By John Shinn
CNHI News Service
NORMAN – For months, Oklahoma’s offensive line pointed at Saturday as a defining day for them. Notre Dame’s physical defensive line had roughed them up 11 months ago. If the Sooners wanted to be an elite offense it couldn’t get shoved around up front anymore.
After OU rolled 450 yards, including 212 yards on the ground and only gave up one sack in Saturday’s 35-21 victory over the Fighting Irish, its offensive line had won the day.
“I thought our guys played a lot better fundamentally up front,” 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 the second level. Our guys did a great job of executing it.”
The ability to run the ball has been the major change for the Sooners (4-0) this season. They used it early to set up play action passes and late to put the game away.
The fourth quarter might have been the most impressive 15-minute display during head coach Bob Stoops’ 15 seasons as head coach.
OU held the ball for all but 3 minutes, 49 seconds of the fourth quarter, methodically grinding out the win.
“Loved it,” Stoops said.
What adored the Sooner coach was he understands teams that can get stops and grind out first downs in the fourth quarter typically win championships.
OU hasn’t been able to do those things for several years. It’s only recourse in tight game – especially away from Owen Field – is to get in shootouts. It won some, but lost some too.
It was a lesson OU specifically learned from last year’s 30-13 loss to Notre Dame.
“After they stuffed us last year (and) pretty much embarrassed us as a line out there on our home field. For us to rush over 200 yards is huge,” center Gabe Ikard said. “I think the No. 1 thing is we schemed them real well. With the bye week, we were able to find a bunch of things that worked, things we liked on film. We did a good job executing.”
The Sooners return to Owen Field at 6 p.m. Saturday to face TCU (3-2, 0-1 Big 12). It’s back to Big 12 Conference play for the rest of the regular season. The grind of long season is about to really get going.
But through four games, OU’s the only team in the Big 12 that’s shown it can methodically control a game by running the ball and playing defense.
Stoops was as excited as he’s ever been after a win that didn’t come with a trophy. The reason was the physical style his team imposed on Notre Dame Saturday and what it could mean for the Sooners in the future.
“We’ve got a chance to continue to be really good,” he said. But we’re a work in progress. It’s only our fourth game. We’ve got a lot of young guys playing, in particular for sure on defense. But they’re getting better and better the more we play.”