Classic Study Hall: Oklahoma vs Florida (2008)

MIAMI - JANUARY 08: Manuel Johnson #1 of the Oklahoma Sooners can't make a catch along the sideline as he is hit by Major Wright #21 of the Florida Gators during the FedEx BCS National Championship game at Dolphin Stadium on January 8, 2009 in Miami, Florida. Joe Haden #5 of the Gators trails on the play. FLorida won 24-14. (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

2005: Texas-USC
2006: Florida-Ohio State
2007: LSU-Ohio State

Somewhere on the list of 10,546 topics I'd love to research at some point is the impact of the bowl break, the three to six week lapse between the end of the regular season and a team's bowl game.  As the spread offense was beginning to proliferate and thrive, Big 12 offenses were at the forefront.  Led by innovative offensive minds and elite quarterbacks, so many Big 12 teams -- Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State -- put up video game numbers, especially in 2007-08.  But they rarely thrived in bowl games.  The easy explanation would be "That's because Big 12 defenses were terrible," but the numbers do not really support that.  Adjusting for opponent (and remember, that includes non-conference opponents), Texas' defense ranked second in Def. S&P+ in 2008, Oklahoma's seventh, Missouri's 20th, Oklahoma State's 27th and Kansas' 30th.

In the final game of the 2008 season, one of the more exciting in recent memory, Florida's defense held Oklahoma's offense to just 14 points, 21 fewer than Texas and TCU allowed to the Sooners, 47 fewer than Oklahoma State allowed, and 48 fewer than Missouri and Nebraska allowed.  The Gators (fourth in Def. S&P+) stepped up on the goal line, forced two turnovers, and matched (or exceeded) Oklahoma's athleticism better than any other defense had that season.

But was this just a case of "SEC SPEEEEEEED"?  Probably not.  An offense based as much on timing as Oklahoma's was not going to be well-served by a 33-day break ... but how much of an impact that had, I have no idea.  Florida's defense wasn't 21 points better than Texas' in 2008, but they made all the plays they needed to, and two incredible goal line stands, combined with fourth-quarter offensive heroics, won the Gators their second national title in three years (the SEC their third straight overall).

Recap

First Quarter

  • Oklahoma takes the ball to start the game.  Sam Bradford finds Manuel Johnson for 13 yards and Juaquin Iglesias for 22 to get into Florida territory, but on first-and-10 from the Gators' 38, Major Wright absolutely obliterates Iglesias on a long pass, and after Brandon Hicks sacks Bradford, Oklahoma punts.
  • Starting at their 20, Florida converts on a couple of first downs (big play: Tim Tebow to Percy Harvin for 19 yards), but on second-and-12 from midfield, Tebow makes a poor read and was picked off by Nic Harris.
  • In eight plays, Oklahoma advances just seven yards thanks to a pair of penalties of penalties on lineman George Robinson.  Oklahoma punts from the Florida 47, dominating the early field position battle.
  • Florida flips the field. Tebow finds Harvin for 15 yards and finds Aaron Hernandez three times for 35 yards, and the second quarter starts with the Gators at the OU 26.

Second Quarter

  • On third-and-9 from the OU 20, Tebow finds Louis Murphy for the game's first touchdown.  Florida 7, Oklahoma 0.
  • Oklahoma responds. Chris Brown rips off consecutive runs of 16, 14 and 16 yards, then Bradford finds Quentin Chaney for 12 yards and Jermaine Gresham for a six-yard touchdown.  The 65-yard drive lasts just 2:13.  Florida 7, Oklahoma 7.
  • After their last drive lasted 5:50, the Gators manage to make a 21-yard drive last 4:20 before Gerald McCoy drops into coverage on a zone blitz and picks off a pass intended for Hernandez.  McCoy returns the pick to the Florida 26.
  • On the first play post-pick, Brown finds another gap for 17 yards, and it's first-and-goal from the Florida 9.  Brown goes for five yards on first down and three on second ... but Torrey Davis stuffs Brown on third-and-goal, setting up fourth down from the one.  No dice.  Davis stuffs Brown again.  After five Brown rushes netted 68 yards, his next three net just one.  Florida's D-line dominated a great Oklahoma O-line on the two plays that mattered most.
  • Florida flips the field again thanks to a pretty 46-yard run by Harvin, but after a false start and a Mike Balogun tackle-for-loss, Florida punts.
  • Oklahoma's offense really was dominant in the second quarter ... at least until they got inside the Florida 5.  With the clock ticking down, eight plays net 63 yards, then Bradford finds Gresham for 11 yards to the Florida 6.  With ten seconds left, Oklahoma attempts one more play before kicking the sure field goal ... but Manny Johnson is lit up, the ball gets deflected about 16 times, and Major Wright picks it off, sending us to halftime tied at 7-7.

Third Quarter

  • Florida executed an extreme version of "bend-don't-break" in the second quarter, and after back-to-back punts, they start to take control.  Not much of a run threat to this point, Tebow rushes six times for 48 yards, setting up a two-yard Harvin touchdown run.  Florida 14, Oklahoma 7.
  • Oklahoma advances into Florida territory thanks mostly to a 25-yard pass to Chaney and a 13-yarder to Iglesias.  But on third-and-1 from the Florida 28, Brown is once again stopped, this time for a four-yard loss.  The resulting 49-yard field goal is blocked.  Bend-don't-break, bend-don't-break.
  • The fourth quarter ends with Florida preparing to punt from their 38.

Fourth Quarter

  • Having blown anywhere between about nine and 17 points thanks to short-yardage problems, Oklahoma rallies.  Bradford finds Brown for 25 yards (Brown touched the ball on four straight plays to start the drive ... interesting to imagine what effect the less-efficient but more-explosive DeMarco Murray might have had on this game had he not been injured), then finds Gresham for a nine-yarder and an 11-yard touchdown.  Florida 14, Oklahoma 14.
  • Two specific things won this game for Florida: Oklahoma's short-yardage situations, and Percy Harvin's ridiculous speed.  Harvin flipped the field with a 52-yard run, then broke off another 12-yarder (for the game, he had nine carries for 122 yards).  Two Tebow incompletions (he was 1-for-6 in his last three drives at this point) mean Florida settles for the go-ahead field goal.  Florida 17, Oklahoma 14.
  • Bradford finds Brown for 12 yards, and Oklahoma advances to midfield, but Ahmad Black makes a gorgeous interception of a pass intended for Iglesias.  Time for Florida ice the game.
  • For the game, Florida's and Oklahoma's offensive production was nearly identical (Florida .808 S&P, Oklahoma .779).  But while Oklahoma wasted points, Florida did not ... especially in the fourth quarter.  The Gators put the game out of reach with an 11-play, seven-minute drive.  Tebow finds Riley Cooper for a huge 17-yard gain on third-and-12 from the 35 (don't convert this, and the narrative completely changes), finds David Nelson for 29 on second-and-11, and finds Hernandez for nine yards on third-and-6.  With 3:07 left, Tebow finds Nelson for a four-yard touchdown.  Florida 24, Oklahoma 14.
  • Four Bradford passes net just six yards, Oklahoma turns the ball over on downs, and that's the ballgame.

If this were Game One of a seven-game series, nothing about this game would have convinced anybody that we weren't heading for a seven-gamer.  But in college football, it's a one-game, winner-take-all situation.  These two teams produced at similar levels, but the game was decided, basically, by Oklahoma's short-yardage struggles, Harvin's runs, and Florida's late passing downs conversions.  In the battle of Heisman winners, Bradford showed his potential, but Tebow's toughness and fourth-quarter play-making did the deed.

Florida 24, Oklahoma 14


Florida
Oklahoma


Florida
Oklahoma
Close % 100.0%

STANDARD DOWNS
Field Position % 52.6%
46.4%

Success Rate 41.3% 52.0%
Leverage % 67.1%
67.2%

PPP 0.34 0.33




S&P 0.756 0.853
TOTAL



EqPts 27.2
21.5

PASSING DOWNS
Close Success Rate 43.1%
47.1%

Success Rate 46.2%
35.0%
Close PPP 0.38
0.31

PPP 0.44
0.24
Close S&P 0.808
0.779

S&P 0.901
0.593







RUSHING
TURNOVERS
EqPts 13.8
6.1

Number 2
2
Close Success Rate 35.7%
51.9%

Turnover Pts 9.3
9.0
Close PPP 0.33
0.22

Turnover Pts Margin -0.3
+0.3
Close S&P 0.686
0.743




Line Yards/carry 3.03
3.03

Q1 S&P 0.698
0.535




Q2 S&P 0.675
1.124
PASSING
Q3 S&P 0.678
0.550
EqPts 13.4
15.5

Q4 S&P 1.111
0.741
Close Success Rate 53.3%
44.2%




Close PPP 0.45
0.36

1st Down S&P 0.532
0.852
Close S&P 0.980
0.801

2nd Down S&P 0.797
0.795
SD/PD Sack Rate 0.0% / 0.0%
3.9% / 5.9%

3rd Down S&P 1.328
0.701
Projected Pt. Margin: Florida +5.4 | Actual Pt. Margin: Florida +10
  • Field position was an underrated factor in the second half.  Oklahoma ran 25 of 38 plays in Florida Territory in the first half (65.8%) ... and just seven of 31 plays in the second half (22.6%).  Florida scored 17 points in the second half, but in the two drives in which they didn't score, they pinned Oklahoma at their 12 and 23, then formed an umbrella to prevent any big plays.  Oklahoma's efficiency was decent, but it wasn't good enough to piece together too many length-of-the-field drives against a good Gators defense.
  • The other underrated factor here really was Florida's ability to slow the game down and eat up clock.  Oklahoma forced a turnover and found their rhythm in the second quarter, creating three great scoring opportunities in their three drives (and scoring just seven points)
  • Oklahoma's offense was better at moving the ball on standard downs ... but Florida was much, much better on passing downs, on both sides of the ball.
Florida Targets Catches Catch% Target% Rec. Yds. Yds. Per Target
Aaron Hernandez (TE)
8
5
62.5%
26.7%
57
7.1
Percy Harvin (WR)
7
5
71.4%
23.3%
49
7.0
L. Murphy (WR)
4
2
50.0%
13.3%
44
11.0
David Nelson (WR)
2
2
100.0%
6.7%
33
16.5
Riley Cooper (WR)
2
2
100.0% 6.7% 28
14.0
Jeffrey Demps (WR)
2
0
0.0%
6.7% 0
0.0
Chris Rainey (RB)
1
1
100.0% 3.3%
11
11.0
Brandon James (WR)
1
1
100.0% 3.3% 9
9.0
Emmanuel Moody (RB)
1
0
0.0% 3.3% 0
0.0
Deonte Thompson (WR)
1
0
0.0% 3.3% 0
0.0
Tate Casey (TE)
1
0
0.0% 3.3% 0
0.0
TOTAL 30
18
60.0%
100.0%
231
7.7
TOTAL (WR) 19
12
63.2%
63.3%
163
8.6
TOTAL (RB) 2
1
50.0%
6.7%
11
5.5
TOTAL (TE) 9
5
55.6%
30.0%
57
6.3

Yet another underrated factor: Florida's diversity.  In just 30 passes, Tebow targeted 11 receivers.  Granted, only seven actually caught passes, but while a bit of predictability may have beset Oklahoma, Florida did not have that problem.  Yes, Florida's two most targeted players were targeted as much as Oklahoma's top two, but when it was time to make plays in the fourth quarter, Oklahoma's defense was on its heels a bit ... and Florida's was not.  And with the game potentially on the line, Tebow targeted Riley Cooper, who had been targeted just once all game.  With the game on the line for Oklahoma, Bradford consistently went at Iglesias and Johnson.  Didn't work.

Oklahoma Targets Catches Catch% Target% Rec. Yds. Yds. Per Target
Jermaine Gresham (TE)
11
8
72.7%
26.8%
62
5.6
Juaquin Iglesias (WR)
9
5
55.6%
22.0%
58
6.4
Manuel Johnson (WR)
7
4
57.1%
17.1%
29
4.1
Ryan Broyles (WR)
5
4
80.0%
12.2%
26
5.2
Chris Brown (RB)
5
2
40.0%
12.2%
37
7.4
Quentin Chaney (WR)
2
2
100.0%
4.9%
37
18.5
Mossis Madu (RB)
2
1
50.0%
4.9%
7
3.5
TOTAL 41
26
63.4%
100.0%
256
6.2
TOTAL (WR) 23
15
65.2%
56.1%
150
6.5
TOTAL (RB) 7
3
42.9%
17.1%
44
6.3
TOTAL (TE) 11
8
72.7%
26.8%
62
5.6

As a Missouri fan who was tortured multiple times by him, I say this with respect ... but it's somewhat amazing that Oklahoma's offense was as brilliant as it was in 2008 considering their best receiver was Juaquin Iglesias.  He was quick and interesting, and he was a potentially great No. 2 receiver ... but against a secondary as good as Florida's, he just wasn't a good enough No. 1.  Oklahoma needed a go-to guy, and while he made a couple of plays ... 6.4 yards per pass (and a 56% completion rate) to your No. 1 probably isn't going to get the job done.  Actually, no 'probably,' it didn't get the job done.

Summary

It's certainly funny to think how years-long memes are backed up by a couple of specific plays at specific times.  Florida's defensive line struggled to slow Oklahoma down until the Sooners got to the Florida goalline, then they dominated ... therefore Florida's defensive line dominated.  Florida's No. 1 DB dominated (mostly) Oklahoma's No. 1 WR, and Oklahoma had no answer for Percy Harvin's speed ... therefore Florida's speed was too good.  Single plays and single players make the difference, and whether it's fair or not, that's how memes (and long SEC title streaks) are created.

(By the way, don't take this as an indictment of the thought of the SEC being the best conference.  It's clearly the best conference.  But it's not the best because its teams have won the last five national titles. Considering at least two of those titles involved an incredible amount of luck -- about 10 teams losing to give LSU another chance at the 2007 title, Colt McCoy getting injured on the first series in 2009.  The SEC is the best conference because it has the deepest roster of teams with deep rosters.  One game -- or in this case, five games -- does not impact my decision-making.  The SEC would be the best conference even if their teams had lost the last five title games.)

This was a great game to watch.  The two teams were mostly evenly matched, and when it came time to make plays, the better team made them.  As a Big 12 guy, I do instinctively try to tamp down the "SEC SPEEEED" meme and general SEC dominance talk whenever I get the chance (it's a reflex), but the great SEC team beat the great Big 12 team in this one, bowl break or no bowl break, and the Gators very much deserved the 2008 national title.

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