Saturday, October 3, 2009

Miami, Oklahoma

That's the name of my's also today's biggest game!


Vinny Testaverde is looking to make a national statement, but Jamelle Holieway and the Oklahoma wishbone have been unstoppable so far and ... what? It's not 1986? This didn't quite have the makings of the special mid-1980s showdown, but it had the potential to be one of the signature games of the season before Miami got its clock cleaned by Virginia Tech in an ugly 31-7 loss. Even with the setback, this has the makings of a big year for the resurgent Hurricanes with excellent athleticism on both sides of the ball and a terrific leader in QB Jacory Harris to build around. A win over Oklahoma would still be big, really big, and it would show that the 'Canes really can hang with anyone in America. It would also show they can adjust and bounce back through adversity.

Oklahoma has battled back through the Sam Bradford injury to obliterate Idaho State and Tulsa by a combined score of 109-0. While that might not seem like that big a deal, the OU defense has allowed two long BYU drives and that's been it for the first three games. The Sooners have been in a holding pattern waiting to see if Bradford will play again this year, but they have to try to go on one way or another and come up with an impressive win to get back into the national title chase. And yes, they're still in the national title chase. If they can win this week, and look good doing it, and run the table with wins over Texas, at Kansas, at Nebraska, at Texas Tech, against Oklahoma State, and in the Big 12 title game, yes, they'll almost certainly be in Pasadena unless there are two unbeaten BCS league teams.

Why Oklahoma might win: If you liked what the Virginia Tech defensive front did to the Miami offensive line, you'll love what Oklahoma's front four is about to do. The Cane offensive line got obliterated by the Hokies as Jason Worilds and friends hammered Harris all game long, allowing just 59 rushing yards. When Harris got time in the first two games, he ripped apart Florida State and Georgia Tech. When he was under duress against the Hokies, he went 9-of-25 passes for 150 yards with an interception. Oklahoma's defensive line is much better than Virginia Tech's, leading the nation in tackles for loss and cranking out 12 sacks in just three games. The Sooners also lead the nation in run defense, giving up just 41 yards per game

Why Miami might win: Of course it's not this easy, but Miami beat Florida State, Florida State annihilated BYU, and BYU beat Oklahoma. Yeah, sure, the Sooners have been national-title-good over the last two games, but that was against Idaho State and Tulsa. In those two games there were four turnovers, and the offense still has to answer for the pathetic performance against BYU, even without Bradford. BYU was able to throw for 329 yards and two scores even though Max Hall was sacked four times and the OU defense was dominant for long stretches. Miami isn't going to be able to put up a huge number on the Sooners, but the defense should come up with at least two takeaways, more likely three, and Harris has to have a short memory. There will be times when the OU D tees off on Harris, and there will be several ugly three-and-out drives that fizzle from the get-go, but if he can be patient and get the ball out of his hands in a hurry, something he wasn't able to do in the rain of Blacksburg last week, the Cane offense will move. He's a good enough decision maker to keep the Sooner linebackers on their heels with a short to midrange passing game.

Who to watch: With Sam Bradford declared out as a starter for this game, much will ride on the arm of Landry Jones, who overcame a rough thrown-to-the-wolves performance against BYU to hit Idaho State for three touchdown passes and toss six against Tulsa. He'll make rookie mistakes and he'll have to prove he can handle himself against the speed of the Miami defense, but he has the running game to fall back on and the two games of target practice to be ready for a game like this. For Miami, the offense gets back a huge piece of the puzzle with the return of Aldarius Johnson, the star receiver who caught three passes for 48 yards against Florida State before missing time with a groin injury. He practiced this week, and according to head coach Randy Shannon, looked great. Harris needs all the weapons he can get, and Johnson is a difference maker.

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