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Monday, November 27, 2006

Big XII Championship Game - Oklahoma Preview

Enrollment: 30,447
Conference: Big 12
Stadium: Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium(Capacity: 82,112)
First Year of Football: 1895
All Time Record: 767-291-53 (.713)

Head Coach: Bob Stoops
8th year as head coach at Oklahoma: Career record at Oklahoma: 75-16 (.824)

Team Overview

Last Season: A year ago the Sooners finished 8-4 including a 17-14 Holiday Bowl victory over Oregon.

This Season: The OU season began with the loss of starting quarterback Rhett Bomar due to NCAA violations. A controversial loss to Oregon followed in September and Texas also slipped by the Sooners in the Red River Rivalry game. OU’s bad luck continued a week later when their Heisman candidate running back Adrian Peterson broke his collarbone against Iowa State. Despite these struggles, Oklahoma won the Big 12 South and comes into the conference championship game with a 10-2 record.

On Offense: The Oklahoma offense is currently ranked 39th nationally in total offense and averages 370.67 yards per game. After Bomar was booted off the team Paul Thompson moved from WR back to quarterback. Since making the switch Thompson has been critical to the Sooners’ success and his statistics are actually better than Bomar’s 2005 numbers. Thompson has completed 61.5% of his passes for 2169 yards and 18 TDs with 7 INTs. While he is not the most polished QB, he has more than enough athleticism to get by.

A major factor in the game, could be the health of Adrian Peterson. It appears he may be cleared for the game, which would certainly provide a spark to the Sooner “O”. In Peterson’s absence, however, the OU running attack hasn’t skipped a beat. The Sooners are currently ranked #14 nationally in rushing offense, while producing 188.7 yards/game. Allen Patrick has picked up the slack and has rushed for 687 yards and 3 TDs on the year. While Patrick lacks the size and power of Peterson, he is extremely quick and bursts through gaps like no other back the Huskers have seen this season. Behind Patrick, Chris Brown has also been getting his share of carries. At the very least NU fans should fear this back based on his name alone (think CU 2001). Brown averages 5.4 yards/carry and has 5 TDs on the year.

The Sooners’ top receiving threat is 6-4 Malcolm Kelly, who will again cause matchup problems for the Huskers. Kelly is only a sophomore, but has become the team’s go-to target on short, mid-range and deep patterns. He has 52 receptions for 851 yards and 8 TDs. Juaquin Iglesias, another sophomore is another of Thompson’s favorite targets. Iglesias has plenty of speed and has produced 368 yards and 2 TDs on 33 receptions. The Sooner tight end is Husker legacy Joe Jon Finley (Clint’s brother). Finley is improving as a blocker, but has become an athletic receiver in the middle of the field. He has 19 catches for 241 yards and 3 TDs.

The Sooner offensive line is extremely young, and lacking in star power. However, there is still a lot of talent up front for OU. The steadiest performer on the O-line is probably LT Chris Messner. Messner a 6-6, 280-pound senior played RT a year ago, but has done an commendable job protecting Thompson’s blindside. The other tackle spot is manned by true freshman Trent Williams. Williams, who goes 6-5, 320-pounds is a future star, who has looked especially good in the Sooner running game. The center is sophomore Jon Cooper. Cooper has good strength and has been very consistent since returning from last season’s broken ankle. The OU guards are George “Duke” Robinson and Brandon Walker. “Duke” ballooned up to 360 pounds a year ago, but has since slimmed down to svelte and mobile 330. Walker was a highly coveted JUCO transfer who looks capable of also playing tackle.

On Defense: The Sooners continue to rely on a stingy defense. The unit currently ranks 14th nationally in total defense and 18th in scoring defense. The strength of the OU defense may be its linebackers. The linebacking corp is led by Rufus Alexander who is one of the top defenders in the country. Alexander relies on great instincts and excellent speed to create problems for opposing teams. He currently leads the Sooners with 95 tackles. The MLB is senior Zach Latimer. Latimer is great against the run and is tied for the team lead in tackle for losses with 10. The strong side LB is Curtis Lofton. Lofton has the size to play in the middle, but also the speed to range from sideline to sideline.

The Sooners’ front four is also solid. DE Larry Birdine has returned from a torn bicep and continues to find ways to pressure opposing QBs. He is fifth on the team in tackles and second on the team in sacks with 2. Senior Calvin Thibodeaux mans the other DE spot. Thibodeaux doesn’t have the best speed or the greatest technique, but he is still tough keep out of the backfield. Steven Coleman and Cory Bennett are the DTs. Coleman is the biggest tackle on the roster and excels against the run. Bennett is somewhat undersized at 275-pounds, but looks capable of becoming one of the conference’s best interior pass rushers.

The Oklahoma secondary is packed with underclassmen. The emerging star is SS Reggie Smith. Smith is extremely versatile and can play CB as well as both safety spots. He was a recruiting near miss for the Husker coaching staff and his athleticism will be on display in all aspects of the game on Saturday. Sophomore Darien Williams starts at FS. Williams is a solid tackler and is currently third on the team with 52 stops. The CB spots are filled by Marcus Walker and Lendy Holmes. Walker has legitimate 4.4 speed and is the closest thing to a lock down corner the Sooners have. Holmes is another sophomore who continues to improve in coverage. The Sooner nickelback is Nic Harris. Harris looks like a future star and leads the team with 3 interceptions in 2006.

Special Teams: Garrett Hartley handles the kicking duties. Hartley has had an incredible year and has hit 17/18 FGA. Although known for his strong leg, his one miss came from 40-plus yards. The Sooner punter is Michael Cohen who averages just over 42 yards/punt. Reggie Smith is a dangerous return man who handles both punts and kickoffs. Smith is joined on kickoff returns by Juaquin Iglesias who averages just under 30 yards/return with one kick returned for a TD on the year.

Random Notes

Series History: This marks the 83rd meeting between the two schools. Nebraska trails in the all-time series 37-42-3.

I Can’t Believe I Looked It Up Either: The Big XII Championship Game will be televised by ABC at 7:00 p.m. (CST). Nebraska’s all-time record on television is 164-76-1 (.680). Oklahoma’s all-time record in televised games is 159-83-5 (.644).

He Also Paints the Endzones: In addition to starting in the secondary, returning punts and kickoffs and taking the occasional snap at wide receiver, Reggie Smith also keeps a video journal for Sooner fans.

Six Degrees of Beano Cook: Oklahoma beat Oklahoma State. Oklahoma State beat…Nebraska.