Charlie Strong is preparing for what could be the biggest challenge he will face in his entire coaching career.
Strong must find a way to slow down the most explosive offense in college football history led by Heisman winning QB Sam Bradford, who has led the NCAA in passing efficiency for the second-straight year.
Oklahoma also featured two running backs in their backfield that rushed for over 1,000 yards each. Unfortunately for Oklahoma, one of those running backs, DeMarco Murray, will be sitting on the sideline with an injury.
While Strong's defensive unit ranks within the top 10 in the NCAA's scoring defenses, he has reason to be concerned. His Gator defense has yet to face an offense that is as complete as this Sooners offense.
Then again, Strong can take comfort in the fact that his defense faces an offense everyday in practice that is capable of matching Oklahoma's 3.9 points per possession.
Strong's greatest concern, though, is the fast tempo of Oklahoma's hurry-up offense. This is something that the Gators can attempt to simulate in practice, but it will be difficult for the scout team to match the speed of a unit that has been mastering the no huddle for an entire season.
Florida's offense is exactly what is necessary to compete with this Oklahoma offense. Florida's offense can match Oklahoma score for score while also controlling the ball and the clock. It is paramount for Florida to control the time of possession so that the defense can stay fresh and avoid getting fatigued against this high-tempo Oklahoma offense.
So how might Charlie Strong try to scheme against this Oklahoma offense?
I am glad you asked.
It all starts in the trenches. Oklahoma arguably has the most-veteran offensive line in the nation. Oklahoma's offensive line entered this season with the most combined starts in the NCAA with 130.
Now that number is even higher. Oklahoma might just have to replace all five starters on this unit next year. This veteran unit is led by All-American guard Duke Robinson.
Florida does not exactly have any superstars on the defensive line that have gotten near the amount of attention that Phil Loadholt and Duke Robinson have gotten for Oklahoma's offensive line.
All year people kept writing off Florida's defensive line as the defense's Achilles heel, but surprisingly they did just enough to come up with a win and contribute to one of the nation's top-10 scoring defenses.
While Oklahoma has a great offensive line, Alabama posed a greater challenge with two All-Americans and the Outland Trophy winner Andre Smith. The reason Charlie Strong should be concerned, though, is that his defense is great at stuffing the run, but Florida has not seen an offense that has put an offensive line as good as Oklahoma's in front of a quarterback as good as Sam Bradford.
Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins form one of the top CB duos in the country and they should be able to lock down Oklahoma's top two wide receivers Juaquin Iglesius and Manuel Johnson. More often than not, though, Oklahoma will come out with four wide receivers.
This is where Florida's depth at corner back will come into play. Florida has two serviceable back ups in Markihe Anderson and Wondy Pierre-Louis. Look for Bradford to hit his third and fourth receivers more often in this game than usual because that is where Oklahoma will probably have the most favorable matchups.
Pierre-Louis is considered to be very raw in his skills as a corner, but his size makes him a real asset in this game as the Gators will be challenged by the versatility of tight end Jermaine Gresham who stands at 6'6" and around 261 pounds.
Gresham is a mismatch nightmare due to his combination of size and speed, and he will give any team in college football mismatch problems. All the Gators need to do is contain him for their game plan to be a success.
Strong has a couple of players that he can match up against Gresham in order to give him a tough time. The Gators are fortunate to have two tall cornerbacks, Wondy Pierre-Louis and Moses Jenkins, on the roster that are a good 6'2".
When Gresham motions to the outside these could be favorable matchups for Florida. Gresham definitely has a size advantage here that would cause problems for Florida when Gresham is run blocking, so the Gators can probably find a better matchup.
The second option is strong side linebacker Dustin Doe. Dustin Doe will have a height disadvantage, but he has done very well in coverage tipping lots of balls and even making an interception. Dustin Doe should be able to make Gresham earn every ball he gets.
The most ideal match up, though, is true freshman safety Will Hill, who has the height at 6'4" and the athleticism to stay with Gresham. This match up would very intriguing and could give Gresham some fits getting out into the open.
Safety Major Wright is known for delivering violent hits, and if he is able to land one on Gresham that could really change the game psychologically and set the tone for the rest of the game.
Despite the fact that Florida matches up pretty well in the secondary, Charlie Strong has got to find a way to get pressure on Bradford or it could be a long day. Bradford is just too good of a quarterback, and if given all day to sit back in the pocket he will shred any defense and make them pay.
As the season has progressed Brandon Spikes has been lining up on the line of scrimmage as a speed rusher from the outside. This is something to expect if Florida cannot successfully get pressure from the front four.
Expect Florida to come out in a 3-3-5 or 4-2-5 alignment when Oklahoma lines up with four wide receivers in the game. Florida worked on a 3-3-5 defense in the preseason because many teams in the SEC were making a transition to the spread offense, and this is the defense that most coaches in the college game believe is most suitable to match up with the spread offense.
If Florida cannot get pressure on Bradford, then Strong will have to do a great job of disguising his blitz packages and confusing Bradford with a variety of looks.
The key to stopping Oklahoma on offense is winning first down. This is where the front seven of Florida's defense must step up, and Brandon Spikes must set the tone for the game and get to the ball carrier and force long distances on later downs.
Oklahoma runs the ball 65 percent of the time on first down gaining an average of five yards per carry. This sets up short yardage from the line of scrimmage that allows Oklahoma to be multidimensional with all of their weapons.
If Oklahoma can be held to 2nd-and-long and 3rd-and-long, the offense all of the sudden becomes one-dimensional and that will allow the defense to pin their ears back and go after Bradford.
Once the Gators force Oklahoma to play their hand in a predictable fashion, that is checkmate. Mission accomplished.
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