Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Big 12 Championship Q&A

Its Championship week in NCAA Football as the major conferences are playing their championship games this weekend. As promised we are giving you championship coverage straight from the bloggers who know the teams today.

Joining us today are the crew from Big Red Network, an outstanding Huskers blog, and Crimson and Cream Machine, a Sooner blog that is a spawn of this site. Thanks to everyone for participating! Make sure to check into these two sites for updated Big 12 Championship coverage.

Describe what you believe is the strength of the Oklahoma offense and how you think Nebraska is going to defend it.

CC Machine: Obviously the strength of Oklahoma’s offense is their ground attack. Down the stretch the Sooners were able to beat A&M, Baylor and Oklahoma State virtually without the need to pass the football.

I’m sure Bob Stoops would love for Nebraska to stack the box and dare Oklahoma to beat them with the pass. The threat that Oklahoma has at receiver with Malcolm Kelly and Jauquin Iglesias along with tight ends Joe Jon Finley and Jermaine Gresham give Paul Thompson plenty of targets. Stacking the box would leave Nebraska defenders in one-on-one coverage and Thompson has proven a few times this season that he is more than capable (61.5% completions) of making you pay.

Steve BRN: For OU, it's obviously the run game you worry about. I think you have to dare Thompson to throw. There were only 11 passes thrown by OU versus OSU and they didn't pass much versus A&M either. So stack the box and try to stuff the run.

Darren BRN: The running game! While Thompson has developed better than most expect at QB, the Sooners still live and die by the run. Their offensive line has been impressive, with the production remaining consistent regardless of which running back is in the game. And Thompson is a capable runner at QB. Yes, OU has a threat with Malcom Kelly on the outside, but passing is seldom their first option.

NU must stone the run and force Thompson to beat them.I'm at once optimistic and concerned about defending the run. I would put our front 4 up against anyone, and we have a very salty corps of linebackers. NU really can match OU's offensive line up front. But, our safeties have shown absolutely no ability to tackle in the openfield. And our coaches insist on coaching the "strip the ball" form of tackling. So, if NU's defenders don't come to KC ready to hit and wrap up, I could see 4 yard holes turning in to 40-yard gains. That would be a nightmare.

What about Nebraska's offensive strength and Oklahoma's game plan on defense?

CC Machine: Nebraska has great balance on offense! They rank 4th in the conference in both passing and rushing. The most dangerous part about playing a balanced attack is allowing them to get into a rhythm of play calling and success.

The Sooners will use a variety of run and pass blitzes to try disrupt Nebraska’s rhythm and force coaches into erratic play calling. Zac Taylor is Norman’s favorite foreign son but as much as we love and respect him he is a statue in the pocket and could be a sitting duck under the pressure of the Oklahoma blitz.

The bottom line is that if Oklahoma can handle the rushing attack of Texas A&M and the passing attack of Texas Tech and the multi dimensional attack of Oklahoma State then their aren’t many other things that Nebraska can do that would catch the Sooners off guard.

Steve BRN: The Huskers like to run the ball too. It's probably better to take away the run (even if it means giving up some big pass plays) then to let the Huskers get rolling on the ground. The pass protection isn't great so once you get the Huskers in known passing situations, you can likely get to Taylor for sacks.

Darren BRN: Nebraska's offensive strength is balance. This has created a real "pick your poison" problem for many NU opponents. NU can mash with the run and beat you with big plays on the outside. And, the Huskers will have to have some balance in order to face the OU defense.

If there is an achillies heal, it is still our ability to protect Taylor in known passing situations. So, NU must avoid getting behind the chains, or OU will tee off.I've noticed that OU will often walk multiple LBs and defensive backs up to the line of scrimmage and force the linemen and QB to figure out (guess) who is coming. Getting this blitz scheme diagnosed will be the #1 priority for our offensive coaches. NU will likely have to go to a rule-based blocking more than assignment based. Meaning they progress from the inside out, and let Taylor "beat" the players coming from the outside with a quick throw. So if there is a person in their inside gap, block them first, if not, then hit the person standing over you, and if nobody is over you, hit the linebacker nearest to you. It's simple, but in times of duress, that is what you have to fall back on.

Coaching advantage goes to whom?

CC Machine: You have to give it to Bob Stoops. He is making his fifth title game appearance in seven seasons and has been to three BCS Championship Games in the last six seasons.

When you look at all that he has overcome to make this season happen you can see why he was hands down the coach of the year in the conference.

Steve BRN: Stoops has earned that distinction but I wouldn't say by a mile. BC & co. have been very creative this year offensively. I think it will be a great chess match.

Darren BRN: Based on record, I have to give this one to Stoops. It's hard to argue with conference titles and a national title. The Sooners are always prepared to play. In Callhan's defense, the guy HAS led a team to the Super Bowl. And, he's shown enormous offensive creativity, both in terms of traditional offense and also with a multitude of trick plays. He'll bring plenty to the party. But, on record, it is Stoops.

Are you excited about the fact that if your team wins they will most likely be facing Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl?

CC Machine: Of course! Why wouldn’t we be? The Fiesta Bowl is a BCS bowl and the opportunity to take on an undefeated Boise State team is an opportunity for Oklahoma to really make some noise in the final polls.

Steve BRN: That sounds like an easier matchup than those SEC teams in the Cotton Bowl, so yes I'd love to win big in the Fiesta Bowl and Boise State is ripe for a big upset.

Darren: I really can't even think about that right now. NU is an underdog in this game. Though, this might be the first time that the opponent in the "better" bowl (Fiesta) would be arguably a weaker opponent then who we would face in a lesser bowl (likely Arkansas or Florida). No offense to Boise, but they aren't an SEC team. I think that is a pretty interesting (even damning) statement about the condition of college football and BCS these days.

Are there any players from the other team that you would take for yours?

CC Machine: I would take two players from Nebraska. First, fullback Dane Todd, Oklahoma doesn’t have a true full back and imagine how much he could improve the Sooners attack even from what it is.

The second is linebacker Bo Ruud. I think the Sooners have the best linebacking corps in the conference but imagine Rudd lined up nest to Rufus Alexander.

Steve BRN: Who wouldn't take Rufus Alexander? And of course a healthy Adrian Peterson, to name a couple.Darren BRN: Yeah...I'd take the LB Alexander. But, we have good players at those spots. The player I most covet on OU's roster is Reggie Smith. That kid was nearly a Husker and our safety play has been pretty awful this year.Who wins and why?

CC Machine: Obviously we are going to pick the Sooners and they are going to take the Huskers. So, why, other than the fact that we are Sooners ourselves, pick OU. We could tell you that Bob Stoops gives Oklahoma a huge coaching advantage. We could tell you that the Sooners are more experienced in the championship game. We could tell you that the Sooners win it in even years (2000, 2002, 2004 and now 2006?). We could tell you that OU is a team of destiny this year and has overcome bad football karma. We could say that the Sooners are rolling right now winning seven games in a row with four of the last five on the road.

The reason that OU will win the Big 12 Championship game is because they are the better team. Man for man down and position by position the Sooners are putting better athletes and players on the field.

Steve BRN: I like the Huskers based on the "freshness factor". OU is playing their ninth straight game and Nebraska is just two weeks removed from their bye. The Huskers also got an extra day of rest. I think OU is going to be very beat up and that should allow the Huskers to hang at the line of scrimmage (which I wouldn't predict if they'd both had byes). Also, the stadium will likely lean Husker because the Huskers had more time to get tickets, are a short drive away, and areprobably more excited to be in a title game than OU. That could make it tougher for OU to audible and might mean some friendly whistles for the refs. Also, Zac Taylor is unshakeable and Maurice Purify unstoppable.

Darren SBN: The Huskers ride the excitement of an NU crowd, fresh legs, huge mission for the season, and talented players emerging at the right time to a very narrow win in KC. And, regardless of who wins, the game should be a doozy. NU and OU fans agree that this is how it should be in the Big 12.