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Sooners Find Running Game With Surprise Twist

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NORMAN, Oklahoma -

For a lot of Oklahoma football fans looking up at the scoreboard late in Saturday's 34-0 win over Louisiana-Monroe, it was a strange sight to see a huge number of rushing yards compared to a rather pedestrian total of passing yards.

It was a new thing for some of the players to see as well.

"We were looking at the stats and it said something like 300 (yards rushing) to 90 yards passing," running back Brennan Clay said Monday. "I was like, this is the first year I've seen that flip-flopped. Normally it's about 400 yards passing and 90 yards rushing."

For the game, the Sooners rushed for 305 yards—and impressive number by itself—on 6.1 yards per carry, an even more impressive number. OU ended up with 124 passing yards, but didn't eclipse 100 yards until two Blake Bell to Durron Neal completions with less than four minutes remaining in the game.

"Anytime you can rush over 300 yards, you're doing a lot really well," OU coach Bob Stoops said Monday. "Probably a different style than people are used too, but equally as effective when you can win 34-0 and have the time of possession be what it was."

The Sooners hinted continually during the offseason that changes would be coming to the offense as a result of having a starting quarterback that could run as well as throw. However, very few people expected a zone-read package out of the Pistol formation. It wasn't as much a tweak as a drastic overhaul.

"I think first you see the success of the other teams who have this option, or that ability to add to what you are doing," Stoops said about the change. "Again, we still want to be great at throwing the football, and we know we will be. It still has to be a big part of what we do."

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While throwing the ball may still be the Sooners' bread and butter, the pieces of a dominant running game—no matter the scheme—have once again come together for OU: a veteran offensive line, a stable of running backs and a quarterback whose running ability keeps defenses on their toes. The new formations may have been surprising, but the Sooners taking advantage of having the ability to chew up clock on the ground was not.

Clay said the new formation really plays to the strengths of the OU offense.

"I think it's really made for the run game," Clay said. "I think we were a little more pass-oriented last year but that's not going to be the case (this year). We're going to be able to pass the ball as well. As soon as we get this run game going, it's going to open up shots deep down the field."

The Oklahoma running backs are all very different runners, and that adds to the success of the rushing attack. Damien Williams is more of a bruiser, but also has breakaway speed; Roy Finch—in the words of Clay—"runs 200 yards to get 20"; Clay is the best pass catcher of the three and may be the most well rounded of the three. Using all three is important for the Sooners, particularly from a health standpoint.

"If we can play like that, we'll need them all and then they're not banged up by the sixth game or wore out," Stoops said. "They all have a different style but they all can be effective."

The running game has an obvious effect on the offense's performance, but it also has a major impact on the defense as well.

The Sooners' defense pitched a shutout and was aggressive all night long against ULM, something many fans didn't expect to see. Stoops said the running game played no small part in the defense's ability to be in attack mode the entire game.

"When your offense is on the field, your defense is resting and they don't have the ball," Stoops said. "Times here when we've had poor defensive performances, people don't look at the poor offensive performances right next to it. If you're out there for three plays and go three and out, it's only about 30 seconds and your defense is right back out there and it's not really healthy."

The OU running game may not be happening in the way many fans thought it would this season, but regardless of scheme, the emphasis on it is not going away anytime soon.

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