After averaging 3.3 yards a carry average last season — the lowest in school history — the Sooners vowed to improve their ground game.
Hitting the weights in the offseason, streamlining blocking assignments, Oklahoma was vastly improved Saturday night in a 47-14 win over Tulsa.
“We were 112th or whatever in the country last year, 3.3 yards a rush, 12th in the Big 12,” said offensive coordinator Josh Heupel. “For us moving forward we needed to become better in that area.”
The Sooners were much better.
Led by a solid performance from the offensive line and running back Dominique Whaley's smashing debut, the Sooners rushed for 246 yards. They averaged 5.3 yards per carry.
“It was good to see some of that,” Heupel said. “Are we a finished product? By no stretch of the imagination. But it was positive to see some signs of life in that regard.”
Tulsa was decent against the run last season. The real test will be the two games after the bye week, a high profile road showdown at Florida State followed by the Big 12 opener against Missouri.
Granted, both played outmanned opponents Saturday. But both teams stuffed the run.
Florida State held Louisiana-Monroe to 99 rushing yards, 2.5 yards per carry.
Missouri held Miami Ohio to 76 rushing yards, 2.1 yards per carry.
The real key is the red zone. When the Sooners got near the goal-line against Tulsa they pounded it in.
“We put some fastball schemes in so they can be physical,” said co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell. “That's a big plus for us to get where we want to be. If we can rush the ball really consistently we'll be hard to beat because we feel we've got a great quarterback and good receivers.”
The Sooners inability to score near the goal-line against Texas A&M received a lot of publicity. OU ran 11 plays inside the Aggies' 5-yard line in a loss last year and gained a total of 1 yard.
But it was a season long problem.
Four times the Sooners failed to rush for more than 100 yards, including both games they lost.
In Saturday's win over Tulsa, OU's offensive line at times dominated.
Three of Whaley's four TD runs were examples of improvement in the trenches.
On Whaley's first score, center Ben Habern and right guard Tyler Evans pushed their men into the end zone.
Whaley's second TD spoke volumes about the coaches' commitment to the ground game.
An apparent Whaley touchdown was wiped out when replays showed his elbow hit the ground. Facing fourth-and-goal at the one-foot line, the Sooners steamrolled into the end zone. Habern and backup guard Stephen Good provided a good crease which allowed Whaley to punch it in.
On Whaley's 6-yard TD run the O-line provided a huge hole, making it easy for him to plow into the end zone.
“We've really made a point that we want to be physical,” Norvell said. “There are certain areas that you show that, in the red zone, in short-yardage/goal-line. We set goals that we want to do well rushing per attempt and make the tough yards. I think we are more physical.”