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Coach Speak: Oklahoma Looking to Get Young RB Duo More Involved vs. Tulsa

Oklahoma offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby said the Sooners will work to get Jovantae Barnes and Gavin Sawchuk more touches in the running game moving forward.

NORMAN — Oklahoma’s final non-conference game will also be the first road trip of the year.

The No. 19-ranked Sooners (2-0) won’t have to leave the state, but will travel along the Turner Turnpike to take on the Tulsa Golden Hurricane (1-1) on Saturday.

On Monday, OU offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby and defensive coordinator Ted Roof held their weekly press conferences.

Lebby started off his portion of the proceedings with a statement concerning Art Briles’ presence on the field after the Sooners’ 28-11 win over SMU on Saturday night, before turning the focus to this week’s matchup.

Tweaking the Run Game

Running back Tawee Walker led OU rushers with his first career 100-yard game as a Sooner against SMU.

Running back Tawee Walker led OU rushers with his first career 100-yard game as a Sooner against SMU.

Oklahoma’s offense struggled to get into rhythm against SMU until late in the contest.

Running back Tawee Walker eventually got going, rushing for 117 yards on 21 carries, but the Sooners only averaged 4.0 yards per carry on Saturday night.

OU likely won’t need a massive performance on the ground to get past Tulsa on Saturday, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to clean up along the offensive line this week.

“The biggest thing is our guys need to strain to win one-on-ones,” Lebby said on Monday. “We were just hot and cold.

“… We have to continue to win one-on-ones to get guys in rhythm and to bring along (Jovantae Barnes) and (Gavin Sawchuk) this week while continuing to let Tawee and let Marcus be a big part of it. I do love the fact that we have a stable. We have four guys who we trust and that we can count on. We do want more explosive plays in the run game, for sure.”

After the contest, Lebby admitted the play calling was too conservative for stretches against SMU, which is something he’ll have to work on himself against Tulsa.

“We probably should have thrown it a little more to give our guys a little bit of air and give us a chance to make some plays on the perimeter,” he said.

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Young Duo Finally Up to Speed

FB - Marcus Major, Gavin Sawchuk

Redshirt freshman running back Gavin Sawchuk (27) saw his first action of the season on Saturday in OU's 28-11 win over the SMU Mustangs.

Barnes and Sawchuk both closed last year with 100-yard performances in the Cheez-It Bowl, but neither have really gotten things going in 2023.

Oklahoma is intent on changing that this week.

“We want to get (Barnes) and (Sawchuk) going,” he said. “We absolutely do. That’s something that’ll be important for us this week as we move forward and making decisions for Saturday.”

Though neither running back missed significant time, both were unable to stay fully healthy throughout the duration of fall camp.

Lebby is confident each of the young runners will be able to get a full week of practice in preparing for Tulsa, which in turn will allow them to have much larger roles in the game plan.

“It’s gonna be great that we walk into this afternoon’s practice with two guys that are really, really healthy,” Lebby said. “We were able to get them some good work last week but now moving forward, we feel good about where they’re at physically.

“Again, looking forward to getting those guys going.”

Clamping Down

Linebacker Danny Stutsman led the Sooners with 2.5 tackles for loss against SMU.

Linebacker Danny Stutsman led the Sooners with 2.5 tackles for loss against SMU.

Brent Venables wanted to see improvement across the board for the OU defense in 2023, but stopping the run was a clear emphasis this offseason.

Through two contests, Oklahoma has done a good job limiting explosive plays on the ground.

Arkansas State only popped one rush for 10 yards or more, and SMU’s high-powered offense only gained 10 yards or more on running plays three times — and the longest Mustang rush ended with Key Lawrence punching the ball free for Danny Stutsman to recover.

Adding bigger bodies up front in the transfer portal has been a help so far, but Roof has also been pleased with how the defense is attacking the run game mentally.

“I’ve seen guys being more disciplined, as far as that goes,” Roof said Monday. “We got to be able to fit — trusting the fit, trusting the defense. Because sometimes guys know the responsibility and their gap, and they caught in the middle of a play trying to look over a block or peek and try to find the ball carrier as opposed to just doing their job and letting the defense work for them.

“We’ve seen a lot more examples of that, and that needs to continue to grow and get better.”

Saturday, the Sooners will face the nation’s 26th-best rushing attack. Tulsa is averaging 214.0 rushing yards per game and 4.81 yards per carry with former Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson in charge of the Golden Hurricane attack.