New-Look Oklahoma Sooners Offense Relies on Run Game

By Justine Hendricks

The Oklahoma Sooners moved to 5-0 on the season with a win over the TCU Horned Frogs — without throwing a touchdown pass. Oklahoma scored two rushing touchdowns and two field goals in the 20-17 win, the first game since December 2011 that the Sooners haven’t had a passing touchdown.

In six seasons with record-setting quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Landry Jones, OU made big play after big play through the air, but the approach on offense this season is more balanced.

Emphasizing the run, which helps take some pressure off a brand new starting quarterback, is even more effective with mobile quarterbacks like Trevor Knight and Blake Bell. Knight, who started the season at quarterback for OU, rushed for more than 100 yards in his first outing. Bell, who took over in week three, is currently the team’s third-leading rusher.

The game against TCU was a defensive struggle for both teams, but Oklahoma’s ground game helped make the difference. Fullback Trey Millard had an eight yard touchdown, and senior Brennan Clay broke off on a career-long 76-yard touchdown run to extend the Sooners’ lead in the fourth quarter. Oklahoma finished with 203 yards and two touchdowns on the ground and just 152 passing yards.

The rushing offense has been the story for the Sooners throughout the first part of the season. In their first two games, OU had more than twice as many rushing yards as passing, a huge departure from the pass-first offense the Sooners employed when they had the quarterbacks to run it. Bell showed flashes of arm strength in his first start against Tulsa, when he threw for 413 yards and four touchdowns, but that game has proven to be the exception rather than the norm for the 2013 Sooners.

Through five games, Oklahoma has 1,230 rushing yards and 1,046 passing yards, and the team is averaging 246 rushing yards per game compared with 209.2 passing. The Sooners haven’t finished with fewer than 300 pass yards per game since 2009, Jones’ first season in relief of the injured Bradford, when they averaged 289 per game. Since then, OU has finished each season with more than twice as many passing yards as rushing yards.

In 2009 and 2010, Sooner running backs didn’t crack 2,000 yards rushing in the entire season. This year’s group won’t even need to average 100 yards in each remaining game to surpass that mark in 2013, but if they continue to gain nearly 250 yards per game, Oklahoma’s run game this season will be its most prolific in years.

Over the last few seasons, OU sometimes relied too heavily on the passing game while struggling to find balance with a consistent rushing attack. Without an established, veteran quarterback, this year’s running backs have stepped up to carry the offense through a major transition.

Bell, who was often used as a short yardage back during the last two seasons, is doing a good job of distributing the ball in his new role. He’s completing 70 percent of his passes, and of the six receivers he targeted in the win over TCU, five of them caught passes of more than 11 yards.

He may eventually develop into a top quarterback like his predecessors, but even if he does, maintaining some of the new balance on offense might be a smart move for the Sooners.

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