O-Line Sets Tone in Week One

NORMAN, Okla. — Everyone who's been around football for awhile has heard the coined phrase, "A quarterback is only as good as his offensive line and the guys around him."

Well, in last week's case, the offensive line made him look pretty good.

The preseason Heisman hopeful and last year's Sammy Baugh Award winner, quarterback Landry Jones, was able to torch the Tulsa defense for 375 yards and a touchdown on 35-for-47 passing.

That's because he was virtually untouched the entire night.

In fact, the Tulsa defense only managed a couple of quarterback hurries and nothing outside of that.

"Yeah, I mean, we protected pretty well," said left guard Gabe Ikard. "We didn't have any major busts where we let guys go or anything like that. They didn't bring very many blitzes, so we picked up what we could. They didn't do anything overly complicated, but, I mean, they were talented, talented guys.

"I mean, they're on a team that's always in the hunt for the Conference USA championship, so, I mean, we were pleased with the way we played."

Center Ben Habern attributed the success in protection to mental homework.

"Especially during the week preparing for Tulsa, we did a great job getting in here and watching film," Habern said. "Coaches said this is the most they've seen us, you know, watching film in a long time. So, we just wanted to make sure the O-line got in as a group, watched the film and talked about the blitzes they were going to bring and talked about what defense they were going to run, so we would be mentally prepared when we were on the field so we'd be able to see it before the play actually happened, and that's kind of what happened."

Outside of their pass protection, though, the offensive line brought a physicality that allowed OU to rush for 5.3 yards per carry and five touchdowns, spearheaded by running back Dominique Whaley's four-score, 131-yard performance.

"Yeah, I mean, we came out, we wanted to, you know, just play physical and that was one of our main goals just coming into this game was just to focus on just playing hard," Habern said. "And obviously the first game, you're going to have some missed assignments and stuff like that, but Coach [Josh Heupel] wanted just to focus on us just coming off the ball and playing hard, playing physical, and the rest will kind of take care of itself. So, I felt like we did that."

Indeed, Heupel said it was encouraging to rush in the first game for more than two yards per carry greater than the clip the Sooners did a year ago.

"Yeah, pleased that our ground game was more efficient than it probably was at times last year," Heupel said. "It was a major point of emphasis for us and good to see it show up on gamedays. We really thought we were making strides through spring and into two-a-days.

"And then for us to protect as well as we did is something that we're pleased with as well. We need to protect the quarterback. You know, [we] had young tackles in there that performed pretty well, so a positive note.

Speaking of young tackles, neither Daryl Williams nor Lane Johnson had seen a game snap on the offensive line prior to last week.

"Yeah, I mean, Daryl's a guy that got the start, his first career start, Habern said. "[He's a] young guy, hasn't played very much and then Lane Johnson, I mean, everybody knows the story about Lane. He was a tight end, a defensive end, and now he's an offensive tackle.

"So, for those guys to mentally be there, to be confident in themselves to know where they're going, not have any missed assignments and not jump off the ball or any kind of pre-snap penalties and overall, I mean, they both played really well.

That was something else the offensive line did really well, playing penalty-free football.

"I thought it was very pleasing in many aspects to start off game one and to play really the way we did," said head coach Bob Stoops. "We had zero penalties on offense. You know, that's pretty good when you have 100 snaps and you don't have an offensive penalty. You know, it shows a lot of discipline and a lot of character to play that way."

So, all in all, the offensive line turned in a solid outing.

"Landry was hardly ever pressured and the run game was definitely [effective], which I liked," Stoops said. "I just saw assignment-wise we were much more assignment correct than maybe at any time, you know, than we've been here in quite awhile. So, that's exciting when you know you're getting a body to a body where you need them.

"And you always have a chance to pick up yards that way. I think there were only two occasions that we didn't get plus yardage, and I don't think that's happened to us in quite a few years either."

The team and the rest of Sooner Nation alike certainly hopes that continues.

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