Sooner ground game sputters against stout Irish defense

By Tobi Neidy

In the past three wins against Texas Tech, Texas and Kansas, Oklahoma blistered the gridiron with 557 total rushing yards and 10 total rushing touchdowns.

The OU running game was a question mark the Sooners needed to answer entering the matchup against No. 5 Notre Dame that brought the nation’s sixth-best defense to the Saturday’s gunfight in Norman.

But the Fighting Irish defense answered with an exclamation point, giving up a measly 15 total rushing yards in the 30-13 win against the Sooners, forcing the OU offense to stick to its aerial attack.

“That’s always tough when you‘re not able to run it and you have to throw it more than you want,” coach Bob Stoops said. “We needed to run the football better than what we did.”

But the Sooners just couldn’t find the answers the team needed to thwart Notre Dame’s front seven.

When halftime rolled around, the Sooners only had three yards of rushing after settling for negative yardage throughout much of the first half.

The team said earlier in the week that this game’s tale of the tape would be the offensive line’s ability to win the battle up front like it had in the past three games to allow breathing room for senior quarterback Landry Jones while simultaneously opening up holes for running game.

However, the Sooners admitted they hadn’t experienced a line like the size Notre Dame brought to the table in any of their regular conference action this season.

“These guys are just bigger and stronger than the previous guys we played,” junior center Gabe Ikard said. “Those 300-pound guys were able to control the line of scrimmage, and we didn’t play with good enough technique or good enough room for (junior running back) Damien (Williams) to run through.”

Williams finished the game as the Sooners’ leading rusher with 29 net rushing yards, including a team-long of seven yards. But his numbers didn’t show up in the final stats due to the -35 rushing yardage lost by the team in the game.

“It’s disappointing that we couldn’t block enough for the run game,” Ikard said.

Although the defense never fully broke for the Sooner running backs, it did bend a couple of times during Saturday’s game.

The Fighting Irish hadn’t allowed a rushing touchdown in the previous seven outings this season — until sophomore quarterback Blake Bell succeeded during the Belldozer goal-line formation.

But even the Belldozer package wasn’t without flaws during the loss.

Bell’s first rushing touchdown in the second quarter was called back due to a holding call on junior guard Bronson Irwin. It wasn’t until Bell came in on a second-and-six play — in the fourth quarter — that would eventually set up the backup quarterback for the Sooners’ first touchdown of the game.

“Bronson just gets called on that play for the first time in 500 plays,” Bell said about the first touchdown being called back. “But when they put me in later, [the coaches] must have saw something in the defense, and I just tried to do the best I can to get that first down.”

Bell rushed twice on the play and eventually got the first down on an eight-yard pass to junior fullback Trey Millard, who took the ball to the Notre Dame 1-yard line.

Then Bell punched the ball in for a score that would finally stand.

“It was exciting just to tie the ballgame up at that point, and it shifted momentum our way then,” Bell said. “But at the end of the day, we really just have to finish.”

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