It’s really unbelievable how many bowl games pit a team thrilled to be here (e.g. Stanford) against a team that can’t believe how far it’s fallen (e.g. Oklahoma).
The Stanford Cardinals are in their first bowl in eight years and are looking for their first bowl victory since 1996’s Sun Bowl triumph.
The Sooners, on the other hand, had played in seven BCS bowl games over the last nine years, yet they come into this matchup hoping to win a bowl game for the first time since their last non-BCS shindig (the 2005 Holiday Bowl).
Stanford didn’t give much indication of its future success during the first part of the year. As of mid-October the Cardinal sat at 4-3, coming off road losses to Oregon State and Arizona.
A month later, following monster wins over No. 8 Oregon and No. 9 USC (scoring 50-plus points each game), everybody knew Stanford—and running back Toby Gerhart—was a force to be reckoned with.
Gerhart powered his way to 1,736 rushing yards in 2009, good for third in the nation, and 26 touchdowns, first nationally. Three times this season he rushed for 200 yards or more in a game. It’s no wonder Stanford ranked 11th in the country with 224.3 rushing yards per game.
Freshman quarterback Andrew Luck capably directed the offense, but a finger injury may force him to cede the bowl start to senior Tavita Pritchard. The Cardinal’s offense would undoubtedly suffer without Luck, as Pritchard has only thrown three passes all year.
As long as Pritchard throws a few passes Chris Owusu’s way, however, he’ll probably be fine. Actually, the sophomore receiver and returner extraordinaire doesn’t need anyone to throw him the ball. His 32.5-yard kick return average ranks fifth best in the country, and with three return TDs, he’s always a threat to halt the opposition’s momentum.
On the other hand, Oklahoma staggered its way through a bizarre year, overcoming numerous injuries to future NFL draft picks to make the postseason.
Starting QB Sam Bradford got knocked out of the season-opening loss to BYU, came back with a vengeance in the fifth game against Baylor, but was finally lost for the year in the Red River Shootout. Top tight end Jermaine Gresham didn’t play a down this season after an injury in training camp.
Defensive end Auston English and team captain and tight end Brody Eldridge both suffered season-ending injuries in the ninth game of the year.
Now comes news that the Sooners may start their fourth player at center this year in the bowl game due to an injury.
Despite all that, they picked up a few good wins this year, including victories over bowl teams Texas Tech and rival Oklahoma State. The 27-0 blanking of the Cowboys was the Sooners’ third shutout of the year.
The defense was extremely strong, ranking seventh in rush defense, seventh in total defense, seventh in scoring defense (lucky sevens, I guess), and 10th in pass efficiency against.
Also, the offense still put up points despite lacking Bradford. Landry Jones took over under center and put up a variety of performances—some exceptional, some subpar—as the Sooners finished 17th nationally in passing offense. Receiver Ryan Broyles (above) helped Jones adjust to the starter’s role, catching 76 balls for 946 yards and 12 TDs.
The Sun Bowl promises to be a study in contrasting offenses, as Stanford pounds the ball on the ground while Oklahoma airs it out. The Sooners’ rush defense has completely neutralized some teams’ running games but has also given up over 115 rushing yards six times this year. That’s not too much, but it does show they can be run on.
However, Stanford hasn’t shown much ability to stop the pass, ranking 95th in pass efficiency against and 105th in passing yards allowed at 252 per game.
My guess is that Gerhart still compiles over 100 yards, but the Cardinal passing game can’t get going without Luck against the Sooners’ tough D. The Stanford secondary can’t keep the Sooners off the board, and Oklahoma’s seniors finally win a bowl, 26-16.