, Muskogee, OK

December 1, 2013

Sooners use time off for offensive line to heal

By John Shinn
CNHI News Service

— NORMAN – Four days of rest and relaxation will end for Oklahoma on Monday. It will enter full-throttle preparation for Saturday’s game against Oklahoma State. By then, it should also have a better idea who will be able to play and who won’t.

Of all the position groups on the field, the Sooners’ offensive line fully understood the value of some extra time to prepare and heal their aching bodies.

One of the reasons the Sooners (9-2, 6-2 Big 12) have been able to run the ball so well this season is the continuity they’ve had on the offensive line.

Until guard Adam Shead missed the Kansas State game with a back injury and left tackle Tyrus Thompson missed the fourth quarter with an ankle injury, the group pretty much played the entire season intact. Outside of senior guard Bronson Irwin moving ahead of sophomore Nila Kasitati at right guard after four games and Irwin starting at left guard in place of Shead, the core six have played together the entire season.

“It’s been really important for us. We’ve really gelled well, especially in the run game this year. Having five guys consistently is one of those things we haven’t had around here in a while, to get through a whole season with the same five,” center Gabe Ikard said. “We’ve been pretty lucky with injuries when it came to the offensive line.”

Or, it’s been better than a year ago at this time. The Sooners spent most of the 2012 season plugging gaps on the offensive line. Seemed a different starter missed every game due to an injury.

Building a cohesive unit was offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh’s goal since he took over the job in March. It’s five parts working in unison — like a machine.

“It’s been really important ever since last year,” right tackle Daryl Williams said. “Compared to last year, it’s way better, because last year, we just lost a guy here and then another guy. It was like a chain reaction, you know. But it’s really important. I’m glad we made it this far somewhat healthy, better than last year.”

Against Kansas State, the Sooners rolled up 472 yards on just 73 plays. The third-down conversion rate was 9 for 15 because OU rarely faced a third-and-long scenario.

Most importantly, the group has allowed the Sooners to transition from a passing team to a running team this season. The Sooners rushed for 301 yards in the victory over the Wildcats. With temperatures below freezing and gusty winds, the ability to run the ball was essential.

The forecast calls for similar elements next Saturday at Pickens Stadium against Oklahoma State (10-1, 7-1).

“For the most part, with the exception of the Baylor game, we’ve played pretty well in the run game. It was a focus. We knew that it was going to be tough conditions coming in here, cold. We knew we had to run the ball,” Bedenbaugh said.

But the solidarity will be tested this week. The week off to rest helps, but the status of Thompson and Shead are not givens.

The Sooners will have a better idea who’s in and who’s out Monday.

“For Tyrus to go down, obviously left tackle is an extremely important position. A guy goes down, you’ve got other good players and other talented guys to step in,” Ikard said. “No matter who we put at left or we have to shuffle guys around, we’ll get the job done.”