How big of an issue is the O-line for Sooners?
NORMAN — By the time OU quarterback Spencer Rattler handed the ball to running back Kennedy Brooks early in the second quarter of Saturday’s 16-13 win over West Virginia, there was nowhere for Brooks to go.
Mountaineers’ defensive lineman Akheem Mesidor was already in Brooks’ face.
Brooks managed to sidestep Mesidor, but Jordan Jefferson got up off the turf and held Brooks up enough for cornerback Nicktroy Fortune to finish off the tackle.
A play later, the pocket collapsed around Rattler by the time he got set to throw, leaving him with no line of vision downfield and scrambling away from the pocket.
While Rattler caught plenty of heat from the crowd and on social media during and after the game, the back-to-back plays illustrate that there’s issues that go much deeper than Rattler when it comes to the Sooners’ offense. Chief among those are the offensive line.
If OU can’t establish some running
presence, it’s hard to keep defenses honest.
If Rattler can’t have time to move through his progressions and receivers don’t have time to get open — or downfield — it’s hard to have a dangerous vertical passing threat.
Right now, the Sooners have neither of those things.
Before the season, OU offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh praised his group overall, especially for their depth, saying he was as excited about the offensive line early in camp as he had been since 2018 — when the Sooners started Bobby Evans, Ben Powers, Creed Humphrey, Dru Samia and Cody Ford across the front.
“The talent’s there. The ability’s there,” Bedenbaugh said. “And every guy in that room has the ability to start and win games for us. But it’s gotta be every day, and that’s the mentality you have to take. You can’t have a great day and say, ‘Oh, OK, I’ve arrived.’ Because really, any position, but especially offensive line, you never arrive. It’s a constant grind of continuing to get better.”
In Saturday’s win, the Sooners managed just 57 rushing yards. It was the program’s lowest rushing output since OU had just 15 yards on the ground against Notre Dame in 2012, and the lowest in a win since rushing for 25 in a 35-10 win over TCU in 2008.
“We’ve got to execute better and win our job and win our one-on-ones up front and we won’t have that problem,” right tackle Tyrese Robinson said.
The 313 yards of total offense were the third-fewest for the Sooners during the Lincoln Riley era, behind only last seasons’ 269 in a win over Baylor and 278 in a loss to Texas in 2015, Riley’s first season.
“I don’t want to make it like it was just some bloodbath out there and we were just awful on the offensive line, cause we weren’t,” Riley said after Saturday’s win. “There was just some individual plays that showed up and we just got beat. It felt like in the first half, every single one of them hit where we felt like we had it, like, dialed (in). It’s just one of those halves. It just was.”
There’s still time for things to come together.
The group did last year after an upand-down start with largely the same personnel as it had from the start.
But the window for a major improvement is narrowing.
The Sooners have a tough stretch that includes Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. game at Kansas State followed by the annual clash with Texas in the Cotton Bowl.
Bedenbaugh and Riley have made some switches, moving Andrew Raym into the starting lineup at center against West Virginia after he took over for Robert Congel early in the win over Nebraska, and then inserting Wanya Morris for much of the second half against the Mountaineers after OU gained just 91 yards — 18 on the ground — in the first half.
But Raym and Morris each had their own moments of struggle, including Raym on that initial carry by Brooks and Morris on a second-half sack of Rattler.
“We have potential,” Riley said, speaking of his offense as a whole, though he might as well have been speaking about the offensive line. “We’re kind of fighting our way through it. We’re kind of trying to find ourselves a little bit, and if we’ll stay together, keep working, keep improving, we will find ourselves.”