Just arrived in Dallas, Texas a few hours ago -- and not just for the reason you thought. Tonight, I'll be covering Southlake Carroll, the No. 1 high school football team in the country, to get a glimpse of what Miami Northwestern will face next week in its Clash of Champions (a game that will follow UM-FIU on ESPNU). As the former high school writer, I have to admit I'm pumped. Any time you can spend 9 days on the road watching football and attending two of the biggest games in the country this week, you got to consider yourself lucky. I do.
I passed by the Dragons' home stadium this afternoon (that's Southlake Carroll) and was simply blown away. This team's $19 million facility looked nicer than the Orange Bowl. While my mind will be on Southlake Carroll tonight, I didn't want to leave you Canes fans hanging -- especially with the big game tomorrow in Norman. After a late midnight drive tonight to Norman, I'll be there with bloodshot eyes tomorrow morning for the game, providing live blogging as I did last week for the Marshall game. Hopefully, a few of you back home will be online to share some thoughts during the game.
As for the Sooners, I promised a weekly delivery of the keys to the game and that's what this blog is about. Here are my 5 keys to the game in order for the Canes to pull off the road upset of the fifth-ranked team. Let me know if you agree, disagree or if I missed something. The Eye On The U Crew is always on the ball. So, I expect some good feedback.
1. UM needs to win the battle up front: Unlike year's past when Oklahoma would come into this game with far less speed at the skill positions, that category is now a push between these teams. That means the Canes need to win the battle up front, especially on offense where like or not the Sooners are going to be ready to stop Graig Cooper and Javarris James. If those two don't have success on Saturday, the Canes have no shot to win in this game. The o-line has to come through with another solid game like it did last week, limiting penalties and making sure Cooper and James are falling forward, not backward.
2. Kirby Freeman has to be better than last week: 9 of 21 for 81 passing yards, 1 TD and 1 INT against Marshall was good enough. But if Freeman does the same against the Sooners this week, the only way the Canes end up winning this game is if the defense absolutely goes bonkers creating turnovers and points. Freeman has to keep Oklahoma's secondary honest and he has to complete a few passes downfield to do that.
3. Get to Oklahoma's freshman quarterback and make him fear for his life: The Canes' defensive line did a tremendous job last week against Marshall getting to the quarterback, recording 6 sacks and enough hurries to lead to 4 INTs. Oklahoma's QB looked good last week, but he's still a redshirt freshman making just his second career start. If Calais Campbell, Eric Moncur and company are eating him for brunch Saturday, the Canes are in this game regardless of what the offense is doing.
4. Sure up the secondary: Nothing can be more disheartening for a defense that gets as much pressure on a quarterback as Miami does than giving up first downs on third and long. Last week, the Canes had a few mental breakdowns in coverage, leaving the field open for Marshall to pick up a few big plays down the middle of the field. Can't happen this week. OU's receivers can take it to the house -- and crush the spirit of the Canes if it happens too often.
5. Special teams needs to be special: It wasn't last week. Francesco Zampogna was 1 of 2 on field goal attempts. Matt Bosher and Daren Daly struggled on punts and kickoffs. There were two penalties on the punt return team negated nice runs by Cooper. Nothing swings the momentum on the road like a big play on special teams. The Canes need someone to make some nice plays.
My prediction: Oklahoma 20, Miami 13. I predicted a 9-3 season before the year. And among those predicted losses its this one I feel most certain about. Because, of all the matchups, this one is the only one I think Miami might be overmmatched. Not talent wise. I believe the Canes are equal in the majority of the head-to-head matchups in this game. It's the Canes' confidence that I'm worried about. Oklahoma is at home, coming off a 79-10 victory and not afraid of anyone. I think until the Canes' offense explodes, Miami still will not have completely regained that swagger in needs to win games like this. On a positive note, though, this game could be the springboard to greater things for the Canes and getting some of that swagger back. After seeing what Virginia Tech and Florida State did last week, I'm not so sure anymore Miami isn't the best team in its weak conference.