The Sooners will need their run game on Saturday.
True freshman quarterback Caleb Williams has hit his first rough patch of his career, and things are shaping up for another long day against the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
After struggles against talented Baylor and Iowa State defenses, Williams will see another step up in competition in Stillwater, as the Cowboys boast one of the elite units in the country.
Lincoln Riley has confidence that Williams can rebound and be excellent for OU in Bedlam, but if the Sooners can get Kennedy Brooks rolling on the ground, it would go a long way in helloing take the pressure off the young quarterback.
“When (Brooks has) played good, we played pretty good,” Riley said during his weekly press conference on Tuesday. “It’ll be important. He's had some good games in the past against these guys, and been key to some victories before and we know this year's a new year, new challenge, but he and our run game are obviously a big part of what we do.”
Last week, Brooks was able to have success against Iowa State’s unique defense, rushing for 115 yards on 17 carries.
Riley’s offense has often been an its best when he can get one or more of his running backs going. Being able to consistently grind out yardage on first down can open up the passing game down the field, and continued success on the ground will make the RPO game with Williams even more dangerous if linebackers and defensive lineman have to be weary of Brooks.
But frustratingly, the Sooners have struggled to find much consistency on the ground at all this year.
Even a week ago, despite a big day on the ground, the rushing success fluctuated wildly from drive to drive.
Brooks is a special back, however, and when he’s on, he can turn a game on its head all by himself with his heroics when he bursts through the offensive line and gets into the open field.
“Kennedy did a good job of getting to the second level and breaking tackles (against Iowa State),” tight end/H-back Jeremiah Hall said during a Zoom press conference on Tuesday. “A lot of those yards came off one or two broken tackles and then he breaks for another 15 or 20 (yards).”
Hall said the offensive line deserved plenty of credit too, something the OU offense hopes will continue in Stillwater.
“A lot of credit to (Brooks), but also a lot of credit to the O-line,” Hall said. “They got into a little bit of a rhythm. Communication was very smooth. Like you said, we plan on taking that same momentum and carrying over that confidence, our communication and confidence in Kennedy breaking tackles. Hopefully, we can get some similar results."
The dream scenario for OU would probably look a bit like Oklahoma’s 2019 beatdown of Jim Knowles’ defense.
Brooks ran wild in Stillwater, carrying the ball 22 times and gaining 160 yards while finding the end zone once. Mobile quarterback Jalen Hurts also had a nice day on the ground, picking up 61 yards and a score with his legs en route to a steady performance from Riley’s offense.
This year’s Oklahoma State defense is much better than they were two years ago, but so is Brooks, who has looked as elusive this year as he ever has out of the Oklahoma backfield.
Pair a nice game from Brooks with Williams’ running ability, which in flashes has shown to be even more explosive than Hurts was on the ground, and the recipe could be there for the Sooners to grind out tough yards on the ground.
Even if OU isn’t scoring, if they can move the chains a few times on the ground before drives stall out, they’ll keep OSU’s defense on the field and allow their own defense to rest up, putting Alex Grinch’s unit in a much better position to be fresh at the end of the game than they were against either Iowa State or Baylor.
Oklahoma’s offense will have to be special to score on Saturday, and a lot of that will start by having success on the ground.
“There's nothing like being able to run the football at a high level on the road,” Riley said. “Against a group like (Oklahoma State’s defense), that's been that's been good defensively against the run, that'll be probably one of the keys to the game.”
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