Gators crowned BCS national champs

January 9, 2009 8:38:33 AM PST
Major Wright's sure hands kept the Oklahoma Sooners from grabbing the lead. With the score tied, Wright snatched an interception near the goal line after three teammates deflected the ball. It was a big defensive play on a night full of them for the Florida Gators, who beat Oklahoma 24-14 in the BCS national championship game Thursday.

Twice the Gators stopped Oklahoma inside the 10, including on Wright's juggling interception. It came when cornerback Joe Haden tipped a Sam Bradford pass. Ryan Stamper and Ahmad Black also got a hand on the ball before Wright hauled it in.

"That play took forever," Wright said. "Joe Haden made a great play. He knocked down the ball. Stamper ended up hitting up the ball. Somebody else touched the ball, and I was like, `Whoa, I have to do something. Let me grab it."'

The Sooners scored an NCAA-record 702 points during the regular season, averaging 54 a game. When reaching the opposing 20-yard line, they had scored 76 of 80 times, including 69 touchdowns. But they were stopped twice in the first half by Florida, and later had a field-goal attempt blocked.

"That basically won the game for us," Stamper said. "We bent but we didn't break."

Coach Urban Meyer's Gators, who ranked eighth nationally in yards allowed, kept Heisman Trophy winner Bradford guessing with lots of blitzes. The pace of the Sooners' no-huddle attack gave Florida little trouble.

"We had a whole month to prepare," defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. "Coach Meyer constantly had the scout team running the ball and the whole defense running no-huddle the whole practice, running faster than Oklahoma actually ran it."

With Florida able to keep up, the Sooners failed for the first time this season to score at least 35 points. Bradford went 26-for-41 for 256 yards and was sacked twice. The Sooners were 6-for-15 on third- and fourth-down conversions.

"Our defense was really jacked up to play this game, knowing this was the No. 1 offense in the country and playing against the Heisman Trophy winner," Stamper said. "They have dynamic players, but we have dynamic players on our defense, too."

Oklahoma made 25 first downs but totaled a season-low 363 yards, well below its average of 562. The Sooners led the nation with only nine turnovers during the regular season, but Black and Wright intercepted Bradford.

The Gators were at their best when backed up. With the score 7-7, an interception gave the Sooners possession at the Florida 26. Oklahoma picked up a first down at the 9, and two carries by Chris Brown advanced the ball to the 1.

But on third down he was halted for no gain by 298-pound tackle Torrey Davis, and on fourth down, Davis again stopped Brown for a 2-yard loss.

"Those were big factors in the game -- being down in the red zone in those two occasions or three occasions and ending up with nothing," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops. "We've been so efficient the entire year in the red zone."

The Sooners' knack for big plays was throttled, too. Their longest gain was 25 yards, even though Bradford tried to throw deep.

He nearly connected in the fourth quarter going long to Juaquin Iglesias. But Black snatched the ball out of Iglesias' hands for an interception at the Gators 24, preserving a 17-14 Florida lead.

"The play of the game," Meyer said. "That's a potential go-ahead touchdown."

"It was just him and me, mano a mano," Black said. "I read it and I was on top of him. As soon as the ball hit his hands, I grabbed it."

Another missed chance for the Sooners came in the third quarter. On third-and-1 at the Florida 28, Brown was stopped for a 4-yard loss by Stamper, and Dunlap blocked Jimmy Stevens' 49-yard field goal attempt.

"We had several opportunities that we could have capitalized on and didn't," Bradford said. "The red zone is a place where we've been very good this year, and to come out and play the way we did tonight and not capitalize when we had the opportunities is pretty frustrating."

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