Making the adjustment from junior college to Oklahoma was one thing, but there was another that was tough for wide receiver Jarvis Baxter to become a better all-around player.
As dynamic a talent as Baxter has been throughout his high school and junior college days, the one thing he was rarely asked to do was block.
That all changed the minute he walked on to OU’s campus in August. Inside receivers coach Cale Gundy made it clear from the jump that Baxter was going to have block as much as catch or he wasn’t going to see the field.
“It’s what you do without the ball as much as you do with it,” Baxter said. “If blocking helps the team, then that’s what I’m going to do. I was never put in a position to block a lot at juco, but again, if I’m helping the team, fine by me.”
And maybe it just took the group a little longer to wrap their heads around that. A lot of talk has focused on the improvement of the offensive line in OU’s final seven games. For good reason, too, with the Sooners averaging nearly 300 yards on the ground and 52 points per game.
There’s no question the line has matured and evolved and Bill Bedenbaugh has found the right quintet for the job down the stretch. But 10, 15-yard runs stay that way if you don’t have the blocking on the edge by the receivers.
Here are the longest runs by a non-quarterback for OU through the first five games of the season.
Akron: 15 yards.
Tennessee: 16 yards.
Tulsa: 24 yards.
West Virginia: 35 yards.
Texas: 15 yards.
“There’s definitely a lot of pride in it, and we knew we had to get better,” senior Durron Neal said. “If we stay on our man for half a second, those guys are gone.”
That was proven during the final seven games of the regular season. Here’s a look at the longest runs from OU’s running backs the Sooners’ seven-game winning streak.
KSU: 20 yards.
Texas Tech: 48, 45 yards.
KU: 54, 35 yards.
Iowa State: 57 yards.
Baylor: 55 yards.
TCU: 72 yards.
Oklahoma State: 68, 66 yards.
“Blocking a man shows other parts of your game,” Neal said. “It’s fun, too, because you get to test your will against another man.
“They always call us the pretty boys of the group. So when you get a chance to pin your opponent and show your teammates what you can do, it makes you feel good.”
OU will have to bring that same type of mentality as the Sooners get ready to take on top-ranked Clemson in the Capital Orange Bowl on Thursday afternoon.
The Sooners were unable to muster any kind of offense, any kind of running game last year in the 40-6 loss to the Tigers in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
“I look at it like this – if Samaje (Perine) or Joe (Mixon) are on the edge, they’re going to block their hardest for me,” receiver Dede Westbrook said. “That’s the chemistry we have so I feel it’s only right that I do it for them, too.”
Westbrook had one of the funnier moments of blocking, too, on Perine’s long touchdown run against the Cowboys. He didn’t so much block his guy as much as he ran with him as the defensive back was still covering Westbrook as if it was a pass.
Whatever gets the job done. OU will take it however it comes as long as the W comes with it vs. Clemson in Miami.