Marcus Major took the handoff and headed left as redshirt junior lineman Tyrese Robinson engaged his man.
With a lead blocker already headed upfield, Robinson wrestled with the opposing defender, spinning him around and tossing him out of the way. Major broke through the newly-formed hole and bounced outside, dodging another tackle on his way to his first career score and giving Oklahoma a 17-10 lead over its chief rival.
Major’s touchdown was a much-needed example of better blocking by an offensive line that showed it was capable of creating running lanes and protecting the quarterback in OU’s 53-45 quadruple overtime win over Texas on Saturday. The unit’s play helped Oklahoma (2-2, 1-2 Big 12) churn out 261 passing yards and 208 rushing yards — a balance OU had not been capable of creating in the first three games of 2020.
The position group that typically competes for the Joe Moore Award as the nation’s top offensive line under coach Bill Bedenbaugh and fuels head coach Lincoln Riley’s run-to-pass offense had looked like a shell of its former self to begin the season. OU’s line has allowed 11 sacks through its first four games in 2020 as opposed to three in 2019.
Robinson said, on Tuesday, he felt that he was out of shape through Oklahoma’s first three contests, and wasn’t playing up to his own standards. After a strange offseason of COVID-19 adjustments, postponements, cancellations and an irregular slate of summer and fall practices that challenged conditioning and preparation, game four for the Sooners put Robinson and his linemates on the path to changing that narrative.
“(What) we really focused on this past week was five guys working together,” Robinson said. “It’ll be four on the same page and one person might not (be) so we just took that into consideration, reattacked that in practice and it showed during the game. But, I feel like we took the right step in what we can be this year, and there's no better way to start off than with that Texas game.”
Now, the line is set for a boost from junior UCLA transfer Chris Murray, who received an eligibility waiver for the rest of the season on Friday — an event Riley spoke of glowingly on Tuesday.
"It comes at a good time," Riley said of incorporating the player who started 24 games in his two seasons with the Bruins. "(We) get a bye week and a chance to get him up to speed. He's certainly a guy that, based on what we've seen, I believe will have a chance to contribute for us this year."
Throughout Oklahoma’s win over Texas, Bedenbaugh’s unit created running lanes that allowed Major and junior T.J. Pledger to rack up three touchdowns in regulation. In the second half in particular, its protection of quarterback Spencer Rattler improved after he was sacked into a fumble during the first half that likely contributed to his temporary benching shortly thereafter.
While it hasn’t lived up to the reputation of the 2018 Moore Award winning line or last year’s semifinalist, the group found redemption in overtime on Saturday.
In the second extra period with OU facing a fourth and goal on the one-yard line that could have determined the outcome of the game, Riley had Rattler dropping back to pass.
After Texas head coach Tom Herman’s timeout deleted the play just after OU showed its hand, Riley changed his mind, trusting the line to shove Rattler into the end zone. They delivered, plowing the redshirt freshman passer and the ball past the goal line to secure a 45-38 lead.
“I don't want to go too much into the decision, but obviously it was a play that we felt good about executing, because obviously if you don't get it there they've got a heck of a kicker themselves, and your chances aren't as high as you would want there,” Riley said after the game. “I just had a lot of faith in the line, (Rattler) and those guys to get push, get it in there, and we did.”
If OU hopes to will itself back into the conference title race after a rough start, Riley’s ability to trust in that push becomes all the more paramount. He will need to lean on veterans like Robinson and redshirt junior center Creed Humphrey to bring others along, helping the offense control the clock and setting the example with their play.
As Murray joins the fold and Oklahoma takes advantage of a much-needed Saturday off, Bedenbaugh is looking for an increase in physicality. While Bedenbaugh credited his players for their best game yet against the Longhorns (2-2, 1-2 Big 12), Robinson said his position coach wants the group to go from not just simply blocking guys, but to utterly overpowering them.
“He said that we did improve,” Robinson said. “It's a lot of plays we left out there on the field that could have been a bigger run or more yards on certain types of carries. But just as far as this week goes, he just wants us to attack. Like our hand placements on guys, finishing blocks, staying low because like he said, we have the potential to like, dominate our guys. And he said we're doing a good job of blocking them but we need to be dominating guys.”