No. 25 Sooners stuffed in run game

ByEspn.com News Services via via logo
January 28, 2022, 12:09 AM

NORMAN, Okla. -- No matter what's going wrong with his front line, offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson doesn't plan on No. 25 Oklahoma becoming a finesse team. The Sooners' struggles on the offensive line were amplified last week when, on the same day Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Sam Bradford went out after re-injuring his right shoulder, the team wound up with minus-16 yards rushing against No. 3 Texas. Wilson said Tuesday that Oklahoma (3-3, 1-1 Big 12) shifted to short passes because it would have been too difficult to block the nation's best rush defense and one loading the line of scrimmage. The shift led to tailback DeMarco Murray setting new career-highs with eight catches for 116 yards. "Whether we abandon the run or not or we get in big sets or spread sets, the real deal is we need to keep playing more physical," Wilson said. The last time Oklahoma was held to negative yards on the ground came in 2002 against Alabama (minus-23 yards). Next up is Kansas (5-1, 1-1). At the core of Oklahoma's problems is an inexperienced offensive line that lost four starters from last season's run to the BCS championship game. Three of those players are now in the NFL. Making matters worse, starting left guard Brian Simmons -- the second-most experienced lineman -- was out against the Longhorns and is expected to miss several more weeks with a right knee injury. Instead of starting one of the backup guards, Oklahoma moved tight end Brody Eldridge to the position for the first time, creating the fifth different starting line in six games. "To me, the deal is can we get fortunate enough to for a couple, three weeks in a row, get some time on task with the same guys and build on that?" Wilson said. "That's where we've been -- a guy's in, a guy's out. `We need you over here. No, we need you back over here.' We're robbing Paul and paying Peter all the time." Coach Bob Stoops, though, suggested that a lack of continuity isn't to blame. "If you settle it in and it's not real effective, how do you settle in? You have to keep competing," Stoops said. "It isn't like just because you keep the same five guys in there, everything's harmonious." Running back has been the position least affected by a series of injuries on offense. In addition to Bradford and Simmons, Oklahoma has been without star tight end Jermaine Gresham all season because of knee surgery and top receiver Ryan Broyles missed most of two games with a hairline fracture in his shoulder blade. Fullback Matt Clapp has played with a broken left hand. Murray, the tailback, had a left ankle injury against Texas but continued to play with diminishing effectiveness. He had a 64-yard pickup on his second catch and all but 12 of his yards receiving in the first half. Chris Brown had four catches for 40 yards in the second half. The two, who each surpassed 1,000 yards rushing last season, combined for 20 yards on 17 carries while leading the team in receiving. "A part of the run game the other day was some of the short passing game," Wilson said. "Will it be that way this week and weeks to come? We do have some good backs with DeMarco, Chris and even our young guys, so we definitely need to get the run game going. "There's not a goal of we need a 100-yard rusher or X yards rushing but we definitely can't be a team that's sitting back and the pocket's collapsing we're throwing so much we're a finesse team. We need to be a physical team." Eldridge, who is considered one of the team's top blockers, has already started this season at guard, center and tight end as the Sooners try to find the best combination up front. "We were always just one guy behind. Somebody either just did the wrong thing or barely slipped up and missed a block," said left tackle Trent Williams, a top NFL prospect. "I know it looked bad on the stat sheet, but it really wasn't that bad. Something to build off of, actually."

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