NORMAN — Behind an offensive line that included tackles Phil Loadholt and Trent Williams — both of whom are still NFL starters — Oklahoma running back Chris Brown was stuffed on consecutive carries at the Florida 1-yard line in the Sooners' 2009 BCS National Championship Game loss.
So what could be reasonably expected five years later of the Oklahoma offensive line, which includes no surefire early-round NFL Draft picks and was down two starters entering the Sugar Bowl against Alabama?
The Sooners were a double-digit underdog against No. 3 Alabama, and much of the reason why stemmed from the Crimson Tide's perceived advantage on the offensive and defensive lines.
No way, most believed, could Oklahoma's defensive linemen play with projected first-round pick Cyrus Kouandjio and the Bama offensive line. And how would the Sooners' banged up offensive line hold off the Crimson Tide's superior defensive front?
Oklahoma's mostly exceptional play on both fronts helped the Sooners stun Alabama 45-31, a result those involved attribute to preparation and a renewed emphasis on toughness. The defensive line had at least remained consistent for much of the regular season; the reshuffled offensive line put it all together in less than a month.
“I think we all expected to come in and play well,” said senior Bronson Irwin, who started the Sugar Bowl at right tackle after playing guard his entire career. “We knew they were gonna be big, strong guys, but we spent a lot of late nights in the hotel watching tape on them. I wasn't surprised at all by the way we came out and performed.”
Thinness at the tackle spots forced Irwin to practice there beginning in fall camp, but he wasn't needed in games because starters Tyrus Thompson and Daryl Williams stayed healthy.
When Thompson was lost for the season in Oklahoma's Nov. 23 win at Kansas State, though, the Sooners were left scrambling to patch together a capable offensive line in time for the season finale at Oklahoma State two weeks later.
Irwin stayed at guard for Bedlam and sophomore Derek Farniok started at tackle, but with a month to prepare for Alabama, offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh made the switch.
“After our last game, we had nine of 10 practices here in Norman,” Bedenbaugh said. “Then we had six or seven (in New Orleans). So basically, what it kind of amounted to was spring ball. We had a bunch of time.”
Bedenbaugh also had a bunch of time to get junior Dionte Savage ready for the first start of his career. Savage, a junior-college transfer, didn't play much throughout the season as he adapted to Oklahoma's system, but started the Sugar Bowl in place of the injured Adam Shead, who was lost for the season after starting the first 10 games.
“He was down at times, frustrated at times because he wasn't playing, but he really wasn't ready,” Bedenbaugh said. “We had other guys who were playing at a decent level, so other guys really couldn't get on the field. I'm really proud of him for fighting through and sticking with it.”
Savage was flagged for two false start penalties against Alabama, but other than that, played well, particularly considering his inexperience.
Bedenbaugh said that since the Sugar Bowl, he's talked to countless offensive line recruits who were impressed by what they saw against the Crimson Tide. The Sooners also added offensive line commitments Natrell Curtis and Joseph Paul to their 2014 recruiting class within days of the Alabama win.
“People understand how guys are getting coached here,” Bedenbaugh said.