Perhaps no team in the country has become as synonymous with a particular style of play as Oklahoma in recent years. The Sooners are known for having an exciting and explosive offense and a painfully awful defense.
That’s begun to change, though. While the No. 6 Sooners’ offense is still among the best in the country, their defense is too, ranking among the top-30 nationally in a handful of key defensive categories. That should make them a challenging opponent for the No. 7 Gators (8-3) in the Cotton Bowl on Wednesday night.
Here are three positions of strength, three positions of weakness, and three players to watch for from the Sooners (8-2).
Three Positions of Strength
The Sooners are giving up just 90.6 rushing yards per game, which ranks third in the country, and are averaging 3.6 sacks per game, which ranks sixth. Isaiah Thomas starts at one outside spot in their 3-3-5 scheme and is tied for 10th in the country with eight sacks. He’s also made 12.5 tackles-for-loss, broken up two passes, and forced a fumble. Ronnie Perkins starts opposite of him and has recorded 5.5 sacks in just five games. Perrion Winfrey starts at nose guard and has defended three passes. They do, however, lack size, as none of the nine players listed on their depth chart weigh more than 300 pounds. Still, they’ve been one of the most productive defensive fronts in the country this season.
Nik Bonitto was one of the Big 12’s biggest breakout stars this year. He starts at the “RUSH” position, which is basically Oklahoma’s version of the Gators’ BUCK position. He’s tied for 14th in the country with 7.5 sacks as part of his 10 tackles-for-loss. DaShaun White starts in the middle and has made 33 tackles and 2.5 sacks. Brian Asamoah starts on the weakside and leads the team with 60 stops. Asamoah’s also recorded two sacks, three passes defended, and a forced fumble. Reserves David Ugwoegbu, Bryan Mead, and Jon-Michael Terry have combined for 75 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and an interception.
Despite T.J. Pledger entering the transfer portal after the Big 12 Championship Game, the Sooners still possess a talented duo in the backfield. Rhamondre Stevenson missed the first five games of the season while serving an NCAA-mandated suspension due to a positive drug test prior to their College Football Playoff semifinal against LSU last season. He’s come back with a vengeance, rushing for 478 yards and six touchdowns at a 5.8 yards-per-carry rate. At 246 pounds, he has the power to run through tackles but also has good enough speed to explode through small creases and break off long runs. Seth McGowan is now the top backup, and he’s gained 297 yards and three touchdowns on his 57 carries this season (5.2 yards per carry). Though he’s 35 pounds lighter than Stevenson, he has a similar running style. He looks to run through defenders more than he tries to make them miss.
Three Positions of Weakness
This is the one area of the Sooners’ defense that’s still lagging behind in the rebuilding process. They’re surrendering 243 passing yards per game, which is seventh in their league and 75th in the country. Starting cornerback Tre Brown has opted out of the bowl game and will be replaced by a 5-foot-11 redshirt freshman in Woodi Washington. The only defensive back they have that could give the Gators problems is nickelback Tre Norwood. He’s tied for fifth nationally with four interceptions. While this unit isn’t the laughingstock that it was a few years ago, Kyle Trask should still be able to have a big night.
The Sooners rank seventh in the Big 12 at 4.1 yards per carry, and they’re fifth in the league with 22 sacks given up. They start four redshirt juniors and a redshirt senior, and all of them weigh at least 320 pounds. Oklahoma’s earned a reputation in recent years for having one of the most physical offensive lines in the country, but that hasn’t been the case this year. Whether or not Florida’s defense can take advantage of this unit’s underperformance could be one of the biggest keys to the game.
They’re missing that one elite receiver that they’ve always seemed to have, whether it be CeeDee Lamb, Marquise Brown, or Dede Westbrook. True freshman Marvin Mims is their leading receiver with 36 catches for 583 yards and eight touchdowns. Sophomore Theo Wease is tied with Mims with 36 catches for 494 yards and three scores. The rest of their wide receiving corps has combined for five touchdowns. The Sooners’ passing attack is still elite thanks to the contributions of four tight ends, but it’s been a bit of a down year for their wide receivers.
Three Players to Watch
Defensive Back Tre Norwood
Norwood figures to draw the primary assignment of covering Kadarius Toney. With Kyle Pitts opting out of the game, Toney should be the focal point of the Gators’ offense. So, this matchup could play a large role in determining who wins the game. As long as Trask doesn’t throw any interceptions to Norwood, UF should be fine offensively.
Quarterback Spencer Rattler
He’ll be one of the best quarterbacks the Gators have seen this season. He leads the Big 12 in completion percentage (68 percent), yards (2,784) and is tied for first with 25 touchdowns. He’s also added five rushing touchdowns. The redshirt freshman was a five-star recruit and can kill a defense with his ability to scramble to either throw the ball or pick up a bunch of yards with his feet. Florida has struggled to keep mobile quarterbacks in the pocket under defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, so this will be something to watch in this game. If there’s one major weakness in Rattler’s game, it’s that he can be loose with the ball at times. His seven interceptions are tied for the fifth-most in the Big 12. He’s also fumbled five times but been fortunate to have only lost one.
Tight End Austin Stogner
Stogner could be the best tight end the Gators have seen this season. At 6-foot-6 and 262 pounds, the sophomore has the length and strength to be an effective run-blocker and a weapon in the red zone. He’s caught 25 passes for 410 yards and three scores this season. However, he’s missed the last three games with a leg injury. He’s expected to play in the Cotton Bowl. If he does, he’ll add another weapon to an already loaded offense.