OU's O-Line will tell the story

OU's offensive line has improved dramatically since last season. But the real test comes against Alabama in the AllState Sugar Bowl.

NEW ORLEANS – The statement was clear with Oklahoma bringing in Bill Bedenbaugh to be its offensive line coach. What the Sooners were doing wasn't working at all.

Bedenbaugh's message has been about bringing the nasty back to the crimson and cream. The first season has produced tremendous results but now comes the test of all tests.

The goal has been to be physical, be imposing and control the line of scrimmage like a team like Alabama. OU gets its chance against a team not like Alabama but against the Crimson Tide themselves in the 2014 AllState Sugar Bowl on Thursday night.

It's not as simplistic to just say that if OU cannot run the ball well then it won't win. But you could make a strong argument for that case.

"I love it," senior running back Brennan Clay said. "Being able to go against a great defense like this – it's going to be fun. I am excited for the challenge. We all are."

The challenge has become a little more complicated with the line because of injuries to two starters as tackle Tyrus Thompson and guard Adam Shead both won't be in uniform.

But with all personnel knowing about this a month ago, it has allowed for the Sooners to fully prepare and make the necessary adjustments.

"The preparation time that we have going into the bowl game certainly is going to help us with the two guys that we lose up front," co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. "Their ability to communicate, to be on the same page and work cohesively, is going to be critical in this football game."

Guard Nila Kasitati is expected to be there for Shead and that's not a huge surprise. Kasitati was a starter earlier this season and an interior of Gabe Ikard at center flanked by Kasitati and senior guard Bronson Irwin is stout for OU.

Tackle is another situation entirely, though. The loss of Thompson put the spotlight squarely on Derek Farniok. The results have been mixed so far although it hasn't been for lack of effort.

"It took some time," said Farniok about the light bulb coming on for him. "I had to improve my flexibility. That's the main thing at my height – playing low. If you play too high, then even the shortest guy can stop you right at the line. It's important to play lower than the defensive guy."

Nothing beats game experience. Farniok had a rough first half against Oklahoma State but seemed to find his footing and groove in the second half.

He can't have any rough patches against Alabama as the Crimson Tide are certainly the best combination of size and speed on the defensive line the Sooners have seen all season.

No excuses, either way, no matter what happens.

"The way I see it is you've got to be ready to play with what you've got," Ikard said. "It's important for us to be ready to go either way. We've got talented guys up front that will be ready to play. Derek has done a great job of filling in. His first few practices have been great, a lot of great reps."

Alabama prides itself on its run defense. The one major hiccup was the game against Auburn when the Tigers gashed the Tide for success on the ground. That game notwithstanding, Alabama only gave up an average of 108 rushing yards per game and 3.4 per rush.

OU, meanwhile, is averaging 235 yards per game on the ground and 5.3 yards per rush. The play of Farniok will help determine how everything shakes out Thursday. He's ready.

"I've been in all the meetings and paid attention to them," Farniok said. "I was prepared. You just have to have the confidence once you get out there."

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