SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Connecticut’s football team took a monumental step this season by getting to the Fiesta Bowl, giving the basketball-dominated school something else to cheer about.
The Huskies’ reward? A cross-country trip to face an offense that churns out more plays than any other and loves watching opponents gasp for air.
Multidimensional and multitalented, Oklahoma presents one monumental challenge for Connecticut in its first BCS bowl game.
“We know what Oklahoma is and the tradition they have, and if you matched us up for 100 years, we don’t match up with them,” UConn defensive coordinator Hank Hughes said Monday, the Huskies’ first day of practice in Arizona for the Fiesta Bowl. “But on this one day for three hours, we have to go out there and try to beat them in that one football game.”
It could feel like three days if Oklahoma gets rolling.
It starts with the Sooners’ talent.
Quarterback Landry Jones has stopped trying to do too much as he did last season and developed into one of the nation’s best passers. The sophomore led the nation with a school-record 371 completions, was tops among BCS conference quarterbacks with 4,289 yards and was third nationally with 35 touchdown passes.
Jones has two of the best playmakers at his disposal, too.
Running back DeMarco Murray became the Sooners’ all-time leader in all-purpose yards (6,626) and touchdowns (64) this season, and is only the second player in school history to eclipse 1,000 yards in rushing, receiving and returns. The senior had over 1,900 combined yards and 19 touchdowns this season.
Ryan Broyles had a good sophomore season and blew it away this year, cementing his status as one of the nation’s best receivers. The All-American set a school record with 118 catches this season — a record 15 against Iowa State — had another record with 1,452 yards and scored 13 touchdowns.
Those are just the big names. The Sooners are loaded at every position, deep, talented players rolling in off the sideline like it’s a hockey game.
“They have the weapons on offense to put a lot of points up,” UConn senior linebacker Lawrence Wilson said.
And that might not be the worst part.
All that talent is slotted into a snap-before-they’re-ready offense that tries to squeeze as many plays into a game as possible, leaving opponents breathless and battered by the end of the game.
Oklahoma ran 1,131 plays this season, an average of 87 per game and nearly 200 more than the next closest team. And the Sooners have been doing it for years, the always-hurry mentality ingrained in their minds, the constant running built up in their lungs.
Coming from the run-heavy Big East, UConn hasn’t seen anything like this. Michigan, with dynamic quarterback Denard Robinson, and pass-happy Cincinnati come somewhat close, but it still figures to be an eye opener when the Huskies first hit the field against Oklahoma.
“We can’t really simulate the speed with which their offense gets lined up,” UConn coach Randy Edsall said. “They’re a well-oiled machine on offense.”
UConn has at least tried to get a feel for what it might be like.
Since learning Oklahoma would be the opponent, the Huskies have sped up its practices, starting with the first few when they had referees. UConn has sent out the first-team offense, rotated scout teams in and out, used quick snaps, bubble screens and zone passing plays — anything and everything possible to gear up for the Sooner onslaught.
“It’s been good to get a taste for what that might be like,” Wilson said.
The full bite comes on New Year’s Day.