Guerin: What OU must have from its running game

Guerin: What OU must have from its running game

The Sooners don’t need big games from their rushing attack, just a productive series now and then, or even productive moments in those series.

Guerin Emig

By Guerin Emig

| Sep 23, 2023, 11:40pm CDT

Guerin Emig

By Guerin Emig

Sep 23, 2023, 11:40pm CDT

CINCINNATI — Oklahoma will move the ball and score points this season according to Dillon Gabriel and his big-play receivers. OU’s 20-6 victory at Cincinnati, though lower on explosiveness than we’re accustomed to, does not change that fact.

The Sooners don’t need big games from their rushing attack, just a productive series now and then, or even productive moments in those series.

Left tackle Walter Rouse put it like this from a Nippert Stadium tunnel Saturday afternoon: “The fact that we have those weapons with Dillon Gabriel at his disposal, we don’t need to have 300 yards rushing.”

OU will settle for 47 yards on a decisive drive. That’s what Gabriel and running backs Marcus Major and Tawee Walker contributed to OU’s second drive of the second half, one that traveled 75 yards and finished with Gabriel in the end zone for a 17-6 lead.

Major ran for 18, 9 and 4 yards along the way. Gabriel carried for 9 and was hit late for another 15. Walker carried for 6 to the Cincinnati 1-yard line. Gabriel plunged into the end zone on the next play. 

“We got in a little more of a rhythm running the football,” offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby said of OU’s second half. “I thought the backs did a really nice job. I thought we finished blocks a little bit better and gave ourselves a chance to go win.”

I’m not sure about the second half. The Sooners didn’t run the ball in the third quarter outside that 75-yard touchdown drive. They had 10 rushes for 23 yards in the fourth quarter.

But that touchdown drive? Major and Walker did do a nice job. The offensive line did finish blocks a little better. Tyler Guyton was especially noticeable pulling and blocking from his right tackle position. 

Was it as simple as OU’s offensive line being stronger over 75 yards?

“It’s not about strength,” right guard McKade Mettauer countered. “It’s really about the technique, especially playing guys like No. 2 and 0 (Cincinnati star defensive linemen Dontay Corleone and Jowon Briggs).”

Was it OU’s running backs wanting to prove a point? It was worth asking since the Sooners featured no backs in the offensive formation that opened the third quarter. 

These backs gotta at least be seen, don’t they?

“No doubt,” Major said from the Nippert tunnel. “No doubt.”

So you were trying to prove a point that second drive of the second half?

That was just some good play-calling from ‘Leb,’” Major deflected. “It was on us to make it happen. That’s what we did. We knew that was what we were supposed to do coming in.”

Whatever the case, OU’s run game made it happen on that one critical drive. 

“You’ve got to be able to run the ball effectively…” head coach Brent Venables said. “Physicality and precision and some of our schemes, everything matters.”

Everything was better as Major, Walker and Gabriel carried six times for 47 yards to make it OU 17, UC 6. It was much better than it had been up to that point, when OU had 17 carries for 41 yards.

The Sooners want more than one good series. They want 5 yards per rush over a game, not the 3 they managed at Cincinnati. They want a more balanced offense to make opposing defenses more honest 

Which is fine, so long they don’t force a full balance. That diminishes the best part of the offense, Gabriel’s connection with his receivers. 

What they can’t have is a run game disappearance. That literally happened to start the first series of the second half.

The second series was more like it. Major reappeared. Gabriel and Walker carried some. The run mixed nicely with Gabriel’s two completions to Drake Stoops and a third-and-7 throw to Andrel Anthony to the Cincinnati 7. 

It isn’t balance needed here, just an occasional complement. 

If we have 300-plus yards in the run game, 300-plus yards in the pass game, it doesn’t hurt,” Rouse said. “But just doing as much as we can.”

Maxing out in the run game Saturday came down to one drive in the third quarter. It was enough.

It might be enough moving forward.

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Guerin Emig is a columnist for the Sellout Crowd network. Read his work at selloutcrowd.com and guerinemig.com. Reach out with feedback and/or ideas at [email protected] or (918) 629-6229. Follow him on Twitter at @GuerinEmig and Instagram at @guerin.emig. .

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