MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

OU & OSU Sports

September 3, 2011

Sooners’ title quest begins today vs. TU

NORMAN – The quest begins for Oklahoma tonight. It’s a journey that takes it along a lengthy path with hazards coming in many directions. A national championship waits at the end of the road.

That, however, is the just the hopeful prize. It isn’t going to anyone until January.

The reward the top-ranked Sooners hope they’ll land tonight at Owen Field against Tulsa is something they’ve lost over the last two seasons – the ability to impose their will on a quality opponent.

The Sooners haven’t had that on both sides of the ball since 2008. That was the last time they went into games knowing they could win with more than speed and athletic ability. That was the last time they knew they could go toe-to-toe with anyone and move a pile when needed.

Great teams win games in that manner. Willfulness was a virtue of every Sooner team that’s brought home a national championship trophy.

The Sooners believe they have that back.

“In workouts we did all winter and summer, we emphasized that we have to get  bigger and stronger,” center Ben Habern said. “We have to be able to move guys off the ball and open holes in the run game.”

Running the ball and stopping the run is how teams impose their will in this brutal game. It’s about moving people who don’t want to be moved and refusing to budge against great force.

OU won a dozen games last season, but its two losses came down to an inability to win those battles. OU couldn’t run the ball and couldn’t stop it from happening in losses to Missouri and Texas A&M.

Can’t run the table if it happens this season.

“Those things won’t change week-in and week-out,” defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “It comes down to execution, being physical, playing with discipline.”

Doesn’t mean the Sooners have tried to re-invent the wheel since the 2010 season ended. But they’ve spent the last eight months hearing about their lack of mettle.  

“We’re very aware of it,” defensive tackle Jamarkus McFarland said when asked if he’d heard that the defensive tackle spots are the predicted weak links in OU’s chain. “You still have to go out there and compete and play your game, but it does help you go through practice.”

Will it translate to games?

The answer will come tonight.

Don’t expect to see a whole lot of flash in the Sooner game plan. That will come in a couple of weeks when OU has its Sept. 17 showdown at Florida State.

Tonight is the season opener. Tonight is about setting a strong-willed tone for the rest of the season.    

“We’re going to find out a lot out about how physical we can be as a football team. It’s something we’ve really challenged our guys to do. We want to be physical,” co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said. “When we’re not trying to fool people and we’re just trying to run the ball, we want to be able to do that. We feel like to be a championship team we have to be able to do that. It will show us a lot today.”

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