Cotton Bowl matchup: OU offense vs. Florida defense

Sooners will have plenty of opportunities, but Gators are stout at rushing the quarterback
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The 2020 Cotton Bowl pits a young Oklahoma offense against the much maligned Florida defense.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Spencer Rattler should have plenty of chances to take shots downfield, as the Gators enter with the No. 97-ranked passing defense, allowing 258.3 passing yards per game.

The Sooners passing attack has been up and down all season, often showing flashes of the explosive offense we’ve come to expect under Lincoln Riley and quarter-long dry spells within the same game.

Led by First Team All-SEC defensive back Kaiir Elam, Florida will look to blanket Oklahoma’s young wide receiver core. Elam and safety Shawn Davis led the Gators with two interceptions each, but Davis — injured the last three games — has decided to opt out of the  game. Florida DBs have to deal with a near full-strength group of wideouts for the Sooners.

Jadon Haselwood had a pair of catches against Iowa State in just his third game this season. Dealing with an injury setback, Haselwood was expected to impress after posting 272 yards on 19 catches in his freshman campaign. A big day against the pourus Gators secondary could propel him into a big 2021 season.

Joining Haselwood will be joint-leading pass catchers Marvin Mims and Theo Wease.

In his first year on campus, Mims set a Sooners freshman record by hauling in eight touchdowns, as well as logging a team-high 583 yards. The speedster will stretch the Gator defense vertically while his teammate Wease works underneath.

Posting 494 yards and three touchdowns, Wease and Rattler’s connection has been inconsistent at times this season. There will be plenty of opportunities against Florida, a defense that just allowed Alabama pass catchers to total 418 yards through the air.

The best part of the Florida defense is without a doubt the pass rush. The Gators have sacked opposing quarterbacks 33 times this season, the best mark in the SEC and sixth best in the entire country.

Creed Humphrey and Co. will have to deal with defensive tackle Zachary Carter, who leads the Gators with five sacks. Not only do the Gators generate a pass rush from the interior of their defensive line, but they often hit home by bringing pressure with their linebackers. Brenton Cox Jr. and Ventrell Miller totaled four sacks and 3.5 sacks respectively, but Miller, a two-time SEC Player of the Week, has entered the transfer portal.

Tight end/H-backs Jeremiah Hall and Brayden Willis will have their hands full to help neutralize the rushing linebackers. Not only can they help in pass protection, but they are the perfect candidates to slip behind the pass rush and hurt the Gator defense over the middle or in the flats.

Florida is slightly better at playing the run, entering the Cotton Bowl as the No. 44-ranked rush defense in the country.

The Oklahoma offense will have to find some consistency on the ground early to keep the pressure off of Rattler.

Averaging just 157.6 yards rushing per game, the addition of Rhamondre Stevenson was a boost to the Sooners run game.

Stevenson could be poised for a big day as Alabama running back Najee Harris torched the Gators for 178 yards and two touchdowns on the ground in the SEC Championship game. Pair that with Harris’ 67 yards and three scores on five catches, and Oklahoma has plenty of tape on how to get Stevenson loose.

While Stevenson may lack the top-level speed of Harris, he’s still a tough runner, powering his way to 479 yards and six touchdowns rushing this season in five games. With the news that T.J. Pledger has entered the transfer portal, Stevenson should continue to get the lion’s share of the carries for the Sooners.

At the end of the day, the game will be won or lost on the arm of Rattler.

If Rattler can continue to take care of the football and find his open receivers, he should put his team in position to emerge from JerryWorld victorious for the second straight game.

Rattler will have an opportunity on a huge national stage against an SEC defense to continue to grow and enter 2021 with momentum.

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