OU football: Offense proves it can withstand high play counts, wear down defenses
The remnants of Saturday’s nail-biting win over Oklahoma State still lingered in the achy muscles of the Oklahoma offense this week after the football team was forced to hurdle over the century mark in plays run for the first time this season; but it was that type of tenacity by a veteran group of offensive playmakers to overcome physical fatigue that allowed the Sooners to escape with the three-point victory.
Although the Sooners already proved they are an offense that can withstand the physical beating of staying on the field for a large number of snaps — OU ran 90 plays against Texas — the coaching staff showed admiration for a starting offense that was able to make the necessary plays late in a game to earn the win.
“I was amazed that we ran that many plays and we had 44 first downs,” co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said. “I’ve never been associated with a football game where we got that many first downs. But right now, there’s no room for error in this conference; every pass counted, every block counted, and if we had 43 (first downs), we may not have won that ballgame.”
The 44 first downs were the most gained by an OU offense in the program’s history and fell just shy of the NCAA record for first downs in a single game set at 45. (2003, Tech Tech vs. Iowa State). With that type of high-powered success, coupled with 593 total offensive yards at the end of regulation, OU easily should have dealt the Cowboys its third conference loss without issue.
However, the curious case of the missing defenses from both teams allowed the 107th Bedlam game to turn into an offensive shootout that required extra time to decide a winner in the state’s biggest rivalry.
“It’s draining and exhausting to play in those games; it’s also hard to get back up for practice and hard to forget about that game, to move on to the next opponent,” senior quarterback Landry Jones said. “But we’ve got a very capable defense in TCU coming up, and we have to be ready for them.”
Even though Jones threw a career-high 71 passes for his third-career game of 500-plus passing yards, he wasn’t the only Sooner who felt the aftershocks of running that many plays.
“I felt it more on Saturday after the game,” junior center Gabe Ikard said. “Running that many plays will always take a toll on our bodies, but when you have the ball that long, you’re going to tire out some guys on the other side of the ball.”
One factor that allowed OU to steal the win from the Cowboys in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter was taking more than six minutes to complete a 17-play, 86-yard drive that set up the game-tying touchdown to force overtime. For the Sooners to negate the 45-38 lead OSU held halfway through the fourth quarter, the team had to convert two third-down plays and one crucial fourth down, on which sophomore quarterback Blake Bell ran over the tackle for the score. Altogether, the Sooners notched seven first downs during the drive.
“(Being able to finish that drive) speaks to our consistency and the type of shape the players are physically in,” co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “It also speaks to them being able to execute on third downs.”
While the touchdown gave the OU offense the momentum it needed down the stretch to stay in the ballgame, the long drive wore down the OSU defense that couldn’t make the last stand while backed up inside the redzone. The Cowboys also couldn’t come out during the overtime period, allowing 25 yards on just two plays that ended up costing them the win.
And knowing that the Sooners have the capability of wearing down opposing defenses’ legs is something that has already helped OU gain momentum going into the regular-season finale against TCU this weekend on the road.
“Whenever you run one hundred plays, you know you’re running a pretty good tempo,” Norvell said. “It gives us confidence to know we’re capable of functioning at a high level, especially by the way we had to beat a good Oklahoma State team with a lot of plays, and we know we’re conditioned to not allow our legs to go out from under us.
“That helps us finish ballgames.”