OU football: Sooners need offensive line, running game to step up against Texas
No. 13 Oklahoma will need its freshman wide receivers and thinned offensive line to step up under pressure Saturday when the Sooners clash with No. 15 Texas at the Cotton Bowl.
Although OU comes into the game with a statistically better passing offense (273.2yds/game) than Texas sophomore quarterback David Ash and Co.'s (268 yards per game), the Sooners have had some trouble in the first couple weeks of the season connecting with senior quarterback Landry Jones.
But having that additional bye week before the Texas Tech game allowed OU’s receivers to practice their routes and get more in sync with the team’s captain, who could become OU’s all-time winningest quarterback this weekend.
“The only guy that really has experience with the offense out there is (junior wide receiver) Kenny (Stills), and he’s playing in a new position at slot,” co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “So having any time to practice and learn how to get better is big for us.”
OU’s receivers came off the bye week and combined for 259 receiving yards against a Texas Tech team touting the nation’s top defensive unit, which was allowing an average of 82 yards of total offense against its first four opponents.
Jones connected with senior wide receiver Justin Brown for Brown's first touchdown reception with the Sooners since he transferred from Penn State, while freshman wide receiver Durron Neal caught his career-long pass of 25 yards against the Red Raiders and junior running back Damien Williams led the team with 82 yards on six receptions.
But after it looked like OU was finally clicking on all cylinders offensively, the Sooners lost another man for the season — redshirt freshman guard Nila Kasitati (torn ACL) — in their line rotation that was already thinned due to injuries.
“It’s hard to have a man go down because this is what we love to do,” sophomore left guard Adam Shead said. “Just means (I’ll have) more reps.”
Another person who may be called into action during Kasitati’s absence is junior offensive lineman Austin Woods, who is listed as the backup to junior right guard Bronson Irwin.
The junior out of Rockwall, Texas, was the team’s starting deep snapper on place kicks and played on the offensive line in four games in 2011. Woods also battled through chemotherapy treatments after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma last spring, but after finishing his last treatment a week ago, Woods said he’s starting to regain his full strength.
“With Nila down, everyone has to pick up their play, and there’s six, seven guys in the rotation,” Woods said. “There’s three tackles, three guards and (junior center) Gabe (Ikard), and I’ll just be ready to step in whenever I’m called.”
But even with a weakened offensive line, OU will need to buy more time against the Texas pass rush that is looking to disrupt Jones’ bid to become only the fourth Sooner quarterback to win the Red River Rivalry game three consecutive years as a starter.
The Sooners’ key to success last week was finding ways to attack with a balanced offense, and the team was able to extend drives with the running game, scoring two rushing touchdowns with sophomore quarterback Blake Bell under center. OU will be going up against a Texas team that is tied for 83rd in rush defense, giving up more than 182 yards per game on the ground.
And if Texas senior defensive end Alex Okafor and junior defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat find ways to put too much pressure on Jones, OU will need its ground game to make up the difference.
“They say whoever runs the ball the best in this game wins, so we’re just ready to go out there and get after them,” Woods said.