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Saturday, January 3, 2009
Sooners' mammoth veteran line ready for speedy Gators


Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - One of the underrated components of Oklahoma's offense has been their success at protecting quarterback Sam Bradford.

Opposing defenses have sacked the Heisman Trophy winner only 11 times this season as the Sooners lead the Big 12 and rank fourth nationally in fewest sacks allowed.

Only one team has been able to bring consistent pressure against Oklahoma this season. It came in the second half of the Sooners' Oct. 11 loss to Texas when defensive ends Brian Orakpo and Sergio Kindle turned the game around with their speed pressure from the edges of the Longhorns' defense.

That pressure resulted in two of the three sacks in the game against Bradford and consistent disruption that the Sooners couldn't adjust in a 45-35 loss.

"Every time somebody did that it didn't feel good for us," senior tackle Phil Loadholt said. "We want to make sure it doesn't happen again and that Sam stays clean and doesn't get sacked."

The Sooners will be facing an aggressive Florida pass rush Thursday night in the FedEx BCS National Championship Game that follows the prototype of successful Southeastern Conference defenses. They are a little smaller than most that Oklahoma has faced. The Sooners will have about a 25-pound-per-man weight advantage in the game.

The Gators' defensive line is coached by former Iowa State coach Dan McCarney. His arrival has helped the Gators more than double their total in sacks this season with 32, up from 15 last season.

Using a defense that brings defensive linemen in waves, the Gators have been able to wear down opposing offensive lines. Carlos Dunlap, a 290-pound sophomore, has started only two games but has racked up an SEC-leading nine sacks to pace the Gators.

"Their defensive line is really good," Oklahoma center Jon Cooper said. "All of them make plays. They are very active and fast and they all move around. And another thing they do really well is free up their linebackers to make a lot of plays. They're really good and we look forward to the challenge."

Similar speed has irritated the Sooners in the past. West Virginia notched three sacks against Bradford in last year's Fiesta Bowl, paving the way for a 48-28 loss to the Mountaineers. It matched the season-high for Oklahoma, which allowed only 14 sacks last season.

It will be interesting to see if the Gators can make many defensive substitutions against Oklahoma's no-huddle offense. The speed in which the Sooners typically hurry to the line of scrimmage has kept most opponents from making wholesale changes in most situations.

That offensive rhythm is one of the major reasons why Loadholt doesn't believe the Gators' speed rush will pose major problems for Oklahoma's offense. If the Sooners can get their plays going quickly, the Gators likely won't be able to substitute as much and could wear down as the game plays out.

And the Sooners said they have learned from their struggles against Texas. Since that game, Oklahoma has allowed only four sacks in the final seven games -- a span of 267 passing attempts.

"I think our offensive line is experienced," Bradford said. "They've played in big games before. They know what this is going to be like. But since that Texas game where we got beat, they've taken on a whole different attitude. And I think that's something that has really helped our team."