Early in the season, he less predicted than announced that the Sooners’ goal this season would be to finish with better than a five-yard per carry average.
At 5.1 yards per carry, second in the Big 12, thus far this season, Darlington is on track.
“I think they want to get better,” Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight said. “Absolutely, I think everybody wants to get better. You want to put up numbers that are your goal numbers. If that’s their goal, we want to get better and reach that.”
Some of that drop – most of it probably – can be attributed to the caliber of defense that the Sooners are facing.
That was what this three-game stretch was all about. Texas has a gifted defensive unit that has been hampered by its porous offense but somehow ranks third in total defense. TCU boasts a quality defense that has helped the Horned Frogs to just one loss thus far this season.
Kansas State might have the best of the three, at least on the ground.
The Wildcats ranked first or second in three of the four major defensive categories. They are first in run defense and second in scoring and total defense.
“They play with great technique,” co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “They don’t give up a bunch of big plays. They make you earn it. They make you snap the ball. They’re not gonna give up anything easy.”
There’s no disappointment on the Sooners’ side. Oklahoma understood the test they were facing.
“We’re focusing on just tightening the little things,” guard Nila Kasitati said.
Teams have started stacking the box and bringing safeties down to stop the Oklahoma rushing attack, which still ranks second in the Big 12 with more than 190 yards per game.
There’s challenge to figuring out how to block the extra man, something Oklahoma has done effectively at times. But that stops big runs.
Heupel said that Oklahoma needs to throw the ball in those situations to give its offensive line a little more time and room to block.
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops didn’t think the offensive line was beaten up front in the Red River Showdown, instead saying that the Texas defense won on the line of scrimmage at times but not enough to say the Longhorns beat the Sooners in the trenches.
“Their defense, yeah they did probably get the better of us,” Stoops said. “. . . We did find out spots and run the football. I don’t know about that. I think it’s pretty close. I didn’t feel like the run game was the difference in the game for them.”
Safeties will continue to creep lower as long as Knight and the Sooners’ passing game remain in the bottom half of the league in yards and efficiency. The best way to help the offensive line reach its running goals is to not run as much.
Less is more. Fewer defends usually equals more yards. All of Oklahoma’s running backs need only a defender-less crease.
“A couple times, we don’t execute as well as we need to up front to give our backs a chance,” co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said.