The once pass happy/finesse offense run by the Oklahoma Sooners has given way to a more physical brand of football that pounds a defense into submission. We witnessed it last weekend when the Sooners traveled to South Bend to play Notre Dame and we saw it repeat itself on Owen field against TCU on Saturday night.
The passing game will never disappear from Norman but, in a growing trend this season, Oklahoma attempted more rushing plays than they did passing. We've already talked at length this season that its due mostly to the added dimension of a running quarterback but its also due to a new mentality that has led to a more physical brand of football.
In seasons past when the Sooners were limited in the passing game it almost always spelled doom. Now they'll just line up and run over you if they can't pass over you and that's exactly what we saw play out on the field Saturday night.
We had discussed, leading up to the game, the challenge that the TCU secondary would preset to Oklahoma's passing attack and they certainly lived up to the hype. Multiple times the OU receivers couldn't get separation from the TCU secondary causing Blake Bell to have to hold on to the ball longer.
To counter, the Sooners attacked the Frogs on the ground by pounding at the heart of the TCU defense. Just like every passing attempt isn't a completion, every rushing attempt isn't a homerun. However, it physically wears more on a defense to defend the rush than it does the pass. Oklahoma pounded on TCU for three quarters and in the fourth we saw the homerun come in the form of Brennan Clay's 76-yard touchdown run. It was the longest run of Clay's career and the insurance score the Sooners needed to seal the game.
Oklahoma ran the ball 38 times for 203 yards (5.3 YPC) and scored both of their touchdowns on the ground. Almost equally important was the fact that when the Sooners needed to grind out yards on the clock to close out the game they were unstoppable.
Grinding a game out on the ground isn't as flashy as throwing the ball around the yard for 500 yards but it is effective. Aided by Clay's long run, the Sooners averaged 9.8 yards per carry in the fourth quarter. That's the point of the ground and pound though. On the final possession of the game Oklahoma twice faced second and long and needed to keep the ball on the ground to run clock. Blake Bell answered those situations with a 13-yard run (on second and 11) and a 17-yard (on second and 10) in which he crushed TCU safety Sam Carter.
The bottom line is that Oklahoma has shown that they can win games two different ways. If you sell out to stop the run then they have the receivers who can hurt you in man coverage. If you play to stop the pass then they can physically wear a defense down by pounding away at them on the ground. Its been a while since we've been able to legitimately say that about Oklahoma's offense.
Quarterback (B-): Bell wasn't awful by any stretch of the imagination but it certainly wasn't his best throwing game. He completed 20/31 passes for 152 yards and while he didn't throw a touchdown pass he also didn't commit any turnovers. Bell also gained 61 yards on 14 carries.
Receivers (C): Give TCU credit for locking down Oklahoma's receivers for most of the night. Only three members of the receiving crew recorded multiple catches.
Running Backs (B-): Brennan Clay saves the day for this group. Damien Williams was largely ineffective (27 yards on 11 carries) and Trey Millard's eight yard touchdown run was his only carry. Clay averaged 12.3 yards per carry and scored what would end up being the game winning touchdown.
Offensive Line (B-): Blake Bell was sacked three times but I'm going to attribute much of that to the TCU secondary taking away options. The bit of redemption for this group was the 5.3 yards per carry team rushing average.