Oklahoma football has had a great couple of weeks with important wins over TCU and Texas. If I were the one handing out game balls or helmet stickers in recognition of that on-the-field success, the Sooner O-line would be at the top of the list.
Oct 8, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Oklahoma Sooners running back Samaje Perine (32) and wide receiver Jordan Smallwood (17) and offensive lineman Ben Powers (72) celebrate a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Texas Longhorns at Cotton Bowl. Oklahoma won 45-40. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
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It’s almost a given that when the offense is firing on all cylinders, it is the playmakers and players at the skill positions that get most of the credit. But the truth is, teams that move the ball at will and put up large numbers of the scoreboard are only as good as the guys who man the trenches on the front line. The brotherhood former head coach and TV analyst John Madden likes to call the “Big Uglies.”
No one close to Sooner football would deny that 2016 has been a rough road so far for this team. Four of Oklahoma’s first five games have been against opponents that are or at one time this season were ranked.
“It’s been a year that nothing has been easy, it really hasn’t,” said assistant coach and defensive coordinator Mike Stoops following the Sooners victory over Texas on Saturday. “There’s nothing that’s been easy, with injuries, continuity, the teams we’ve played, the dynamic offenses.”
The Sooners have been worn thin with injuries on both sides of the ball. While the defense has taken the biggest hit, with as many as five starters out against Texas last weekend and then losing two more in the course of the game, the Oklahoma offensive line has been a bit of a patchwork unit, as well.
The past couple of games, the Sooner O-line has been without two starters (guard Cody Ford and guard/center Jonathan Alvarez). Despite being down two starters, senior walk-on Erick Wren (now on scholarship) and sophomore Ben Powers have stepped in and played extremely well in the absence of Alvarez and Ford.
The O-line has played so well in the past two games that the Oklahoma offense appears to have finally hit its stride, exploding for a total of 1,206 offensive yards, an average of 603 yards per game.
What’s more, it has been a relatively balanced dose of both the running game and the Sooners’ aerial assault behind junior quarterback Baker Mayfield. Which further underscores the protection and up-front blocking being provided by the guys on the front line at the point of attack.
“You can have great receivers, great backs and great quarterbacks, but if you can’t do it up front, you can’t get those things,” said offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley following the Texas game.
“You can’t be balanced. That group (the offensive linemen) – more than any with all the lineup shuffles that we’ve had to deal with – were the MVPs of the (Texas) game Easily.”
Asked how he struck the perfect run-pass balance in the win over Texas, Riley replied: “I didn’t do it. They did it…Just a great performance by all those guys.”
And it all starts up front with the “Big Uglies” on the O-line.