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Oklahoma RB Gavin Sawchuk Building 'Confidence' After Hamstring Injury

The redshirt freshman running back enjoyed a bigger role against Tulsa after a hamstring injury derailed his progress in fall camp.

NORMAN — Oklahoma got Gavin Sawchuk back in the swing of things against Tulsa.

The redshirt freshman running back battled a hamstring injury through fall camp, derailing the momentum built off his 100-yard rushing performance in the Cheez-It Bowl.

He was held out of OU’s season opener against Arkansas State, and was only credited with three snaps played per PFF against SMU.

Offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby made a point that he wanted to get both Sawchuk and fellow running back Jovantae Barnes going leading into the Tulsa game, and Sawchuk’s workload reflected that last Saturday.

He played 19 snaps, rushing the ball nine times for 25 yards and a touchdown and catching another two passes in No. 16 OU’s 66-17 win over the Golden Hurricane.

“It was a lot of fun,” Sawchuk said on Tuesday. “… Great to be back, be back with the team, celebrating with the team. It was a great team win.

“So much fun to be out there with all the guys and really just celebrate all the work we put in, not just through the season, but over the summer and all that. So just a lot of fun.”

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Oklahoma’s offense sped up and down the field in its non-conference finale, though most of the damage was done through the air.

Of the Sooners’ 595 yards of total offense, 476 yards came via the passing game while only 119 yards came on the ground.

And while the secondary was a major weakness for Tulsa, Lebby wants his Oklahoma offense to be able to establish the run.

This week, things will only get more difficult.

The Sooners (3-0) will travel to take on the Cincinnati Bearcats (2-1), playing the villain in Cincinnati’s first ever Big 12 Conference contest.

Cincinnati’s defensive line will look to set the tone, as the Bearcats boast the 45th best rushing defense in the country, holding opponents to 109.7 yards per game on the ground.

Neither the offensive line or the running backs have seemed to be on the same page yet for OU, something that will have to rapidly change this weekend,

“They’ve got a great defense in general, not just the defensive line, but everybody in general,” Sawchuk said. “I mean, all games are won at the line of scrimmage.

“Those guys are the most important on the field, blocking and creating plays for everybody else. So I’m excited for it.”

Sawchuk, who said he feels fully healthy, could provide and explosive element that the OU run game has been lacking thus far.

Against a talented Florida State defense, Sawchuk rushed for 6.7 yards per carry, and he looked to have another gear he could hit whenever he burst into the open field.

FB - Gavin Sawchuk, Florida State Seminoles

Gavin Sawchuk was one of Oklahoma's breakout stars in last year's Cheez-It Bowl.

But Oklahoma hasn’t been able to break off tons of big plays on the ground.

The Sooner running backs have combined for just six runs of 15 yards or greater, with Tawee Walker’s 30-yard bruising rush against SMU holding as OU’s longest carry of the year.

Part of that has been on the offensive line still trying to gel with three new starters from last year’s unit, but Lebby believes the running backs have to help by making guys miss upfield as well.

Staying patient to read the holes up front as plays develop and breaking tackles requires running backs to get into a flow, something that Sawchuk only believes can come from working back into game shape.

“It takes some time,” he said. “A lot of being a running back is just instincts and it just takes time repping it and getting those game-like reps in practice whenever you can.

“The best way to drill it is to do it in practice, do it in games. So just getting those opportunities and working your craft during those times, that’s the key to it.”

Thankfully, Sawchuk got a bit of time in Tulsa before opening Big 12 play to try and get himself ready to contribute as Oklahoma turns the page to the next chapter in the 2023 season.

“Big confidence thing of course being able to get back out there,” he said. “Just, you know, the feel of it.

“… Being able to be in that environment is probably the best practice you can have, really.”

Sawchuk and the rest of OU’s running back room will get a change to build momentum on Saturday, as kickoff between the Sooners and the Bearcats is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Fox.

“It’s gonna be a great game,” Sawchuk said. “They’re a great challenge, a great team. Excited to go up there and be in their hometown and really be able to be in that environment.

“Excited to see what our team’s got.”