Troubling trend for the Oklahoma Sooners running game with tough matchups ahead

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For much of the first half of the season, the Oklahoma Sooners running game was pretty good. They didn’t have big-time individual rushing performances, but they were solid save for the West Virginia game.

Through the first six games of the season against Power Five opponents, the Sooners averaged 178.83 rushing yards per game. That includes the West Virginia game where they ran for just 57 yards as a team.

The next week against Texas, the Sooners exploded on the ground for more than 300 yards rushing and followed that up with more than 200 yards against TCU. The last two games, however, haven’t been as kind to the Sooners rushing attack.

Against Texas Tech, one of the worst teams against the run in the country, the Oklahoma Sooners could only muster 72 yards rushing on 20 attempts. That’s 3.6 yards per carry. Kennedy Brooks carried it eight times for 35 yards and Eric Gray had two attempts for five yards. It didn’t matter because Caleb Williams was fantastic through the air.

The running game for the Sooners hit a low point again against the Baylor Bears when they accounted for just 78 yards on 28 attempts or 2.78 yards per attempt.

Though they ran it 28 times, the Sooners probably needed to run it more. On a day when Caleb Williams wasn’t at his best, Lincoln Riley and the offensive staff went away from the run in the second half. Of Kennedy Brooks’ 13 rushing attempts, only five of them were in the second half. If you recall, the game was 7-7 at halftime and 10-7 at the end of the third quarter. And though Baylor extended their lead to 17-7 early in the fourth, there was enough time to overcome a ten-point deficit that would allow for the Sooners to continue to run the ball.

While Lincoln Riley’s been credited with the development of some great quarterbacks during his time at OU, it’s the running game that’s been the staple of Lincoln Riley offenses through the years. Though he comes from an air-raid background, he also wants to run the ball a lot to create balance for his offense. That didn’t happen against Baylor.

Though the traditional stat sheet might say 28 rush attempts, that also includes scrambles and sacks, since sacks are considered rush attempts in college football. But if you dig deeper, according to Pro Football Focus, the Oklahoma Sooners dropped back to pass 32 times and had a designed run on 19 plays.

That’s terrible imbalance in a game that was close for three quarters and wasn’t really out of reach until Baylor went up 24-7.

The tasks don’t get easier over the final two weeks of the season as the Sooners face two of the nation’s top 20 rush defenses. Iowa State comes to Norman boasting the 18th ranked rush defense, allowing just 112.4 rushing yards per game and 3.35 yards per carry. They’ll then follow that up with the Oklahoma State Cowboys who own the sixth-ranked rush defense allowing only 90.9 rushing yards per game in 2021.

The Oklahoma Sooners need to find an answer to their rushing woes. As great as Caleb Williams’ has been, it’s hard to ask a true freshman quarterback to shoulder the load for an offense that is supposed to be one of the best in the country.

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Report Card: Oklahoma Sooners fail to make the grade vs. Baylor Bears