In 2008, the Oklahoma Sooners possessed one of the most productive offenses in college football history. Since quarterback Sam Bradford threw for over 4,700 yards and 50 touchdowns en route to the Heisman Trophy, it's easy to forget the other half of the Sooners' offense that season.
Oklahoma had two 1,000 yard rushers and also averaged nearly 200 yards per game and 4.7 yards per carry in 2008. The Sooners had two excellent running backs in Demarco Murray and Chris Brown, but the key was a massive, veteran offensive line with four senior starters.
This season, the Sooners have a stable of veteran running backs and once more have a veteran offensive line, with the main (assumed) rotation consisting of three seniors and five juniors.
"The experience is there and the comfort zone and being one unit is there because we have a lot of returners like me, Gabe (Ikard), Tyrus (Thompson), Adam (Shead)," junior Daryl Williams said Saturday at OU Media Day. "The one unit and togetherness is way better and communication (as well)."
A deep and experienced offensive line is even more important this season, as the Sooners will be breaking in a new quarterback. Players and coaches alike have talked about how much of a luxury it is to be able to support the new signal caller with protection and a solid rushing attack.
"I believe that with our young quarterbacks, or just inexperienced I should say, having these running backs that are much older and have been on the field a lot and being able to protect them (is good)," senior running back Brennan Clay said. "The O-Line is mature as well so I don't think they have so much of a threat of being hit as much, and the thought process, they can slow it down and be able to deliver the ball."
With all the pieces in place for a formidable rushing attack this season, the temptation is there for offensive coordinators Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell to put more of an emphasis on the running game than in years past. However, senior offensive lineman Austin Woods was quick to point out there's never been a lack of focus on the running game at OU, despite it constantly being overshadowed by the passing game.
"Running's always a big emphasis in the game," Woods said. "Whoever controls the line of scrimmage and runs the ball well usually has a pretty good chance to win the game. It's always an emphasis.
"We want to execute the plays, whatever the coaches call. That's what we're really worried about. We work hard in the run game and we're confident in the run game so if we run the ball more, that's no issue with us."
In order to do that, the Sooners have been working at becoming more physical along the offensive line. Williams said it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure how—a simple mindset change as well as a few extra pounds should do the trick.
A big help has been the arrival of new offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh. Williams said Bedenbaugh has brought a lot of new things to the table for the line, including intelligence.
"He says every day that we're physical, playing hard, but we need to be smarter every day," Williams said. "You need to know what is happening and being smarter on the field will help us all the time."
A strong rushing attack would do wonders for the Oklahoma offense and provide tremendous relief for the new starting quarterback this season. Whether or not the Sooners will be able to duplicate the consistent success on the ground from 2008 remains to be seen, but the ingredients are all there.