ARLINGTON, Texas: Oklahoma linebacker Nik Bonitto is well aware that the Sooners defense, even with all of the drastic improvements playing out his Speed D schedule over two seasons, must prove itself outside of the Big 12.
After winning their sixth consecutive conference title, the No.8 Sooners (8-2) will once again end the season in a New Years Six Bowl game against a high-powered SEC attack. They play in the Cotton Bowl on Wednesday night against No. 10 Florida, who leads the country in passing although their offense suddenly looks quite different due to some late starts.
I think there is always an idea that we don’t have a lot of respect as a defender when we play against these types of teams, Bonitto said. We just see a huge opportunity ahead of us to prove ourselves as a defense, and to show that we are one of the best in the country.
The Sooners’ last three seasons have ended with a 54-point losing average against various SEC teams in the college football playoff semifinals. They allowed eventual national champion LSU 63 points and 692 total yards in the Peach Bowl last December, ending defensive coordinator Alex Grinch’s initial season that had been very promising so far.
Florida senior quarterback Kyle Trask, the national leader with 375 passing yards and 43 touchdowns, enjoyed his third straight 400-yard passing game in a 52-46 loss to No.1 Alabama in the SEC Championship game. The Gators are averaging 41.6 points per game and 7.4 yards per game.
I think what you sure don’t want to do is circle a game, an opponent, and say that dictates an entire season of working that way, Grinch said. But along the same lines, the next challenge is huge. … What a way to end 2020.
That challenge changed somewhat on Monday when Florida receivers Trevon Grimes and Kadarius Toney announced they were bypassing the Cotton Bowl to start preparing for their future in the NFL. This will leave Trask and the Gators (8-3) without their top three wide receivers as All-American tight end Kyle Pitts has previously said he won’t be playing in a bowl to focus on the NFL.
Despite what happened against LSU at the end of last season, the Sooners allowed just 347 total yards per game over the past two seasons, an improvement of 77 yards in the two seasons before Grinch be hired by offensive-minded head coach Lincoln Riley.
The Sooners enter the Cotton Bowl game at AT&T Stadium after allowing just 57 combined points in their last four games, their best streak in six seasons. They’ve recorded nearly five sacks per game during that span while keeping their opponents at 303.8 total yards per game.
They are very active defensively, said Florida offensive coordinator Brian Johnson. On the front, they do a great job chasing football and losing blocks, not getting stuck for long and playing in the backfield. And in high school, I’m thinking particularly around the corner, they have great ball skills. They play with a lot of patience. They have great footwork and they play on the ball when it’s in the air.
The Sooners will play without senior cornerback Tre Brown, who had the decisive interception in their 27-21 win in the Big 12 title game against Iowa No.12 State. Like the Florida receivers, he is focused on the NFL draft.
But the Sooners will have junior defensive end Ronnie Perkins as their sack leader last season before being suspended for the Peach Bowl. He was not reinstated until Game 6 this year, but he has 5 1/2 sacks overall and at least 1 1/2 tackles for a loss in each of the five games he has played.
Oklahoma, with a seven-game winning streak since losing their first two Big 12 games, are second nationally this season with just 91 rushing yards per game, and are 10th in passing efficiency defense.
“After suffering these two defeats at the start of the season, the defense has definitely come back up. I really feel that change, said Perkins. We have great players all over the pitch. A lot of the guys who have been in it have taken a lot of reps in this defense over the past couple of years. So was a confident group. We play hard, play fast.
More AP College Football: https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25