Spotlight: OU rushing attack

A lot of matchups will decide who wins between OU and Baylor. How successful OU is in the run game will go a long way toward determining the outcome.

There are a lot of key matchups for Oklahoma in its battle at sixth-ranked Baylor on Thursday night. A lot of them focus on OU's defense somehow trying to slow down the Baylor offense.

How do you slow down an offense averaging 63.9 points per game and 718.4 yards per game? One way you do it is by not letting the Bears touch the ball.

It's going to be imperative for OU to have sustained drives and to convert third downs. It's crucial in every game, but the Sooners can ill afford to come out on the short end of the stick in this department.

This will be another test for offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh and his group of guys. OU is averaging 234 yards per game on the ground.

"It is good, especially being able to run the ball with the amount of guys have and make plays," senior running back Brennan Clay said. "It is great to have a carousel of running backs that can go out there and four or five yards a pop. We are doing a great job, but we have to continue to protect the ball."

In the only game this season where Baylor was pushed to the limit, its rush defense let it down. Baylor won 35-25 at Kansas State last month but had to survive some shaky moments.

The Wildcats rushed for 327 yards on 58 attempts, averaging 5.6 yards per carry and totaling three touchdowns.

Baylor has allowed 971 rushing yards this season for an average of 138.7 per game. More than one-third of Baylor's totals happened in that one game in Manhattan, Kan.

"I think it's extremely high right now," said senior offensive guard Bronson Irwin on the team's run confidence. "Being an offensive lineman, you love to impose your will on your opponent. I think the fact we've been able to establish that, especially in the last few games, has been a huge boost for us."

Not surprisingly that was also Baylor's worst effort of the season on the ground. The Bears are averaging 301.1 rushing yards per game but were only able to generate 114 yards on 37 carries, just barely more than three yards per touch.

There's no doubt the OU defense is going to be facing its toughest task of the season but getting a little help from its offense is going to go a long way.

"They're doing a great job up front," OU coach Bob Stoops said. "They have a great camaraderie. They really communicate well with each other.

"It all starts with Gabe Ikard, the leader out there and recognizing things, getting it communicated. It's very pleasing to see and it gives you a lot of confidence when you're in those games, and it's late like that and you're able to run it and keep moving chains and burning timeouts and still get points."

OU hasn't had a history of fast starts this season, but the conditioning battle has won the day late. Several times the Sooners closed the game off in style because of its rushing attack.

OU killed nearly the last six minutes of the game at Notre Dame. Clay was able to break a 76-yard touchdown run in the final minutes vs. TCU. OU controlled the time of possession in the fourth quarter against Kansas.

Against Texas Tech, OU took over with seven minutes left and a 35-30 lead. When the Red Raiders saw the ball again, it was 38-30 with a little over a minute left and Tech was out of timeouts.

The way Baylor's offense has tallied the points has people throwing out names like the 2008 OU squad that was so dominant and scored more than 60 points in five consecutive games and more than 50 points in nine games.

In that way, OU also has another blueprint of how to stop the Bears.

"They kind of have it going on like we did in 2008 where they get up on people early," wide receivers coach Jay Norvell said. "What you have to do with them is control the clock obviously, and you've got to start fast with them.

"We have to be balanced. We have to run the ball, but we also have to execute throwing the ball when we have our opportunities. We've got to be efficient. It's not a complicated formula, but it's important that we get the type of execution we had a week ago."

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