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Stoops braces for familiar foe

The Oklahoma coach knows the pros and cons of facing FSU. He did it four times as a UF assistant.

By BOB HARIG

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 3, 2001


MIAMI -- The tape has been wound and rewound and about worn out by now.

If there is something Oklahoma doesn't know about Florida State and vice versa, it is unlikely. With more than a month to prepare for tonight's national championship game, the players and coaching staff should be quite familiar with the opposition, having watched countless hours of video.

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops has something else to draw from: his experience as an assistant for Steve Spurrier at Florida.

While the defensive coordinator for the Gators from 1996 to 1998, Stoops schemed to stop FSU's high-powered offense four times, once in a bowl game. He doesn't take the time plotting against FSU coach Bobby Bowden and offensive coordinator Mark Richt for granted.

"Being at Florida and competing against them, I believe it is an advantage," said Stoops, in his second year as coach at Oklahoma. "You have an idea of their philosophy, team speed, what they like to do, what they don't like to see. You have a feel for that.

"Whether that matters or not, you still have to perform. But at least I think it beats coming in blind or having never competed against them, whether you can take advantage of the familiarity or not. ... The players still have to perform."

There might be something to be gained for FSU, too. The Seminoles know Stoops' tendencies as a defensive strategist, theories he took with him to Oklahoma. The Sooners play a similar press style defense he employed at Florida. Offensively, the Sooners play a different style than the Gators.

One aspect of Stoops' previous experience should concern Seminole fans the most: In 1996, after FSU defeated Florida 24-21 in Tallahassee, the Gators bounced back to beat the Seminoles 52-20 in the Sugar Bowl for the national championship.

After allowing FSU tailback Warrick Dunn to rush for 185 yards on 24 carries and the Seminoles to gain 317 yards total in the regular season game, Stoops figured out a way to stop them in the bowl game. The Gators held Dunn in check and did not allow quarterback Thad Busby to beat them.

"The biggest benefit was playing them in that national championship game," Stoops said. "Having a month to prepare for them, playing in the magnitude of this game, I now feel very at home in this environment. I feel fortunate to have been through that experience. It gives me an idea of how to go through our practices, how to prepare, how to handle the media, and still remain focused on what to do to win the game.

"On top of that, competing against them in three other games, you have a feel for the way they play, their philosophies, the speed with which they play at. It gives you an idea of what they like to do and what they don't."

FSU and Florida split the four games in which Stoops was the defensive coordinator at UF. He never shut down the Seminoles, but they never went wild against the Gators, either.

The most yards FSU gained against a Stoops defense was 363 in a 23-12 victory in 1998. FSU tailback Travis Minor rushed for 127 yards in that game.

Stoops and the Gators also didn't have an answer that day for backup quarterback Marcus Outzen, who filled in for injured Chris Weinke. Outzen completed 13 of 22 passes for 167 yards and scrambled numerous times for gains.

A few weeks later, Stoops took the Oklahoma job.

Now he's playing for the national championship against a familiar foe.

"I don't have as much experience as Coach Bowden, but it helps our team having faced them," he said. "I'm fortunate to have been at Florida and competed against Florida State. I have relayed that to our players about what we're up against."

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