SOUTH BEND, Ind. — In a hallway just off the famed tunnel at Notre Dame Stadium, Oklahoma center Gabe Ikard smiled wide Saturday night.
Not only did the Sooners beat Notre Dame 35-21, avenging last season's Irish win in Norman, Oklahoma's offensive line also made up for a performance that was tough to swallow a season ago.
“They stuffed us last year (and) pretty much embarrassed us as a line out there on our home field,” Ikard said. “For us to rush for over 200 yards is huge.”
The Sooners not only rushed for more than 200 yards against the Fighting Irish this time around, they ran for nearly 200 yards more than they did against Notre Dame last year, when they put up just 15 yards on the ground.
Louis Nix III, one of the best defensive tackles in the country, was a disruptive force a year ago, pushing around Ikard and the rest of the Sooners offensive line and giving Heisman Trophy runner-up Manti Te'o space to work.
“I didn't notice Nix being a huge factor,” Sooners offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh said. “Obviously he made plays, but I didn't notice it and we did some things too to help him out.”
What the Sooners did was give Ikard plenty of help when matched head-up with Nix.
They sent guards over to double-team. They moved blocking formations over to neutralize him. They even regularly sent big fullback Trey Millard in attack mode right at the 6-foot-2, 342-pounder.
“We had all kinds of schemes focused on him,” Ikard said. “You know when you're a nose guard and you're scheming, having Trey Millard come and try to cut him, you're an extremely talented football player.”
The difference was noticeable right off the bat, even with things snowballing in Oklahoma's favor.
On the Sooners' second offensive play, Roy Finch ran eight yards for a first down, tying the number of rushing first downs they had a year ago.
On the fourth play, Damien Williams carried for an 11-yard touchdown, giving the Sooners more rushing yards after just two carries and 2:45 than they had in four quarters last time around.
Blake Bell's ability to run the ball made a difference as well, keeping the Irish's front seven on their heels when he ran both on the option and on designed runs.
“That changes the numbers a little bit,” Sooners co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “We tweaked some things in the run game, just how we were targeting some of their guys, both in the front and in the second level — their linebackers — and we did a good job executing it.”
Bedenbaugh, who wasn't around last season, said last year wasn't as bad as it appears from the raw stats — a 19-yard loss on a bad snap and a pair of sacks killed Oklahoma's rushing totals — but Saturday, the Sooners were able to create space for their running backs to work.
“Getting up to those backers creates lanes for those running backs and we love that, especially the cutbacks,” Brennan Clay said. “Trey does a great job coming down and he was beating up his (Nix's) legs all day too. That wore him down. Nix is a hell of a football player and he's going to be great at the next level. It was a great game plan against them.”
Clay ran for 77 yards in the win and Oklahoma had just three rushing plays for negative yardage, outside of two victory-formation kneel downs to end the game.
“It's just the mentality of — we're run emphasis now — that we're going to run first,” Clay said. “We're going to make that line of scrimmage move.”