too much time to run. Trying to pressure Florida with four down linemen usually doesn't work.

The surprise call: Shuffle pass to tight end Aaron Hernandez. With a defense blitzing and defensive backs running in coverage, it leaves Hernandez in the open field, often one on one with a linebacker. It's one of the plays that so few teams have really been prepared for in clutch moments.

The formation: With Tim Tebow, left, in the shotgun, tight end Aaron Hernandez lines up in the backfield with Percy Harvin on the other side going in motion before the snap to create four wideouts and an empty backfield.

The likely call: You've got to be kidding. Tebow's mouthpiece rolls in his mouth as he barks out the play. Five seconds later, he is pounding anything in his way, including his own linemen.

The defense's best strategy: Take a page out of the Ole Miss game. It's all about penetration. The tackles have to create a push up the middle. But it's up to Oklahoma's ends to get off blocks on the outside and get to Tebow to slow him before he gets to the line. Everybody in the stadium knows the play is coming. It's up to a smart defense to realize the key is not just the push, it's the angles. When Tebow is stopped on this play, it's usually from a linebacker or end cutting inside.

The surprise call: It's so easy to focus on Tebow and forget about his teammates. Harvin loves to come around in motion and take a pitch, knife into the line where the hole is created, and score.

The formation: The Sooners come out with Sam Bradford in the shotgun, tailback Chris Brown, left, next to him, three receivers and a tight end/fullback who could move to split end for a de facto four-wide set.

The likely call: The Sooners are about 50-50 run-pass in this situation. Against Missouri in the Big 12 title game, they ran it 24 times with an inside handoff to Brown or Mossis Madu and threw it 21 times, usually to a wideout.

The defense's best strategy: Get in your base alignment and don't be too aggressive on the receivers. Bradford isn't just looking to throw in the flat for a glorified long handoff. He'll go for a first down.

The surprise call: Against Missouri, Bradford went to fullback Matt Clapp for an 11-yard gain on a drive that ended with a touchdown.

The formation: Sam Bradford in the shotgun with five receivers, including tight end Jermaine Gresham and a tailback/fullback. Complicating matters is Oklahoma can switch to a no-huddle without substituting. That means the pace quickens and the defense must go with the personnel it had on the field for the previous play.

The likely call: Bradford loves to go to his running back, a player who often ends up isolated with a linebacker. Injured star DeMarco Murray was especially dangerous here. He had 31 catches for 395 yards and four touchdowns during the season. Neither running backs Chris Brown (13 catches for 72 yards) nor Mossis Madu (11 catches for 77 yards) has as many chances, but the smart team does not change what works.

The defense's best strategy: Each player better know his assignment and not get caught overthinking. Take a breath, react and just play. If that doesn't happen, you're liable to see a short pass turn into a big gain.

The surprise call: Bradford is not known as a runner. But on a second and 9 from the Oklahoma 15 on the opening drive against Oklahoma State, Bradford took off and gained 15 yards, his longest run of the season.

The formation: Sam Bradford is in the shotgun with a tailback next to him and four receivers, again including 6-foot-6, 261-pound Jermaine Gresham, left, forcing the defense to spread out.

The likely call: An inside handoff to Chris Brown or Mossis Madu is another bread-and-butter play.

The defense's best strategy: Much like first down, the pressure is on the corners and safeties to stick to their men and the front seven to hold the point of attack. Walking the middle linebacker up a bit is not out of the question.

The surprise call: Okay, maybe this wouldn't be a shocker, but Bradford does like to go to Gresham. A lot. He's the Sooners' second-leading receiver (58 catches for 888 yards and 12 touchdowns). Against Texas, Bradford hooked up with Gresham on third and 4 for a 52-yard touchdown.

The formation: Sam Bradford, left, moves under center, has a tailback (Chris Brown or Mossis Madu) and a fullback in the backfield, two receivers and a tight end.

The likely call: Against Oklahoma State, the Sooners were 2-for-2 on fourth down with one pass and one run (more on that later). The pass was an easy completion to backup tight end Brody Eldridge for a 1-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.

The defense's best strategy: Brace for the run, but don't lose sight of the tight end, even if it's not standout Jermaine Gresham, peeling off toward the end zone.

The surprise call: On a fourth and goal from the 1 in the third quarter against the Cowboys, Bradford (not to be confused with Tim Tebow) took off. He lost a yard and the ball but picked up and ran it in.

. Oklahoma 35

Second and long

. Florida 35

Third and 5

. Florida 1

Fourth and goal

Florida Gators vs. Oklahoma Sooners: What happens when … 01/07/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 7, 2009 9:50pm]
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