OU, West Virginia Prepare For High-Scoring Fiesta Bowl
Sooners and Mountaineers use very different methods to light up the scoreboard
Dec. 29, 2007
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) - The Fiesta Bowl has a long history of offensive fireworks.
It started with Arizona State's 45-38 victory over Florida State in the inaugural Fiesta in 1971 and held true in Boise State's 43-42 overtime victory over Oklahoma last January.
This year's matchup between No. 3 Oklahoma and 11th-ranked West Virginia could uphold the tradition. The Sooners average 43.8 points, third in the country, and West Virginia puts up 38.9 points per game, 11th nationally.
But the Sooners and Mountaineers use very different methods to light up the scoreboard. Oklahoma features a balanced attack, using a bruising running game to set up long passes by quarterback Sam Bradford, the nation's most efficient passer. The Mountaineers like to spread the field to create gaps for fleet quarterback Pat White and tailback Steve Slaton.
West Virginia defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel has to face the Mountaineers' attack every day in practice. He's not sure how much that will help him as he tries to stop the Sooners.
"(The Mountaineers) have got a few great kids out there that have the ability to make you miss and the speed to put it in the end zone on you. That's the biggest factor with ours," Casteel said on Saturday. "With Oklahoma's, it's their balance.
"That's a tough challenge from a defensive standpoint because they have the weapons really to pound you with that big offensive line, and their backs run physical. And then they have the wideouts that can go deep and their quarterback throws the ball very, very well and very efficiently."
The Sooners rushed for 191.8 yards per game and passed for 259.5.
"With us being able to do both, you kind of have to pick your poison," said OU wide receiver Malcolm Kelly, who averages a touchdown every 5.4 receptions.
The Mountaineers say they want to attack Bradford and hope the redshirt freshman from Oklahoma City will make mistakes.
"We're going to have to get to him to make him feel our presence so he doesn't pick us apart," Mountaineers linebacker Marc Magro said.
In his first season as a starter, Bradford led the nation in passing efficiency, completing 70.1 percent of his passes for 2,879 yards. His 34 touchdowns set an NCAA freshman record. Bradford threw seven interceptions.
Statistically, at least, Bradford had a better season than OU's Jason White did when he won the Heisman Trophy in 2003.
Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said he suspected Bradford could have a big season based on one play in a 51-13 rout of Miami on Sept. 8. Deep in Hurricanes territory, the Sooners called for a play-action pass to Kelly. But after faking the handoff, Bradford looked into the end zone and saw his wide receiver blanketed by a safety.
Bradford glanced to his right and fired to wide-open fullback Dane Zaslaw, who scored. Wilson said Zaslaw hadn't been one of the options when the offense ran the play that week in practice.
"We said, 'Wow, that's really good, that's taking what the defense gives you,"' Wilson said. "When he started making plays like that, we believed we could put more on his plate. Sam really can handle a lot, especially for a young quarterback. It's made us a lot better than maybe we are."
It's no coincidence that OU lost to Texas Tech 34-27 on Nov. 17 after Bradford was knocked out with a concussion on the Sooners' first possession. That loss kept the Sooners out of the Bowl Championship Series title game.
Bradford said he's still learning. Asked how he could improve, Bradford said, "Probably getting myself into the game and not forcing things."
The Mountaineers' attack is the brainchild of departed coach Rich Rodriguez, who left for Michigan earlier this month. The scheme is a spread option, but unlike many spread attacks, it is built to run.
And few can run it like White and Slaton.
"I think it's pure speed and execution," Magro said. "When we execute, nobody can stop us."
The Mountaineers didn't execute in a stunning 13-9 home loss to Pitt on Dec. 1 - a defeat that cost them a BCS title game slot. In the first half, White dislocated his right (non-throwing) thumb, and though he later returned, he rushed for only 41 yards on 14 carries. White is healthy for the Fiesta Bowl.
The Mountaineers rushed for 292.9 yards per game this year, more than everyone but Navy, Air Force and Arkansas. West Virginia averaged only 157.6 passing yards, 113th in the nation.
The Mountaineers may try to surprise the Sooners by throwing the ball more under interim coach Bill Stewart, who replaced Rodriguez for the bowl game.
"Coach Stewart told the receivers that we are going to open up the passing game in this bowl game," wide receiver Darius Reynaud said. "So be prepared."
Stewart isn't giving away any secrets.
"We have a few bullets in our gun," Stewart said. "I know this, the holsters will be empty when we leave the field."