Oklahoma Sooners: Inside Slant

Check out what the Sports Xchange has to say about the Oklahoma Sooners match-up with the Stanford Cardinal in the Sun Bowl. Thanks to a new agreement Sooners Illustrated will now be able to run select content from the Sports Xchange.

INSIDE SLANT

Even after Oklahoma learned of its bowl destination, it has been a quiet December in Norman.

The Sooners haven't held a press conference since talking about the initial bowl bid. In terms of news, most of the chatter centered around who will or won't be here next season.

All-Big 12 cornerback Dominique Franks has said he's definitely coming back for his senior season in 2010. Redshirt sophomore linebacker Travis Lewis, the Sooners' leading tackler the last two seasons and already a two-time all-conference performer, has said he'll do a lot of listening when NFL evaluators talk, but he's probably coming back.

All-American defensive tackle Gerald McCoy hasn't made any binding statement, but he's leaning toward the draft where many project he'll be a top-10 pick.

Junior quarterback Sam Bradford and senior tight end Jermaine Gresham (who could return, having never used a redshirt) have expressed their intention to enter the draft.

Alas, there will be a game to play -- Dec. 31 in El Paso, Texas. And after losing the season's last game three years running, the Sooners are focused on finishing 2009 with a victory.

Running back DeMarco Murray, who's missed OU's last two BCS bowl games because of late-season injuries, has still more excitement.

"I'm fired up. For me this is the first bowl game I'm going to get to play in," he said. "It feels like the national championship game to me."

If he can transfer that level of anticipation to his teammates, the Sooners should be in good shape when they face Stanford. And should they defeat the Cardinal, the Sooner Nation will not only love it that OU finished strong to enjoy the offseason a little more, it will also love that the win came at the expense of Stanford.

On Sept. 27, 1980, the John Elway-led Cardinal trounced OU 31-14 on Owen Field.

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Sooners entered the year with four proven offensive playmakers, but All-American TE Jermaine Gresham missed the entire season to a knee injury, Heisman Trophy winning QB Sam Bradford only played one complete game before shutting the season down to have surgery on his right shoulder, and TB DeMarco Murray and WR Ryan Broyles both missed a game and parts of others with injuries.

In addition, OU's offensive linemen have dropped like flies, losing Brody Edlridge, Jarvis Jones and Ben Habern out for the season and others, Tavaris Jeffries, Brian Simmons and Trent Williams out for stretches.

Defensively OU lost DE Auston English, the preseason 2008 Big 12 defensive player of the year.

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Sooners average 31.1 points per game, 419.4 yards per game, 140.9 on the ground, 278.5 through the air. That means OU has to get a lot from redshirt freshman QB Landry Jones. If OU can simply maintain its averages, it will likely be very successful. But those numbers represent many home-field booms and away and neutral-site busts. And it all must happen against a depleted line that's been wildly inconsistent yet that was very good against Oklahoma State in the regular season finale. Of course, that game was played in Norman.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: OU has allowed 88.6 rushing yards per game and 184.9 passing, and the Sooners feel like they have a chance every time out because of the potency of this group. Twice, OU's defenders have let down -- a high-scoring victory over Kansas State and in an embarrassing performance at Texas Tech. But OU is coming off its finest defensive outing to date, allow six first downs in a 27-0 victory over Oklahoma State, one of three shutout victims this season.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Stanford RB Toby Gerhart vs. OU DTs Adrian Taylor and Gerald McCoy.

OU has played strong defense all season and much of it has been played at the point of attack. Can the Sooner "D-line" hold up the Cardinal superstar? It's an intriguing storyline.

OTHER KEY MATCHUPS: Oklahoma QB Landry Jones vs. Stanford's pressure package.

Everybody knows Jones has struggled mightily away from Norman. Really, he's been two different quarterbacks. His total numbers are good enough (231.7 yards per game, 23 TDs, 13 INTs). But home and away have been like day and night. Stanford has 21 sacks while OU's threadbare offensive line has allowed 15. The Sooners need to keep Jones upright. But it'll be up to Jones to play like he's in Norman, not under pressure not to bake in the bright side in El Paso.

Stanford RB Toby Gerhart vs. OU's defensive line.

In OU's line you've got the best defensive tackle this side of Ndamukong Suh in Gerald McCoy, a very good counterpart in Adrian Taylor, an All-American caliber defensive end in Jeremy Beal and a really good end in Frank Alexander. In Gerhart, Stanford has the guy who almost won the Heisman Trophy after running for 1,775 yards at an average of 5.6 yards per pop.

OU WR Ryan Broyles vs. Stanford's secondary.

Broyles is one of the best receivers in the country and very likely the best receiver in the Big 12 even if the sophomore wasn't named first-team all-conference. He's caught 76 passes this season, 12 for touchdowns and the thought of OU doing much through the air without Broyles leading the way simply doesn't wash. Stanford has allowed 217.1 passing yards per game and 14 receiving touchdowns, but can the Cardinal wrap up Broyles?

QUOTE TO NOTE: "In Stanford we are facing a fine program. Like many others, we have been impressed by the job Coach Harbaugh and his team have done this season and we understand the quality of the opponent we'll be facing." -- OU coach Bob Stoops.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

BOWL BREAKDOWN: Oklahoma (7-5, 5-3 Big 12) meets Stanford (8-4, 6-3 Pac-10 at Sun Bowl Stadium in El Paso, Texas, Dec. 31. The two teams have met four times with OU winning three, yet haven't played in 25 years when John Elway led the Cardinal past the Sooners.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Landry Jones -- His success this season has appeared to be tied to one thing: playing at home. Only against Kansas was he very good away from home this season and El Paso is, well, away from home.

WR Ryan Broyles -- The Sooners best offensive playmaker and perpahs the Big 12's best, Broyles, he's caught 76 passes for 964 yards and 12 touchdowns, in addition to averaging 16.5 yards per punt return.

DT Gerald McCoy -- perhaps a to 10 draft pick, playing, he will have to be accounted for at the line of scrimmage. Of course, he's going to be double teamed.

ROSTER REPORT:
--DE Jeremy Beal has been named a finalist for the Hendricks Award, presented annually to the best defensive end in college football.

--OT Trent Williams, DT Gerald McCoy, LB Travis Lewis, CB Dominique Franks were all named first team All-Big 12 by the league's coaches.

--Coach Bob Stoops has done his very best to shoot down rumors he could be a player in the sweepstakes to be Notre Dame's next coach. His most recent statement began like this: "For the third, and hopefully final time, let me again state that I will continue to be the coach at Oklahoma."

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