No. 5 Oklahoma’s explosive offense carries shaky defense

Oklahoma wide receiver Marquise Brown (5) is tackled by West Virginia safety Josh Norwood (4) during the second half of an NCAA college football game Friday, Nov. 24, 2018, in Morgantown, W.Va. (AP Photo/Raymond Thompson)
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NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma’s offense is statistically one of the best in college football history.

It still might not be good enough to get the Sooners a Big 12 title or a slot in the College Football Playoff.

Coach Lincoln Riley’s team leads the nation in total offense and scoring offense. The Sooners average 8.9 yards per play, ahead of the FBS record of 8.6 set by Hawaii in 2006, and they have scored at least 45 points in eight straight games.

And yet, they continue to find themselves in close games. Oklahoma has allowed at least 40 points in each of its past four games — somehow, all wins. Included are a five-point win over Texas Tech, a one-point win over Oklahoma State and a three-point win over West Virginia.

Each week, Riley gets asked whether Oklahoma’s offense is tired of carrying the team.

“Everybody wants to be great on offense and great on defense both,” he said. “That’s everybody’s aspiration. It doesn’t always happen that way. It’s not easy to do. Different teams win different ways. To me, the bottom line is you either win or you don’t win.”

In their worst defensive performance yet by many measures, the Sooners gave up 704 yards last week but still edged West Virginia 59-56 . The offense likely will need to carry the load again if the fifth-ranked Sooners (11-1) are to win their fourth straight conference title Saturday in the Big 12 championship game against ninth-ranked Texas (9-3).

And Riley doesn’t care how high the score gets, as long as the game ends in a Sooner victory. A win would put Oklahoma in position to possibly reach the playoff for the second straight year and the third time in four years.

“I’m confident in the way we play ball at Oklahoma,” he said. “I’m confident in the way this league plays ball, the teams we have top to bottom in this league. We know how hard it is to win this thing. So no, we’re going to keep winning and hopefully keep checking ’em off the list and move forward.”

Oklahoma’s offense starts with quarterback Kyler Murray, the Heisman Trophy candidate and first-round Major League Baseball selection by Oakland. He didn’t just replace last year’s Heisman winner, Baker Mayfield — he’s actually been better. His passer rating is higher than Mayfield’s, plus he’s run for 853 yards — rushing numbers not seen for an Oklahoma quarterback since the school’s wishbone era in the 1970s and ’80s.

Murray believes his running ability puts him ahead of the Heisman pack.

“I don’t vote,” he said. “All I can do is go out there and play on Saturday. If they watch the games, they see how I play or whatever it is. Do I feel like I deserve to win? Yeah, but at the end of the day all I can do is go out and play.”

The Sooners feature speedster Marquise Brown at receiver. The Biletnikoff Award semifinalist leads the Sooners with 1,264 yards and 10 touchdowns. With his cousin, Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Antonio Brown watching last week against West Virginia, he caught 11 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns. CeeDee Lamb isn’t far behind with 51 catches for 882 yards and nine scores.

Oklahoma’s running game has excelled despite star running back Rodney Anderson being lost for the season in the second game. The Sooners average a nation-leading 7.0 yards per carry, a total that ranks second in school history behind the 1971 squad.

Kennedy Brooks, a freshman, has 993 yards rushing and leads the nation with 9.6 yards per carry. Trey Sermon, a power runner, has rushed for 863 yards this season. Murray adds another dimension with his breakaway speed.

Murray said he thinks the running game has improved since Texas’ 48-45 win earlier this season .

“It was the middle of the season,” he said. “You’ve got to work some things out, figure yourself out as an offense. Right now I feel like we know what we’re capable of. I mean, we’ve known what we’re capable of, but it’s one thing to say it and then doing it. Right now I think we’re playing pretty good football. I think they’ll have to respect that. We’ll see what happens.”

The Sooners rank eighth nationally in both passing and rushing yards per game and have gained least 300 yards rushing and passing in the same game five times.

“They complement each other,” Riley said. “When you’re playing the way you want, that’s the beautiful thing about it. They go hand in hand with each other. The run game wouldn’t be nearly as good without the throw game and then vice versa.”