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Blogging about college football by an Oklahoma Sooners fan.

Sooners' struggles rooted in relationship to the run

Manti Te'o
No running allowed.

Of Oklahoma’s 76 offensive plays in its 30-13 loss to Notre Dame, the Sooners threw the ball 52 times. For you non-math majors, that means OU took to the air on nearly seven of 10 plays against ND.

It actually has become a pretty common trend in OU’s losses. Already a pass-heavy offense, OU is winging it around even more even more so than usual in its defeats. Take a gander at the run-pass ratio in losses in the last four years.

Run-Pass Balance in Losses (2009-12)

Year Opponent Runs Passes % Pass Season % Pass
2009 BYU 31 26 45.6 51.7
2009 Miami 42 30 41.7  
2009 Texas 22 49 69.0  
2009 Nebraska 29 58 66.7  
2009 Texas Tech 26 36 58.1  
2010 Missouri 25 50 66.7 52.3
2010 Texas A&M 44 60 57.7  
2011 Texas Tech 25 55 68.8 55.4
2011 Baylor 36 51 58.6  
2011 Oklahoma St. 33 50 60.2  
2012 Kansas St. 27 43 61.4 55.0
2012 Notre Dame 24 52 68.4  

Of course, against an opponent like ND, when you’re running for about half a yard per attempt (0.6 yards per carry), throwing has to look mighty tempting to offensive coordinator Josh Heupel. And therein lies the rub.

All the offensive pyrotechnics produced in the passing game in the last few years have masked the fact that the Sooners can’t run the ball with any kind of consistency. That lack of faith, or interest, in the ground game has morphed into an aerial addiction, a crutch for OU to lean on when the going gets tough – and even when it doesn’t.

As ND and Kansas State have shown this year, the irony is that while OU is rolling up gaudy statistics, its offense is becoming easier for competent defenses to stop.

The defensive strategy employed by both the Wildcats and Irish is actually pretty simple:

-Count on your defensive line to disrupt the run.

-Loosen up your linebackers to help defend the pass and clog up throwing lanes.

-Keep receivers in front of you.

-Bait the quarterback into mistakes.

In practice, it may look as though offenses are cruising, as OU often did against the Irish. However, it’s a classic bend-but-don’t-break scheme designed to minimize big plays at the expense of conceding yardage underneath. It puts the onus on the offense to be disciplined and execute long, sustained drives. It also means hoping to force the O to settle for field goals instead of six points in the red zone, where there's less real estate to work with. Add it all up, and that’s how Landry Jones can throw for 356 yards and OU can come away with just 13 points for the game.

OU is learning the hard way that this approach to slowing down the spread can neuter a high-flying Air Raid team. The bottom line: It all hinges on a spread offense’s ability, or lack thereof, to force the defense to honor the run.

Unfortunately, the Sooners either can’t run effectively enough to do so or they've just stopped trying. Take that as an indictment of OU's offensive scheme or its implementation. Either way, the last four years make a compelling case that OU will remain a cut below the national elite unless Bob Stoops and his staff truly dedicate themselves to establishing an effective ground game.