Florida faces Oklahoma on Wednesday at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas. Here are your three keys to a Florida win.
As was the case in the 2008 college football season, the Florida Gators will face the Oklahoma Sooners in their bowl game. Obviously, the 2008 season’s rendezvous with the Sooners was for much higher stakes – a national title – but it is always a big deal when two high-profile programs meet in a bowl game. Two of the best and most gifted play-callers in the country will match wits when Florida’s Dan Mullen goes up against Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley. The game will be played in a domed stadium, giving the offenses an especially good chance of being able to light up the scoreboard. Let’s look at what Florida must do to win a New Year’s Six bowl for the third straight season. The Gators handled Michigan in the Peach Bowl, then Virginia in the Orange Bowl. Now they will try to take down Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl Classic.
1 – Outscore ‘em
This might seem dumb, but Florida scored 46 points and lost to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. Let’s see if Oklahoma can hang 47 points on the Gators. If Florida can score 46 points in this game, the Gators win. We’ll have more to say on that, but let’s first put down that marker. Florida’s defense is not very good – no one thinks it is – but Alabama has the very best offense in college football. Oklahoma’s offense had the best offense in college football when Baker Mayfield ran it, but not this year under quarterback Spencer Rattler. The idea that Florida can play a great defensive game versus Oklahoma is too much to ask for, but scoring in the mid-40s? No, that’s not too much to ask for if you’re a Gator. Kyle Trask and Kadarius Toney, even without Kyle Pitts, can create enough offense. This is not going to be a smooth game for the Florida defense. Making sure to score in the mid-40s is genuinely a primary point of emphasis for UF.
2 – Contain Ronnie Perkins and Perrion Winfrey
If Florida is going to score 46 points in this game, the Gators’ task begins and ends with taming the Sooners’ front four. Oklahoma got a lot better on defense when defensive end Ronnie Perkins joined the team after serving a suspension which began with last season’s Peach Bowl College Football Playoff semifinal against LSU. Perkins has been a dynamic pass rusher, flying around the field for OU defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. Perrion Winfrey is an interior defensive lineman who has applied bull-rush pressure on opposing quarterbacks while also stuffing the run. Perkins and Winfrey are nasty and resourceful. Florida’s less-than-dominant offensive line could have problems with these Sooner strongmen. If the Gators can at least break even in their matchups against these two, they’ll take it. If they get clearly outplayed by Perkins and Winfrey, however, the UF offense probably won’t score more than 31 to 34 points, and that could be a problem.
3 – Take away the run, force Spencer Rattler to win this game
Oklahoma’s offensive line is not as good as it was in past years, more specifically in the realm of run blocking. Oklahoma becomes virtually unstoppable on offense when it establishes the run, draws bodies into the tackle box, and then unleashes the downfield pass mixed with wide receiver screens and medium-range passes to the tight end which expose a defense at various levels of depth and width. Lincoln Riley gets into a mean groove as a play-caller when he sees the run game work, which puts the defense on a pendulum and at the mercy of his choices. However, if Oklahoma’s run game gets stuffed, the Sooners don’t have a Heisman-level QB this season, unlike Mayfield or Kyler Murray from previous years. Spencer Rattler is good, but he is still evolving into the position. Next year he might be a true star, but this year he is still feeling his way around this offense, and his limitations flow in part from OU’s lack of a dominant running game. Florida needs to take away the run and make Rattler throw down the field, without the safety of throwing short, high-percentage passes to backs and receivers. If UF forces Rattler to make riskier throws, chances are he’ll turn it over at least once if not more. That might be all the Gators need to turn the odds in their favor.
Wednesday’s game kicks off at 7:00 pm CT. Watch this Florida football game on the ESPN Network.