They say that the key to building another successful team is having a solid foundation on which to build it.
In football, you normally have a core group of players which you build your team around.
More often than not, the offensive line is the most foundational unit for the offensive side of the ball.
For the Oklahoma Sooners, the offensive line has been a well-respected unit; one that was solid as a group and solid talent-wise. However in 2009, this unit dropped the ball on that one.
In 2008, the Oklahoma Sooners possessed the most potent offensive attack in the modern history of college football. This unit rolled up over 500 yards of offense a game and scored and average of 51 points a game. The 716 total points scored is a college football record.
Last year, the Sooners lost all but one starter along the offensive line and the unit was an immediate cause for concern. It was very evident early on in the season that this unit had a long way to go to reach a level of play that would be acceptable to coach Bob Stoops and the rest of Sooner Nation.
Throughout the year, the line struggled with inconsistent play and injuries. The Sooners lost three starters for the season by the end of the year. These injuries caused this unit to not fully mesh together and form a solid nucleus and it really showed with their play on the field.
Oklahoma used 10 different starting combinations along the offensive line in 2009 and NO one started every single game.
Compare that to 2008, where the Sooners used three different starting combinations and the only players to miss a game where Phil Loadholt and Duke Robinson. Both were held out of the Chattanooga game for precautionary reasons and Robinson also missed the TCU game.
This was a veteran unit who was used to playing with each other and because they had that chemistry, they had the ability to be absolutely dominant.
I'm a big proponent of not basing anything off statistics, but this is one area where statistics don't lie: Stability is a very good thing and is the key to consistency. Check out these stats for 2008 vs. 2009.
- 198.5 rushing yards per game
- 4.7 yards per carry
- 45 touchdowns
- 71/84 (85%) touchdowns in red zone
- 13 sacks allowed
- 7 quarterback hurries allowed
- 64.6 penalty yards per game
- 134.6 rushing yards per game
- 3.6 yards per carry
- 18 touchdowns
- 33/57 (58%) touchdowns in red zone
- 15 sacks allowed
- 40 quarterback hurries allowed
- 80 penalty yards per game
First a disclaimer. I know that not all the penalty yards can be attributed to the offensive line, but they definitely attributed a lot to the large increase in yards per game.
These stats tells me two things. One, like I stated earlier, stability produces consistency. Two, the 2009 offensive line struggled way more in run blocking than they did in pass protection.
In 2008, DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown each rushed for over 1,000 yards. In 2009, neither broke the 800 yard mark. The offensive line simply couldn't push people off the ball and get running lanes open for the backs to run through.
What was WAY more depressing about 2009 is the touchdown percentage in the red zone. Again, a sign that this line couldn't push people off the ball and open things up for the backs. Against Baylor, the Sooners literally needed eight plays from inside the five to score a touchdown. That sequence alone pretty much sums up the season for this unit.
This season, the line is looking to get back to the form that it had in 2008 and use 2009 for motivation to get there.
In spring practice, there were 14 players pushing for the starting positions, and knowing Stoops, all five positions were wide open. When summer workouts roll around, there will be 17 guys all competing for playing time.
Right now, there are only two firmly entrenched starting; center Ben Habern, and tackle Cory Brandon. Brandon is one of four seniors in this group and easily the most experienced and vocal as a leader.
There are several others who are the front-runners at their respective positions. Donald Stephenson and Eric Mensik are working for the other tackle position, but the competition is a touch one-sided right now as Mensik is out with a knee injury for several weeks. Senior Tavaris Jeffries is also in the mix for tackle.
The two guard positions are extremely competitive with juniors Stephen Good and Jarvis Jones and sophomore Tyler Evans battling it out. All will see the field this season, it's just a matter of who will be named the starter.
There are also several freshmen who were impressive in spring practice, including tight end convert redshirt freshman Gabe Ikard, who has been working at center behind Habern.
Bronson Irwin and Austin Woods enrolled in school early to participate in spring practice and came out of it looking good and receiving lots of praise from the coaching staff.
Chances are, the starter won't be determined until well into practice leading up to the Sooners season debut on September 4th in Norman against Utah State.
Oklahoma has proven that with a solid offensive line, they can light up the scoreboard. This year, the offensive line hopes to avoid being the weak link in the chain for the second year in a row and push the Sooners on to bigger and better things.