- Brandon Chatmon, ESPN Staff Writer
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NORMAN, Okla. -- For the only time since 2004, Oklahoma is averaging more rushing yards per game than passing yards this season. Despite rotating featured backs, the Sooners ground game has been tremendous, averaging 234 yards per game (5.21 yards per carry) with three games of 250 rushing yards or more.
OU is averaging 435 total yards per game with 201 yards coming through the air this season. In the four previous seasons, the Sooners averaged 478.9 yards per game including 149.02 rushing yards (4.02 ypc) and 329.87 passing yards.
New offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh must be happy with the results during his first season in Norman as OU's running game has taken a clear step forward in 2013. Here’s a closer look at the numbers for Sooners’ running game and what those numbers could mean for the future. (Stats courtesy of ESPN Stats and Information.)
Yards before contact: The Sooners yards before contact numbers are impressive and that’s a sign the offensive line has consistently done its job this season. Blake Bell and Keith Ford are the only two Sooners ball carriers who have gained more yards after contact than before contact. Brennan Clay and Damien Williams, the Sooners top two rushers, have each gained at least half of their yardage before contact. Clay has 379 yards before contact and 159 yards after contact while Williams had 247 yards before contact and 165 yards after contact.
Undoubtedly these numbers will take a hit with the injury to fullback Trey Millard, who paved the way on the majority of these carries. Nonetheless the Sooners offensive line remains intact and has been solid and consistent throughout the season.
Yards inside the tackles: The Sooners main rushers have 147 carries for 673 yards (4.57 ypc) on designed runs inside the tackles. Clay has had the most success between the tackles with 227 rushing yards. OU’s interior offensive line of Gabe Ikard, Bronson Irwin and Adam Shead is a veteran group with Nila Kasitati bringing nastiness to the unit. A lot of this success rests on their shoulders. The Sooners have shown the ability to run the ball right down the throat of opponents and if they can continue to have that success it would help them greatly in November, particularly when try travel to Baylor on Nov. 7.
The use of tight ends: While the majority of their rushes have come without a tight end on the field -- 181 rushes for 1,017 yards and five touchdowns to be exact -- the Sooners use of a double tight end package has proved successful. With Millard and Aaron Ripkowski often playing the role of tight ends, OU has 26 carries for 161 yards (6.2 yards per rush) and two touchdowns. (Note: When these stats are recorded, a versatile player like Millard is considered a fullback when lined up in the backfield and a tight end when lined up along the line of scrimmage). OU's success with "big" packages is a drastic change from the high-flying Sooners offense that was commonplace in recent years.
Running at will: One of the reasons the Sooners made a change in offensive line coaches was their struggles to run the football in key moments in 2012. That hasn’t seemed to be a problem for OU this year.
Even though the passing game has struggled, OU is averaging 6.7 yards per carry with seven defenders in the box. In that scenario, the Sooners have 128 carries for 854 yards and four touchdowns. They’ve even had measurable success with eight defenders in the box (45 carries, 161 yards, 3.6 yards per carry).
Having this ability makes life easier for quarterback Blake Bell and has lessened the pressure for the Sooners’ passing game to find a consistent rhythm. If OU can continue to have running success regardless of how the defense tries to stop them, the odds of its inconsistent passing attack costing them another game, like it did against Texas, will decrease.
Fourth quarter success: The Sooners have bled the clock with a fourth-quarter lead in several games this season including last week’s 38-30 win over Texas Tech. OU is averaging 12 carries for 68.58 yards and 5.4 yards per carry in the fourth quarter this season.
This was one of the top priorities for OU’s offense heading into the season, so the Sooners ability to consistently run the ball in the fourth quarter when they need to must be encouraging for Bob Stoops’ squad. Having that ability could definitely come into play down the home stretch of the season with several potential close games including Baylor and Oklahoma State remaining in November.
Oklahoma is a program that has consistently had success running the ball, averaging 176.05 rushing yards per game since 2004, but these numbers reveal the Sooners may have accomplished their offseason goal of greatly improving their running game in 2013.
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