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OU Defense Prepares to Stop Stanford's Toby Gerhart

Stanford's Toby Gerhart (7) will provide the Sooners' defense one of their biggest challenges of the season in the Sun Bowl. (AP Photo) Stanford's Toby Gerhart (7) will provide the Sooners' defense one of their biggest challenges of the season in the Sun Bowl. (AP Photo)

Originally Published: Dec 11, 2009 8:39 PM CDT

Corey DeMoss
Oklahoma Sports Staff Writer

NORMAN, Oklahoma – The Oklahoma defense will face one of its toughest challenges of the year when it takes on Stanford and running back Toby Gerhart in the Sun Bowl.

Gerhart won this year’s Doak Walker Award, given to the nation’s best running back. He led the nation in rushing with 1,736 yards and 26 touchdowns, and was the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy awarded Saturday night in the closest race of the award's 75-year history.

“We like to think that our defense is one of the best in the country, and what’s better than to go against one of the best running backs in the country?” linebacker Travis Lewis said. “It should be a great challenge, and I’m looking forward to it.”

Gerhart’s numbers are by far the best of any running back OU has faced this season and he will provide a unique challenge for a defense that ranks No. 7 in the nation against the run. The Sooners have surrendered 88.6 rushing yards per game during the regular season, while Gerhart averaged 144.7 yards per game.

Gerhart makes use of a punishing running style to wear down defenses, but he also has deceptive speed and is capable of breaking several arm tackles.

“He’s got his own skill set,” Lewis said. “You look at him, and you don’t think he’s that quick or that fast, but he’s running away from people and making people miss. He’s got really good vision, he’ll see the hole before it gets there ? Just watching him on film, I’m getting excited.”

Defensive coordinator Brent Venables said the key to shutting Gerhart down is to get a body on him and use a swarming defense to keep him from breaking tackles.

“You have to finish and run through him,” Venables said. “He’s a very, very physical back and one that will be difficult to emulate, like [OU fullback] Matt Clapp but a little bit quicker and a little bit more athletic.”

Venables said he spoke to Arizona head coach Mike Stoops, brother of OU head coach Bob Stoops, about facing Stanford. Mike Stoops, whose team faced the Cardinal during Pac-10 play earlier this season, told Venables to hope the Sooners would not have to face Stanford.

“He felt that they were the most physical team in the Pac-10, the best offensive line in the Pac-10 and obviously the best running back in the Pac-10,” Venables said. “Their offense is set up off their ability to run the football.”

Gerhart was one five finalists for this year’s Heisman Trophy, joining Nebraska’s Ndomukong Suh, Texas’ Colt McCoy, Alabama’s Mark Ingram and Florida’s Tim Tebow. The Sooners supported Gerhart’s claim to the nation’s most prestigious award.

“He’s got my vote, and had before we were announced,” Venables said. “I think he’s a terrific player. You look at all the stacked boxes that he’s able to run against, and they play good defense in the Pac-10 ? He’s earning his yards and then some.”

The Sooners played previous Heisman winner Tim Tebow in their bowl last season, and intercepted him twice after Tebow had thrown only two interceptions all season. Travis Lewis said the defense gets excited to play such marquee players so they can say they shut down a Heisman winner.

“We’re rooting for [Gerhart],” Lewis said. “We love playing against Heisman-winning players. To have a running back of his caliber and our defense, it should be a pretty good show.”

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