STILLWATER — Head coach Lincoln Riley traded the air raid for the ground game Saturday night.
Senior quarterback Jalen Hurts threw the ball just 16 times in No. 7 Oklahoma’s (11-1, 8-1 Big 12) 34-16 win over No. 21 Oklahoma State (8-4, 5-4 Big 12). It was his lowest number of passes all season, and the result was the Sooners controlling the ground and the clock.
In a season where OU’s offensive line is dealing with filling in the gaps of four senior linemen who left for the NFL while making ends meet with injuries, the unit has recently been able to cling to a consistent starting lineup. It’s showing up in the stats — as seen by the team’s 366 yards rushing against TCU the week before — and Riley’s rising amount of rushing calls.
That's why in the third quarter, up 20-16 while staring 93 yards to the end zone, the Sooners ran the ball nine times out of 11 snaps. The drive ended with a 3-yard touchdown from Brooks to put OU up 27-16, after 6:19 was taken off the clock. Of the nine rushes, Brooks accounted for eight. Hurts threw the ball only twice.
“I’d say it’s one of the top games we’ve played,” redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Adrian Ealy said. “It really starts up front. I’d say we’re showing that mentality that we can run the ball.”
Brooks rushed for 160 yards — a season high — and a touchdown on 22 attempts, his second-highest amount of attempts this season behind his performance against the Horned Frogs. The team finished with 283 rushing yards on 44 attempts and controlled the clock, holding the ball for 34:03 to the Cowboys’ 25:57 possession time.
OU’s offensive line had four penalties on the night, but all four came in garbage time during the last two OU drives. But during the snaps that mattered, the offensive line was a rock for Riley, and the increased amount of rushing attempts reflects what Riley describes as growing trust.
“I think (choosing to run more has) been just the way the games have gone here as of late,” Riley said. “I think some of it is what was a new, inexperienced offensive line is starting to come together and do some really, really good things. And then I think settling in on Kennedy on the feature back has been part of it.”
In his past two games, Brooks has season highs on yardage and carries. Since his three rushing attempts in OU’s 48-41 loss at Kansas State, his next four games have tallied 15, 18, 25 and 22 attempts.
“I just feel like my role has kind of changed a little bit, from earlier in the season to now,” Brooks said. “At the end of the day, I just want to help this team win, no matter what it is.”
After injuries from experienced linemen such as Ealy, redshirt junior Erik Swenson and redshirt sophomore Marquis Hayes, the timing of this unit coming together is critical. OU is still within shouting distance of cracking the four teams selected for the College Football Playoff, and with a rematch against No. 9 Baylor in the Big 12 Championship game, Riley and the run game will rely heavily on the trenches.
“It’s important,” Riley said of getting timely momentum from his offensive line. “It’s what we’ve kind of counted on the whole way — that if we could survive early there a little bit, especially with all the injuries and different lineups we’ve had ... we might be prepared to play pretty good here at the end.”