Run game in focus as No. 7 Sooners host Air Force
No team in college football has been better at running the ball this season than Air Force.
Since Bob Stoops took over a dozen years ago, few teams have stopped the run more effectively than Oklahoma.
Come Saturday, it'll be strength against strength when the seventh-ranked Sooners (2-0) put their nation-best 32-game home winning streak on the line against the Falcons (2-0), whose ground game is averaging a whopping 423 yards rushing.
Stopping the Falcons' complicated, triple-option spread running game is no simple task.
''If they were just so predictable, they wouldn't be beating people like they are and they wouldn't be putting up the numbers that they are,'' Sooners defensive tackle Jamarkus McFarland said.
While the Falcons are rolling up huge numbers on the ground, they have only one player who's averaging more than 100 yards rushing - Asher Clark, at 102.5 per game. They split the carries in a unique offense that Stoops says isn't like anything the Sooners have faced lately or figure to see again anytime soon.
''It's rare that you play against it,'' he said. ''So, it's a lot of preparation, a lot of time that's put into something that you're only going to do one time.''
The key, though, is learning to do it right. The Sooners' discipline and attention to detail will be tested against an offense as well-suited as any to chew up the clock and make any game interesting.
''It's a challenge,'' McFarland said. ''And if you're going to be a great team, you have to overcome these type of obstacles.''
Air Force had two separate drives that drained more than 7 1/2 minutes off the clock last week against BYU, with the first one turning the tide to start a run of 28 unanswered points in the 35-14 victory. The Falcons have allowed only 132 combined yards in the second half of their first two games while outscoring opponents 55-0.
''Everybody talks about they have great kids at Air Force - the character, discipline and whatnot. But these guys are trained to go to war, so they're not sissies,'' Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said. ''They're trained to kill people, so they play hard, violent and fast.''
The programs haven't met since 2001, when Oklahoma won 44-3 in Colorado in its first game after winning the national championship. Since then, former Falcons quarterback Troy Calhoun has taken over for longtime coach Fisher DeBerry and expanded on his option offense.
''It'll look to the naked eye to a lot of people like they haven't changed, but they have,'' Stoops said. ''They've got some different wrinkles even from a year ago. They're different in the way they design the plays and how creative they are in designing their plays.''
After snapping a six-game losing streak against conference rival BYU last week, Calhoun refused to bill this week's game as a chance to see where his program stacks up on a national stage. He said he looks at it as more of a chance to gauge his players' individual development than as a barometer for his program.
Calhoun is 0-2 against teams from conferences with automatic bids to the BCS, but proof of his success can be seen in wins against Notre Dame, TCU and Utah and trips to bowl games in his first three seasons as head coach.
''I don't know if it's always pegged completely based upon somebody else,'' Calhoun said. ''Certainly, you're going to play an excellent football team this Saturday, extraordinarily talented, great, phenomenal history and a tremendous environment, too.''
Oklahoma for nine straight seasons has had a run defense ranked in the top 20, and And Air Force could be without second-leading rusher Jared Tew, whose status was questionable due to a swollen hand.
''I just think offensively being able to make some first downs is going to be key, and then defensively being able to get off the field is going to be a crucial part of the game - as it is every single week,'' Calhoun said. ''It's just you're going to encounter some good sized bodies that move exceptionally well.''