Jan. 7, 2009

By Adam Caparell

Like just about every athlete, Sam Bradford has his superstitious and pregame routines.

The Oklahoma quarterback says he has a ton of them - too many, in fact, to name - but there's one that sticks out above the rest.

"Obviously I eat the same thing, but I read the Bible and read the story of David versus Goliath before every game," Bradford said. "That's one of the big ones."

The 2007 and 2008 Heisman Trophy winners meet in Miami to determine this season's national champion. Who has the edge?

It's an interesting anecdote that the 2008 Heisman Trophy winner reads a story about an underdog considering it's been ages since he and the Sooners were last cast in the role of David.

Goliath has been the much more appropriate role for the Sooners as of late, especially the second half of the season when they were absolutely bulldozing teams every week. When you score points like the Sooners did, when you put up the kind of eye-opening numbers like Oklahoma did - scoring more points than any other team in NCAA history through 13 games, scoring 60 points in five straight games while producing the nation's best overall player - there is no reason why you shouldn't be cast as Goliath every time out.

In Thursday's BCS Championship game, it's no different for Bradford. Oklahoma may be meeting No. 2 Florida for the national championship in Miami at Dolphin Stadium where many believe the Gators are the better team. But Bradford sees it the other way.

Asked whether he considered the Sooners David, Bradford - in typical fashion - didn't mince words.

"No," he said.

So just how will Goliath go about slaying David this time out?

The equation, in the Sooners' minds, isn't all that complicated. Sure, facing the speed and athleticism of the Florida defense - the likes of which Oklahoma has yet to see this season - will present a very unique challenge, but Bradford says there is a rather simple formula.

"I think on offense, especially for us, we're going to have to take care of the football," Bradford said. "We're going to have to convert on 3rd down. We can't get stopped on three and outs and put our defense back on the field without breaks. I think it's going to be the same thing that we've tried to keep our goals on offense throughout the whole year."

Think of the Sooners offense as a Neanderthal. That's not to say Oklahoma runs an elementary offense - quite the contrary - but the Sooners survive by clubbing opponents over the head until they keel over.

Oklahoma doesn't fool around on offense and they make very few mistakes. That's why they averaged a touchdown more than anyone else. Turnovers have been a major theme heading into this game, and for good reason. Both teams do a great job of taking care of the ball - only one team lost as few turnovers as the Sooners and Gators did this year - finishing Nos. 1 and 2 in turnover margin. The Sooners turned the ball over just nine times.

"There's a reason why these two teams are playing for it," Florida coach Urban Meyer said. "That's a big part of why we are here." 

Florida turned the ball over just 11 times on the season and gained 33 extra possessions. You hear the term "ball-hawking defense" tossed around plenty, but the term fits the Gators D to a tee.

That Florida defensive speed and athleticism, one of the most talked about topics surrounding this game, is ever-present. The front seven may not feature as many big names as the 2006 national title team, but they have guys who can fly around, sideline to sideline. And don't forget about the Florida secondary. They may not have received a ton of pub throughout the year, but they've put together a great season that saw them allow just 174 yards per game in the air while finishing second in the nation in pass efficiency defense. Of course the front seven has a lot to do with that as well, but the secondary was largely responsible for the 24 passes the Gators picked off this year.

The Gators secondary vs. Bradford will be one of the most intriguing matchups Thursday because both will be thoroughly tested. And if Bradford didn't already have a big enough bulls-eye on his back, the Gators were none too pleased when their quarterback, Tim Tebow, lost out to Bradford for the Heisman several weeks back. 

The Gators will mix in plenty of blitzes and, led by Brandon Spikes in the middle, will be keyed up on pressuring Bradford as much as possible. That's no easy task considering the Sooners allowed less than a sack per game. Many of the Gators have remarked about how watching the Sooners game tapes it's rather glaring to see how clean Bradford looks at the end of games.

They plan on getting him dirty, but will the Gators throw everything and the kitchen sink at that Oklahoma offensive line? Probably not. You could see a few new wrinkles, but expect to see the familiar Florida defense.

"I think we have answers to pretty much everything they're going to try to throw at you," Bradford said.

But can you deal with the Gators speed? That's the biggest question facing the Sooners offense. The Big 12 may be chided for being a conference that's heavy on offense and light on defense, but considering that no team finished higher than 49th in total defense the prevailing theory is not without its merits.

Oklahoma has some talented players on its defense, but they're probably not the caliber of defenders that the Gators will be lining up. They couldn't match the kind of speed that the Gators bring to the table in practice so when Florida and Oklahoma finally meet face-to-face Thursday night, adjustments will surely be at hand. 

"I think we do have things in our playbook that are directed towards a team with a lot of speed, and I'm sure our coaches will make the adjustments if we feel their speed is something we need to adjust to," Bradford said.

Forget David vs. Goliath. It's Goliath vs. Goliath in Miami Thursday. Which behemoth will blink first? The Oklahoma offense or the Florida defense? Bradford is hoping - praying? - it's the Gators.