Monday, December 22, 2008
OU taking new approach
By Tim Griffin
After four stinging BCS bowl losses in the past five seasons, Oklahoma players are promising to take a different attitude to the FedEx Bowl Championship Series title game Jan. 8 against Florida.
"Obviously, the last couple of bowl games haven't worked out like we wanted," Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford said Monday at a news conference in Norman, Okla. "We want to treat this game like it was a game week here."
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said Monday he plans to take his team to the bowl site a day later and employ earlier curfews to have the Sooners more prepared for their national championship game against the Gators.
Stoops has frequently talked about his disappointment in bowl losses to LSU in the 2004 Sugar Bowl, USC in the 2005 BCS title game, Boise State in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl and West Virginia in last season's Fiesta Bowl.
"I'm over it now," Stoops said. "But I don't think I need to bring it up."
In Oklahoma's past three BCS games, the Sooners have been blistered for 55 points by USC, 43 points by Boise State and 48 points by West Virginia. During that 54-game span that started with the loss to USC in the 2005 BCS title game, those games are among Oklahoma's opponents' five highest-scoring games. The other two came when Texas hung 45 points on the Sooners in losses in 2005 and earlier this season.
But as much as any change, Stoops said the Sooners need to play better to claim the second national championship of his career.
"You could change, but nothing guarantees success," Stoops said. "You've got to play well. Is there any specific magic formula? I don't think so. We'll adjust. And hopefully, we'll get out there and just take care of the ball better."
Bradford was still wearing a small cast on his nonthrowing hand that he expects to be removed by the day of the national title game. The 2008 Heisman Trophy winner had surgery performed on a strained ligament on his left thumb the day after the Sooners' 62-21 victory over Missouri on Dec. 6.
"It feels great, I just am ready to get the cast off," Bradford said. "I don't know the schedule, but I'll just go day-to-day. I'm expecting to be fine with it."
Sooners trainers are expected to insert a small splint on Bradford's thumb before the game. It will be similar to the apparatus he wore during the Big 12 championship game.
The Sooners will not have starting tailback DeMarco Murray (hamstring injury) or backup nose tackle DeMarcus Granger (back injury) for the national championship game.
Mossis Madu will receive additional work in place of Murray after producing career-best totals of 114 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the Big 12 championship game. He will be paired with leading rusher Chris Brown to make up for the loss of Murray, who also doubles as Oklahoma's top kick returner.
"Mossis had consistently played well for us through the year, and we have a lot of confidence in him," Stoops said. "He's going to need to step up and Chris, too. It's not fair to DeMarco to say it's not significant. He's a great player, and you wish you had him."
Granger missed two games earlier this season. His absence will be particularly noteworthy as the Sooners try to control Florida's tough inside running game keyed by quarterback Tim Tebow. The Gators rank 11th nationally, averaging 229.8 rushing yards per game.
"DeMarcus is a strong physical presence inside, and you miss that," Stoops said. "There's nothing you can do about it. He's probably our most physical guy up inside, but those other guys have to step up and play well."
Stoops said that middle linebacker Austin Box could return to the lineup after missing the Big 12 championship game with a strained knee. The Sooners used five defensive backs, and seldom-used substitute Mike Balogun saw extensive work in the Big 12 championship game, but the Sooners need Box to help control Florida's running game.
"We are unsually thin now. But those guys will have to step in," Stoops said about his linebackers. "They've played well and have been productive but have got to keep doing it. We are used to dealing with it, but hopefully [Box] is back and these other guys keep coming on like they have."
Stoops said he does not expect any other personnel losses after semester grades are released later this week.
Tim Griffin covers college football for ESPN.com. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org