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Wednesday, January 7, 2009
McCarney facing familiar foe in BCS title game

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Florida defensive line coach Dan McCarney has leaned a little bit on familiarity this week as he prepares for an old but friendly nemesis.

McCarney knows all about Oklahoma after a career serving as the head coach at Iowa State from 1995 to 2006, when he set the school record for games and victories and directed the Cyclones to five bowl games. He is also close with Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops after coaching him during Stoops' playing career at Iowa and later serving with him on Hayden Fry's staff with the Hawkeyes during Stoops' formative stages of coaching.

Even with that knowledge, McCarney still faces a difficult challenge that might be even more pronounced than when he lost all six games against the Sooners during his career at ISU.

His young defensive line will be trying to attack Oklahoma's offensive line, which is dotted with NFL prospects like Outland finalists Duke Robinson at guard, Phil Loadholt at tackle and Jon Cooper at center.

"They are a little different than the dominant Nebraska teams I saw when I was coaching in the Big 12," McCarney said. "But you see the incredible numbers these guys from Oklahoma are putting up. When you consider that they are averaging 54 points a game for 13 games, are you kidding me?"

The Sooners' line has allowed only 11 sacks and has served as the backbone of the nation's most explosive offense, a group that has scored a school-record 702 points, keyed by Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford.

McCarney called Oklahoma's group the best offensive line he has faced this season. He said it was better than the Alabama unit anchored by Andre Smith that the Gators beat in the Southeastern Conference championship game.

"It will be a major challenge," McCarney said. "We won't match them and won't put anybody on the field with that kind of size. But we're as ready as we can be and we've see a lot of good lines in the SEC."

A key trend in Thursday's game will be the pressure that Florida is able to generate on Bradford. Florida defensive end Jermaine Cunningham said that the best way to determine Florida's success will be to look at the grass stains on Bradford's pants. If there are many, the Gators likely will be successful.

"There are games when you break down their season where they look like it's seven-on-seven drills when they are throwing the ball around because nobody ever touches their quarterback," McCarney said. "That goes back to the protection up front. We've got to bring our A-plus game on Thursday or we'll be in trouble."

McCarney has been credited with turning a weakness into one of the Gators' biggest improvements this season after arriving on Urban Meyer's staff after coaching one season at South Florida.

Florida have increased their sacks, ranking tied for 30th nationally with 32. The Gators fell apart late last season, notching 11 sacks in their final six games and allowing 524 yards in a 41-35 loss to Michigan in the Capital One Bowl.

This season, Florida has played progressively better down the stretch. The Gators have allowed an average of only 13 points per game over their final nine games since losing to Mississippi on Sept. 27.

McCarney's young defensive line, which features eight freshmen and sophomores among its primary nine-man rotation, has been a big reason for the late surge.

"When Urban came to me in February, he told me that he needed a couple of my best years in coaching because there were some issues on and off the field with the defensive line. They had gotten kicked all over the field against Michigan and they needed to get it straightened out," McCarney said.

And his group should only get better next season.

"I'm proud of my bunch," McCarney said. "They've made a lot of strides. And whatever we do, we need to build on it because we should have a heck of group next spring."