MIAMI GARDENS – College football has seen nothing like Oklahoma’s 2008 record-setting, fast-breaking offense. Ever.
Even Michigan’s legendary coach Fielding Yost might rise from his grave and pay Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops and his Sooners their due. Yost, you’ll remember, was the architect of Michigan’s “point-a-minute” team of 1901 that scored 550 points in 660 minutes of football in winning the national championship and the first Rose Bowl. Actually, that’s 0.83 points every 60 seconds, making the offense of Michigan’s Yost toast when compared to Oklahoma, where the points come whistling down the plains.
These 2008 Sooners, led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Sam Bradford, have scored 702 points in 780 minutes of play this year – 12 regular-season games and the Big 12 Championship – in running up a 12-1 record that has them in the BCS National Championship Game Thursday night at Dolphin Stadium against the potent Florida Gators.
Not quite a point-a-minute, mind you. But again, fathom the numbers – 702 points in 780 minutes of play. That’s 0.9 points every 60 seconds. Even the late Wilt Chamberlain, noted as much for his prowess in the bedroom as his offensive productivity on a basketball court, didn’t score at that pace on or off the court.
“Each game, we average anywhere from 60 to 65 plays a game,” said Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong, who is hoping to add a second national title (to the one the Gators won in 2006) on his resume.
“When you look at their offense, they’re averaging anywhere from 85 to 90 plays a game, so it’s more uptemp. What we’ve been trying to do, it’s hard to really practice, is to simulate just getting those plays in. We’ve been trying to practice at a fast tempo.”
The Sooners scored so many touchdowns – 97, 17 more than last season – that Strong, who is also responsible for the Gators’ field-goal and extra-point block teams under head coach Urban Meyer, must have felt like he was watching “Dr. Zhivago.”
“Can you imagine having to watch that film?” Strong asked earlier this week. “I mean 97 extra-point (attempts).”
And yet, redshirt freshmen placekicker Jimmy Stevens, who made 92 of those attempts in addition to 8-of-11 field-goal tries, was only the second-leading scoring on the team behind running back Chris Brown, who scored 21 touchdowns to beat Stevens out 126-116. Fortunately for the Gators, running back DeMarco Murray, who accumulated 108 points with his 18 touchdowns, is sitting this one out Thursday night with a torn hamstring.
Imagine that – three players over 100 points. There are some college football teams, which don’t even score 100 points in a season. The Sooners scored 316 of their points in their final five victories – 62-28 over Nebraska, 66-28 at Texas A&M, 65-21 against Texas Tech, 61-41 at Oklahoma State and 62-21 against Missouri in the Big 12 title game Dec. 6 in Kansas City.
Still not impressed? OK, let’s try yardage. Oklahoma’s total offense this season is a mind-boggling 7,307 yards, kind of like the land runs of 1800s that inspired Boomer Sooner, Oklahoma’s covered wagon that is pulled by white horses after the Sooners score. That’s 4 land,.1 miles of 9.2 yards every minute, 7.1 yards per play. Those little horses have been on oxygen much of this season.
In addition to Bradford, who threw for 4,464 yards and 48 touchdowns while completing 302 of 442 passes (68.3 percent), the Sooners also had two rushers over 1,000 yards in Brown (1,110) and Murray (1,002) and a receiver, Juaquin Iglesias, who finished with 1,092 yards (and 10 touchdowns).
Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, who won the 2008 Frank Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant coach, and Stoops, who saw what a lightning-quick offense could do when he was Steve Spurrier’s defensive coordinator on Florida’s 1996 national championship team, decided they needed to turn up the heat on the opposition offensively. So they started installing the no-huddle offense as fast as Bradford and his teammates could handle it.
“You don’t play fast or you don’t play fast-break basketball if you never practice it,” Wilson said. “The real key is not the tempo as much as it is the execution because if you don’t execute and you go three plays and out, there’s no stress on you and there’s no drive. The key is your third-down conversions, your ability to eliminate negative play, and to us I think that’s more pleasing than anything else.”
Oklahoma doesn’t score all those points or grab all that yardage if Bradford throws interceptions (he had only six all season), if the running backs and receivers don’t protect the football (Oklahoma only fumbled the ball 13 times and lost it only twice) and if there are missed assignments and the quarterbacks get sacked (opponents only managed 11 for 77 yards).
“We don’t like it if (Bradford’s) pants (white) get dirty,” said 6-foot-8, 337-pound aptly named left tackle Phil Loadholt.
Impressed yet? The Gators are, especially their head coach, whose prolific Florida offense engineered by 2007 Heisman Trophy quarterback Tim Tebow scored 587 points (45.2 points a game) and totaled 5,751 yards (442.4) in the same amount of games. Like the Sooners, the Gators’ offense has been relatively turnover-free (Tebow has thrown just two interceptions and the opposition has only 11 takeaways compared to Florida’s 33 (Oklahoma has 32). Oklahoma is No. 1 in turnover margin (1.77 per game) and Florida is No. 2 (1.69).
“If you’re a young football coach and everybody wants to talk about the spread offenses and other elements of the game, there’s a reason why those two teams are playing for it (the national championship),” Meyer said.
It’s quite simple: If you protect the football, you can make a lot of points.
NO-HUDDLE VS. THE SPREAD
After 13 games and 12-1 seasons, this is how Oklahoma’s no-huddle offense compares to Florida’s spread offense in 2008:
Oklahoma 702 (54.0 per game), Florida 587 (45.2)
Oklahoma 562.1 ypg, Florida 443.3
Oklahoma 97, Florida 78
Oklahoma +1.77, Florida +1.69
Oklahoma: QB Sam Bradford (4,464 yards, 48 TDs); RB Chris Brown (1,110 yards, 20 TDs); RB DeMarco Murray-x (1,002 yards, 14 TDs); WR Juaquin Iglesias (1,092 yards, 10 TDs). x-will not play due to injury.
Florida: QB Tim Tebow (2,515 yards, 28 TDs passing; 564 yards, 12 TDs rushing); RB Chris Rainey (655 yards, 4 TDs); RB Jeffrey Demps (582 yards, 7 TDs); WR Louis Murphy (611 yards, 6 TDs); Percy Harvin (595 yards, 7 TDs receiving; 538 yards, 9 TDs rushing).