|No. 4 Sooners airing it out at expense of run game|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 16 October 2008 11:43|
With the superstar gone to the NFL, those days are over now, making way for the age of Sam Bradford. The sophomore has quickly developed into one of the nation's top quarterbacks, and No. 4 Oklahoma has grown to rely on him so much that it's making the ground game an afterthought at a traditionally run-first school.
The Sooners (5-1, 1-1 Big 12) have been held below 50 yards rushing in two of their past three games, and it's partly their own doing. With TCU and Texas selling out to stop the run - and boasting two of college football's three best run defenses - Oklahoma has been quick to abandon the rush and put the ball in Bradford's hands.
``To me, running is an attitude as much as anything,'' offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said. ``Maybe more than anything, we just lost our attitude about that and we need to get it back.''
Wilson set out this week to re-establish the run game for a team that seemed to be set in that area heading into the season. The Sooners returned their entire offensive line, including All-America guard Duke Robinson, along with their top two tight ends and fullback from an offense that averaged 190 yards rushing last season.
Game-breaker DeMarco Murray and bruiser Chris Brown have had success - except against the Sooners' stiffest competition.
Oklahoma has averaged 217.5 yards rushing in its four games other than Texas and TCU, but there's another test this Saturday: No. 16 Kansas (5-1, 2-0) brings in the nation's 11th-best run defense, allowing only 93.7 yards on average.
``It's an issue. Some games we've been able to run it and run it well. There's been two games where we haven't,'' Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said.
``In those games, we still have been highly productive throwing the ball because of how they're defending the run. So there's a little bit of give and take. But I'm not sitting here and making excuses. I still feel we should be better in some cases than we have been.''
Wilson replaced some pass protection drills this week with additional run game practice, hoping to re-establish the its importance.
``If you're not careful, you can get into some mannerisms in your practice routine where maybe you're not emphasizing it,'' Wilson said.
The bottom line, though, is that the Sooners won't be effective running the ball if they don't make an effort. Tailbacks got the ball only 18 times against Texas, and Wilson said some of those runs were simply to keep the Longhorns ``honest'' and encourage more one-on-one coverage for the pass game.
``When Sam gets hot, he starts throwing the ball well so we want to put the ball in his hands and then we throw a couple run plays in there here and there so they respect the play-action pass,'' center Jon Cooper said. ``It's kind of hard to get in a rhythm when its only one run play every so many plays.''
To some extent, the Sooners are limited by their approach to the modern spread offense. Bradford isn't a speedster at quarterback, and Stoops isn't interested in getting him hit routinely by running the option anyway. That makes them a bit one-dimensional in their frequent spread sets.
``Because we don't run a bunch of quarterback-run game, our spread game gets a little limited,'' Wilson said. ``That being said, I don't think we got pass-happy because we were reasonably efficient, but that was the direction we went to move the football.''
``We're not trying to be a finesse team,'' Wilson said. ``At the same time, if the run game's not going, I've got to find ways to make it work and give us a chance to win.''
Wilson said there's no one place the blame for the run game struggles because the line could be blocking better and the backs could be running more aggressively, but he'd point the finger at himself ``because I'm the guy running the offense.''
``We have to step up and we have to take responsibility for what's going on in the running game,'' Brown said. ``It's just not the (offensive) line. It's us as backs. It's the whole complete team on offense.''
One thing is apparent, though. Stoops doesn't intend to force the ground game if the Sooners' are just going to run into a wall of defenders.
``It's the old game that's been going on for decades: If they've got you outnumbered, you throw the ball,'' Stoops said. ``And we've been highly effective throwing the football.''