It's been a good season for No. 12 Oklahoma running the football - a pair of 300-yard outings against Louisiana-Monroe and West Virginia and a 212-yard performance in a tough win at Notre Dame.
But last Saturday, TCU significantly slowed the Sooners' ground game, a late 76-yard touchdown run by Brennan Clay notwithstanding. Outside of that play, Oklahoma rushed for only 127 yards. It was exactly the lack of production Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops wants to avoid this Saturday when the Sooners (5-0, 2-0 Big 12) face Texas (3-2, 2-0) in the annual Red River Rivalry game in Dallas.
Stoops said running the ball more effectively has been a point of emphasis for the Sooners this week.
"We know our guys were patted on the back a little much for the way we ran it (against Notre Dame)," Stoops said. "We needed to run it better the other day (against TCU)."
Stoops credited TCU for slowing the Sooners, but just how much the Horned Frogs did so was somewhat surprising. Even with the TCU clunker thrown in, the Sooners still are averaging 246 yards per game rushing, ranking them 17th in the Bowl Subdivision.
"Last week against TCU there were some drives, I think it was us more than anything," quarterback Blake Bell said. "We put ourselves in third-and-long. You don't want to do that."
Bell and the Sooners seem confident that they'll bounce back against Texas, which ranks near the bottom (117th) in rushing defense, allowing an average of 248.4 yards per game.
Clay, who's second in the Big 12 in rushing with 450 yards this season, said the Sooners' ability to run the ball allows Bell to be successful in the passing game.
"We know we can run the ball and that's what we need to do," Clay said. "That opens up the pass game for Blake, and Blake's been doing a great job making decisions. . Us protecting the ball, being able to run the ball, be physical, that's a good thing for us."
The Sooners ran for 343 yards and rolled up 677 yards of offense against Texas last season in a 63-21 romp, with two plays standing as highlights - a 95-yard touchdown run by tailback Damien Williams in the first quarter and a 73-yard reception by fullback Trey Millard, who took a short pass from Landry Jones before simultaneously hurdling one Texas defender while stiff-arming another.
Williams and Millard both are back this season. With Clay and tailback Roy Finch, the Sooners have four potential breakaway threats.
The Sooners have the added dimension this year of a running threat from the quarterback position with Bell, something they mostly lacked last season with Jones.
"We still have to find different ways to get him running the football and trying to break him loose from time to time," Stoops said of Bell.
Texas will be without its leading tackler, linebacker Jordan Hicks, who is out for the season with a ruptured Achilles tendon. If Texas isn't able to stop the run, it likely will be a tough day for the Longhorns. Oklahoma is 58-1 under Stoops when running for 200 or more yards in a game, including 30 straight wins.
Despite the circumstances of this season, the Sooners cannot take Texas lightly, co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said.
"I don't know if we've been as consistent as we've wanted to be," Norvell said. "We've been balanced. We've shown the ability to run. We've shown the ability to throw the ball and make plays. When we can do both at a high level, we will be where we want to be. I don't know if we've done that in any game so far."