OU offensive line hopes to return to form

October, 8, 2008
10/08/08
12:04
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Oklahoma offensive linemen remember their struggles two weeks ago against TCU with a mixture of embarrassment and disgust.

 
 J.P Wilson/Icon SMI
 Oklahoma's offensive line will have its hands full with Texas on Saturday.

The Sooners' talented and experienced offensive line was counted as one of the team's biggest strengths and perhaps the best collective group in the country. But it still didn't explain a clunker that saw it produce only 25 rushing yards and allow four sacks against the Horned Frogs.

"They had a good scheme and just outworked us," Oklahoma guard Brandon Walker said. "There's not much more than you can say about it than that. We didn't feel good about it and I can assure you we heard about it the whole next week."

Fortunately for the Sooners, Sam Bradford's passing skills enabled them to blister the Horned Frogs with a 35-10 victory that day that boosted them to the No. 1 position in the national polls.

But it still doesn't give them much solace as they prepare for Saturday's game against Texas, which is judged to be one of the nation's top defensive lines. Saturday's game at the Cotton Bowl should be the most significant challenge in the trenches this season for the Sooners.

The Longhorns lead the nation in sacks and lead the Big 12 and are third nationally in rush defense. Senior defensive end Brian Orakpo has played like an All-American during his first five games, ranking third nationally in average sacks per game (1.1 spg).

Orakpo is capably supported by mammoth 295-pound senior nose tackle Roy Miller, converted running back Henry Melton at defensive end and Lamarr Houston andAaron Lewis who share time at the other defensive tackle slot.

"They are a really talented front with a great combination of speed and power," Walker said. "But we see a fast defense play every day. This will be like going through our practices. It's a great challenge and one that both teams have been looking forward to for a long time."

The Sooners' veteran front features four seniors in starting guards Duke Robinson and Walker, starting center Jon Cooper and starting tackles Trent Williams and Phil Loadholt. The unit has combined for 126 starts, making their backslide against TCU even more stunning.

The offensive line had banded together after the disappointment of the Sooners' Fiesta Bowl loss to West Virginia with something to prove. Some of the senior members had considered declaring for the NFL Draft, but decided to come back after the bowl game loss.

"The way we finished left a big hole for all of us," said Williams, the only junior among the senior-laden group. "Our goals for last season when we went in and where we finished weren't the same. That was disappointing. It brought us all back together with an idea of unfinished business."

After the disappointment in the TCU game, the Sooners went back to the drawing board to improve. It helped inspire them to a 49-17 victory last week at Baylor, jumping on the Bears for touchdowns on their first four possessions.

The Sooners rolled up 594 yards, 217 rushing yards, five rushing touchdowns and allowed no sacks. It was a building block heading into the Texas game.

"TCU stopped our running game, but we were able to get it back last week," Bradford said. "We were balanced in how we ran and threw the ball. Everything is back where we want it to be."

New Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, a familiar nemesis who cooked up the defensive game plan that sparked LSU to the 2003 national championship game victory over the Sooners, hopes to disrupt that harmony.

The TCU game provided a few clues, although Muschamp says he's seen other ways to attack the Sooners' defensive front.

"TCU brought a lot of pressure, but obviously they gave up four explosive plays for 60-plus yards. You live by it, you die by it," Muschamp said. "When you want to pressure and eliminate the run game or maybe affect Bradford, you have to realize that they have very good skill people outside and he's very accurate against pressure. You've got to pressure him at the right time."

A combination of defensive looks and pressure schemes will be the best way to attack the Sooners, Muschamp said.

The Longhorns also will need to make Bradford uncomfortable in the pocket. Pressuring him will be important to camouflage a young secondary that includes two redshirt freshmen starters at safety in Earl Thomas and Blake Gideon and sophomore Chykie Brown at cornerback.

That group will be tested by Oklahoma's deep collection of receiving talent. The Sooners will have better receivers than any team Texas has faced this season.

"You've got to be multiple in what you do. You can't be stuck in one thing the whole game because if he knows what you're in, Sam's going to do a good job of exploiting it," Muschamp said. "Because of the no-huddle, they're able to see a lot of what you're going to do. We have to do a great job of moving around, disguising what we run and being multiple."

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said that the comparison between Muschamp's earlier success at LSU and this year is not entirely accurate.

"That was some while ago," Stoops said. "Some of what they do I'm sure is similar. Some has evolved and you're working with different personnel. But we're a much different team than we were in 03 and they're not LSU."

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