2009 Brut Sun Bowl Preview
#22 Stanford (8-4, 6-3; Pac Ten) vs. Oklahoma (7-5, 5-3; Big XII)
December 31st, 2009 @ 2:00 PM (EST) – CBS – El Paso, Texas
The Sun Bowl is one of the most tradition-laden bowl games in the country. First played in 1935, the Sun Bowl is as old as the Sugar Bowl and this will be the 76th renewal of the game. Traditionally, kick off is ‘high noon mountain time’ and CBS has broadcast the game for over 40 years. This year’s matchup brings back two teams that are undefeated in their previous trips to the Valley of the Sun and should provide a great showcase.
Stanford makes their triumphant return to the postseason in Jim Harbaugh’s third year On The Farm. The Cardinal enters this game as winners of four of their final five games and their season was highlighted by victories over USC, Oregon and Notre Dame. In earning Stanford’s first bowl bid since 2001, Harbaugh upped his career record to 17-19 after two rebuilding years to start his tenure. One final feather in their cap: starting tailback Toby Gerhart was the Heisman runner up, the best finish by a Stanford player since the days of John Elway.
Gerhart was the driving force behind Stanford’s rise to a top 10 offense in America. The Cardinal averaged 36.2 points per game while pounding out 224 yards per game on the ground, 11th best in the country. Gerhart led the nation in rushing yards, carries and touchdowns! However, what truly made their offense dangerous was the aerial threat provided by star freshman Andrew Luck, who threw for 13 touchdowns against only 4 interceptions. He had surgery after the regular season ended and Stanford will be at a significant disadvantage without him.
Defensively, the Cardinal was much more mortal. Allowing 26.2 points per game to finish 65th in the country, Stanford was average against the run (61st) and miserable against the pass (105th). The Cardinal was also terrible at forcing turnovers, finishing 109th in the country in takeaways with a mere fifteen. Clearly, they didn’t build their great year on defense.
Oklahoma suffered through a rash of early injuries that forced 2009 into becoming a de-facto rebuilding year. Beginning with a knee injury to All-American tight end Jermaine Gresham in fall camp and continuing with the loss of defending Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford on opening day, the Sooners simply appeared snakebit this year. However, the steady hand of coach Bob Stoops guided the team to a better finish than many expected and capped off the year with a dominating victory over ranked rival Oklahoma State. Stoops has been exceptional in his eleven years in Norman and his career record is 116-29 as the Sooners’ coach. His tenure has been highlighted by six Big XII Championships, eight double digit win seasons and the 2000 National Championship. The only blemish during his time is Oklahoma’s bowl record, which is only 4-6 and he has a chance to improve that record on December 31st.
The Sooners were expected to be one of the country’s best offensive attacks in 2009 after putting up record numbers in 2008. However, the major injury losses combined with a rebuilt offensive line caused some serious issues on offense and Oklahoma only finished 30th in scoring at 31.1 points per game. That’s actually quite good considering that they had to start a freshman at quarterback and ended up with the country’s 70th ranked rushing game. Landry Jones was arguably the best freshman quarterback in the country this season, throwing for 2,780 yards and 23 touchdowns. However, turnovers were a major drawback and Oklahoma coughed up the ball 24 times.
While the offense was going through its struggles, the Sooner defense was largely excellent. Oklahoma finished 7th in scoring defense at 13.5 points per game thanks to the country’s 7th ranked run defense that allowed under 90 yards per game on the ground. Oklahoma was also great through the air, finishing 22nd in pass defense and forced 28 turnovers, 12th best in the country! Had injuries not gotten in the way on offense, this was a championship-caliber defense.
This game could have been one of the most intriguing showcases during all of bowl season had Stanford’s Luck remained healthy. We would have seen the country’s top two freshman quarterbacks competing head to head and clearly the game’s dynamic is changed now that the Cardinal is shorthanded.
There is little argument that Stanford will be one dimensional in this game. Now, while it is certainly a very good idea to run Gerhart for all he’s worth, Oklahoma is excellent against the run and will be able to bottle him up if they don’t have to worry about a passing game. That currently appears to be the most likely scenario as backup Tavita Pritchard was miserable in each of the past two seasons and has only attempted three passes this fall.
The last time Oklahoma had a year like this was in 2005 and just like this year, the Sooners came into the Holiday Bowl unranked against a favored Pac Ten team. And just like I expect to see, Oklahoma emerged victorious. Stanford simply doesn’t stand a chance without Andrew Luck and Oklahoma’s offense should create a mismatch that will leave the Valley of the Sun ringing with chants of ‘Boomer! Sooner!’ Expect Oklahoma to win this game in dominant fashion.
Sun Bowl Pick: Oklahoma 31, Stanford 17
by Matt Baxendell
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