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Oklahoma Sooners Football: Mixing, Matching and Mauling on the O-Line

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Despite heavy turnover, the Oklahoma offensive line has emerged as a key to its success this season.

NCAA Football: Texas at Oklahoma Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The next time someone says the OU defense can’t be successful with all its injuries and adjustments, Bill Bedenbaugh should just point to his unit on the Oklahoma offensive line.

On Week One in Houston, OU’s starting linemen were: left tackle Orlando Brown, left guard Cody Ford, center Jonathan Alvarez, right guard Alex Dalton and right tackle Dru Samia. Last weekend, only one of those guys was starting in the same place.

Brown has had another good year at left tackle for the Sooners, proving again to be one of OU’s best pro prospects. Ford was injured early in the Ohio State contest, his spot ably manned now by JUCO transfer Ben Powers. Alvarez missed some time and Erick Wren, a walk-on who battled Alvarez for the spot in the preseason, has all but replaced him even though Alvarez is healthy again.

Dalton just got beat out after inconsistent play, as Dru Samia slid over one spot and redshirt freshman Bobby Evans took over his right tackle job. The result is a very young but very promising offensive line that has helped the Sooners bounce back from mediocre early-season performances to create perhaps the Big 12’s premier offense.

In the season-opening loss, the line gave up five sacks to the Cougars, over a third of OU’s season-long total of 14. The line didn’t play that poorly, but Baker Mayfield was having a hard time getting the ball out and the line couldn’t keep Houston’s pass rush away forever. Dalton and Samia, at the time, looked like the line’s weak links, and the unit was missing the leadership of a guy like Ty Darlington.

But the Sooners haven’t allowed a single sack since the Texas game three weeks ago, and even then it was only one. Neither the K-State nor the Texas Tech pass rush was ever going to scare anyone, but that doesn’t diminish the impressiveness of going sack-free for two weeks against Power Five competition. It’s a streak the line has a good chance of extending against Kansas.

It may be that the overall offensive attack has helped the offensive line, and not the other way around. After losing Alvarez and Ford to injury, the coaching staff was no doubt concerned about keeping defenses away from Mayfield with a makeshift line. In recent weeks, they’ve made every effort to get the ball out of his hands quickly and incorporate the running game as much as possible. The results have been fantastic.

The line play itself has been interesting. Bedenbaugh regularly pulls both a guard and tackle to lead block for Mixon, leaving Wren to seal off the weakside edge they’ve vacated. Sometimes this is merely a misdirection, as Baker will dump a screen or a checkdown pass to the other side of the field if the defense is particularly out of position.

Fans often wonder why Dimitri Flowers isn’t more involved in the passing game, and maybe he should be, but he’s awfully valuable as an extra blocker as well. He’s often asked to lead block for Mixon or buy Mayfield extra time against the blitz, and he’s really helping out the linemen by taking bigger guys one-on-one without their help.

The line isn’t all sunshine and roses—Bobby Evans is an unfinished product who gets beat inside too often, allowing DEs to pressure Baker and blow up running plays. And it remains to be seen how this version of the line would fare against some of the more physical front sevens in college football. But a big part of OU’s nominal turnaround this season has to do with winning in the trenches, and so far through the Big 12 schedule, Oklahoma has done just that.