No. 14 Oklahoma’s offense rolling in last 3 games
NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — Three weeks ago, Oklahoma was figuring out how to handle an upset loss to Texas.
Senior offensive linemen Ty Darlington and Nila Kasitati and offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh spoke up the next day.
“We watched the film and realized we got punched in the mouth and got embarrassed,” Darlington said. “Myself, Nila and Coach B really threw down the challenge at that point to not accept it, and to make it personal and to change it.”
Whether their words are the primary stimulant for Oklahoma’s resurgence is debatable, but the dominance that has followed is fact. The Sooners have gained at least 30 first downs in three straight games for the first time ever and have scored 50 or more points in three straight games for the first time since 2008, the year Sam Bradford won the Heisman Trophy. The run started with a 55-0 win over Kansas State, followed by a 63-27 victory over Texas Tech and a 62-7 win against Kansas.
“We’re executing right now,” Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield said. “It’s because we’re focusing on our job and our job only. It doesn’t matter what the defense is coming out and doing. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing if we go out and execute. That’s what we’ve been focusing on.”
At the heart of the turn is Oklahoma’s running game. The Sooners were throwing the ball all over the field early in the season with limited success on the ground, but now, they have found balance in new offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley’s Air Raid attack. Over the first five games, the Sooners averaged 144.7 yards rushing. In the past three, they have averaged 300.7 yards on the ground, while the passing yardage has remained virtually the same.
Some of the line’s improvement comes from the experience freshman left tackle Orlando Brown and freshman right tackle Dru Samia have gained this season.
“I’m proud of those guys stepping up and making the jump and not accepting and saying, ‘I’m a freshman, it’s going to take me a little bit,’” Darlington said. “They haven’t been content with gradual improvement. They’ve had the sense of urgency that it has to happen now. We can’t accept gradual improvement and say it’s OK and we’re going to take some lumps. That’s a loser’s mentality.”
The running game has helped make the already efficient Mayfield nearly flawless. The past three games, he has completed 77 percent of his passes for 877 yards with 11 touchdowns and just one interception. He has moved up to No. 2 nationally in passing efficiency, behind Baylor’s Seth Russell, who is now out for the season with a neck injury.
Play action passes have been especially damaging.
“The more effective you are, the better you are running the football — generally, the play-action passes become a lot more available,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “So we’ve had more of them, and we’re executing them really well.”
The combination of running backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon has emerged. Perine, a sophomore, started the season slow but now has rushed for 711 yards and a conference-leading nine touchdowns. Mixon, a freshman, has rushed for 431 yards and has 302 yards receiving going into Saturday’s home game against Iowa State.
“It’s unbelievable the effect those two guys have on a defense and how they want to play us,” Mayfield said.
The Sooners are balanced within their passing game. Seven players have at least 10 receptions and five have at least 200 yards. Sterling Shepard leads the way with 43 catches for 732 yards and six touchdowns. Dede Westbrook, a junior college transfer, has 35 grabs for 533 yards and Durron Neal has 28 receptions for 401 yards. Five of Mark Andrews’ 15 catches have gone for touchdowns.
“There’s more depth, and there’s more guys stepping up making plays, so we’re trying to use a lot of people,” Stoops said.
This version clarifies in the fourth paragraph that Oklahoma has gained at least 30 first downs in three straight games, not exactly 30.
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